Sweden is the last country in the world where business is as usual. How long can the country avoid a catastrophe? Global attention has been drawn to Sweden with their approach while Denmark and Norway have imposed extensive restrictions. Read more about the Coronavirus an Sweden with its business as usual approach.
In Stockholm, young people have been gathering everywhere in the city and enjoying bubbles from pavement seating and families have been tucking into ice creams in the popular squares. From this week on, however, gatherings for more than 50 people are banned.
Traffic on the Øresund Bridge, linking the Swedish city of Malmö and Copenhagen, has also fallen considerably. Denmark is under coronavirus lockdown and has strict border controls. The Swedish side, however, remains open. But not many are making that journey now.
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Also, neighboring Norway has placed extensive restrictions on its borders while Sweden took a decidedly different path. However, things are noticeable quieter on the roads in Sweden now. Passenger numbers on Stockholm’s public transport is said to have fallen by 50% and polls suggest almost half of Stockholmers are remote working.
Nevertheless, last weekend, couples strolled arm in arm in the spring sunshine in Malmö and the cafes did a brisk trade. Inhabitants enjoyed picnics and barbeques and playgrounds were rammed, no one wearing a mask.
Sweden has only shut its high schools and colleges and kept its preschools and grade schools open, while Denmark and Norway have told all students to stay home.
Business owners, however, understand their responsibility, and the state-funded company Stockholm Business Region that supports the capital’s global business community estimates that the number of people working from home rises to at least 90% in the city’s largest companies.
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Shocking images from hospitals in Italy and Spain seem slowly to have slayed public fears, but the government’s strategy seems to be self-responsibility. Public health authorities and politicians are still hoping to slow down the spread of the virus without the need for draconian measures. Prime minister Stefan Löfven has urged Swedes to behave “as adults” and not to spread “panic or rumors”.
Yesterday, Norway, population 5.3 million, had 1308 coronavirus cases and 32 deaths; Denmark, population 5.6 million, reported 2,577 cases and 77 deaths; Sweden, with 10.12 million people, recorded more than 4,028 cases and 146 deaths.
Last week, a petition signed by more than 2,000 doctors, scientists, and professors – including the chairman of the Nobel Foundation, Prof Carl-Henrik Heldin – called on the government to introduce more stringent containment measures. “We’re not testing enough, we’re not tracking, we’re not isolating enough – we have let the virus loose,” said Prof Cecilia Söderberg-Nauclér, a virus immunology researcher at the Karolinska Institute. “They are leading us to catastrophe.”
In Sweden, there have been more guidelines than strict rules, with a focus on staying home if you’re sick or elderly, washing your hands, and avoiding any non-essential travel, as well as working from home. Stoicism has been a way of life, and the average Swede believes in the authorities’ decisions.
“The problem with a lockdown like it’s been done in Denmark and Norway is you tire the system out,” said Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, who is leading the government’s handling of the crisis and advocating a strategy of mitigation. “You can’t keep a lockdown going for months – it’s impossible,” he concluded.
“Doesn’t Sweden take the corona crisis seriously?” asked the Danish newspaper Politiken in a headline recently.
Demography may also be a relevant factor in Sweden’s approach. In contrast to the multi-generational homes in Mediterranean countries, more than half of Swedish households are made up of one person, which cuts the risk of the virus spreading within families. However, that is also the case in Denmark and Norway.
While there is a constant reappraisal of the situation, Tegnell says Sweden has the crisis under control. “Sweden’s approach appeals to the public’s self-restraint and sense of responsibility. That’s the way we work in Sweden,” he explains.
“The business community here really thinks that the Swedish government and the Swedish approach is more sensible than in many other countries,” says Andreas Hatzigeorgiou, CEO at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
The dilemma is summed up by Orla Vigsö, a professor of crisis communications at Gothenburg University: “People are starting to ask: are others stupid and paranoid? Or is Sweden doing it wrong?”
Coronavirus in Sweden: Business as Usual, written by Tor Kjolberg