At a time when European countries imposed several strict measures to confront the new epidemic of Corona (Covid-19) and many cities live under the procedures of complete closure, Sweden dealt in a manner different from other countries and allowed their citizens to move forward in their normal lives.
After a long winter, the weather became warm and appropriate for citizens to stay outside their homes in the Swedish capital.
Families stand for ice cream sundae near a giant Viking statue in Maria Square. On the sidewalk on the street, young men sit to enjoy a drink.
Elsewhere in the city, nightclubs were opened this week, but gatherings of more than 50 people will be banned from Sunday.
The situation in Sweden cannot be compared to other European countries. In neighboring Denmark, gatherings in one place are prohibited for more than 10 people, and in Britain you are not supposed to meet anyone who does not live in your home.
“Everyone has a great responsibility.”
On Sweden’s roads, things are noticeably quieter than usual. Stockholm’s public transportation company (SL) says the number of passengers has fallen by 50 percent on subway and railways last week.
Surveys also indicate that roughly half of Stockholm’s residents do not go to work and work remotely.
A state-funded company that supports the global business community in the city estimates that the proportion of remote workers increases to at least 90 percent in the largest companies in the capital, thanks to a workforce trained in the use of technology and a work culture that has long promoted flexibility and the ability to work remotely.
“Every company has the ability to do that, it does, and it works,” says CEO Stefan Ingvarson.
Those words illustrate the design of the government strategy here: self-responsibility. Public health authorities and politicians still hope to slow the spread of the virus without the need for strict measures.
The government relies more on providing guidelines than applying strict rules, focusing on staying at home if you are sick or elderly, washing your hands well, avoiding any unnecessary travel, and also working from home.
Sweden has announced so far that there are about 3,500 cases of Covid-19 virus and 105 deaths.
Prime Minister Stephen Leuven said in a televised speech to the people last weekend: “We adults must be reasonable. We do not spread terror or rumors.”
He added: “No one is alone in this crisis, but everyone bears a great responsibility.”
High level of confidence
Most citizens watched and supported the prime minister’s speech, according to a poll conducted by one of the largest Swedish institutions.
Meanwhile, there is a high level of confidence in the Swedish government, which many believe drives citizens to abide by the guidelines voluntarily.
Demography may also be a factor in Sweden’s approach to dealing with the crisis. Unlike homes where multiple generations live in the Mediterranean countries, more than half of Swedish families consist of one person, which reduces the risk of contracting the virus.
In addition to the Swedes ‘love of going outdoors, officials say they are keen to avoid imposing strict measures, which would leave people trapped at home in order to preserve citizens’ physical and mental health.
“We have to combine research into reducing the health effects of the spread of the virus and the economic impacts of this health crisis,” says Andreas Hatzigiorgou, CEO of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.
“The business community here believes that the Swedish government and the Swedish approach are more logical than in many other countries,” he says.
History will rule
But as the Swedes saw the rest of Europe stopping, others began to question their country’s unique approach to dealing with the crisis.
“I think people tend to stick to the guidelines, but in this kind of critical situation, I’m not sure it’s enough,” says Emma France, an epidemiologist at the Swedish College of Medicine Karolinska Institute.
Emma calls for “clearer instructions” for people about how to behave in public places such as shops and gyms.
As work increases for some, others suffer.
Close to the crowded bars of Mariah Square, the popular popular haircut Honest Al’s is experiencing a significant drop in customer numbers, despite efforts to improve employee safety.
“My wife has her own company, so we are very dependent on ourselves. The work is bad. I have bills payable. We will have to call the banks,” the store owner says.
The government is betting on changing the tactics of dealing with the situation and imposing the closure, which is not unlikely for future officials.
Dr. Emma says history will be the judge and will decide whether European scientists and politicians have taken the best measures so far.
“Nobody really knows the most effective measures,” she says. “I am glad I am not the one to make these decisions.”