Swedes really don’t like to stand out. They prefer to be absorbed in it. They even have their own word for it: ‘Jantelagen’, the Scandinavian answer to Australia and the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ in New Zealand.
It roughly translates as, “Don’t think you’re better than anyone.”
And so it is quite understandable that many in the country are uncomfortable with the government’s non-conformist response to the corona virus crisis.
After all, Sweden is the last major European country where most of its schools, bars and restaurants are still open.
Yes, the government has asked people to work from home if possible, and people over 70 have been instructed to stay indoors while visits to retirement homes are prohibited.
But there are no official guidelines for blocking – even though there are over 4,000 cases of infection and 180 deaths.
It’s understandable that many people feel uncomfortable about the coronavirus crisis due to the Swedish government’s misfit, writes Paul Connolly (Pictured: locals at a bar in Stockholm last week)
The only steps the Social Democracy-led coalition has taken are closing universities and colleges and ordering restaurants and bars to serve people only at tables rather than at the crowded bar.
There is also a ban on public gatherings. But with the 50-person limit, it’s considerably more generous than in other European countries, such as the UK, where the maximum is two.
Indeed, Swedish children under the age of 16, including my six-year-old twins, still go to school, while bars and restaurants are still relatively busy.
On paper, Sweden appears to survive this virus. It reported its first coronavirus-related death on March 11 – at the time, eight fatalities had occurred in the UK and 800 in Italy.
And according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, there are only 14 coronavirus-related deaths per million people in Sweden, much less than in Italy (192), Spain (157) and the UK (21).
But relying on these statistics can be misleading. While the death rate in Sweden seems strikingly low, it could be because it has only managed to postpone – rather than prevent – a deadly outbreak.
Indeed, the current infection rate in Sweden is already relatively high. If you look at the number of reported cases per 100,000 of the Swedish population (39.6), this is higher than in the UK (33.8). And so the Swedish government’s strategy does not suit many citizens.
Pictured: People walk in Strandvagen in Stockholm on March 28 amidst the growing corona virus crisis
After all, the neighboring countries of Denmark, Finland and Norway – all of which are less deadly – introduced strict closure measures, such as the closure of workplaces and schools.
Last week, more than 2,000 Swedish university researchers issued a joint letter questioning the government’s response.
Professor Cecilia Soderberg-Naucler, a researcher on virus immunology, said: “We don’t test enough, we don’t track, we don’t isolate enough – we let go of the virus.
“They are leading us to a catastrophe.”
Meanwhile, Fredrik Elgh, a professor of virology at Umea University, recently told SVT News: “I prefer Stockholm to be quarantined. We are almost the only country in the world that does not do everything we can to curb the infection. This is dead serious. ‘
Denmark loves the trend and sets out its plan to return to normal life
Denmark will be the first European country to set a timetable for the return to normal life.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the country could return to normality after Easter if deaths and infections continue their “stable and reasonable” trajectory.
She said the virus has “spread more slowly than feared,” but also warned that it “has not yet peaked” and that “many” will still die.
While explaining the virus management strategy as society returns to normal, she added, “Can you do both things at the same time? Yes, we can … we should do it gradually and spread out. ‘
Ms. Frederiksen hinted that schools and offices would be the first to reopen, with employees working at different times.
On March 11, Denmark was one of the first EU countries to start a closure and suffered 2,860 cases and 90 deaths.
When affable, somewhat boring Prime Minister Stefan Lofven appeared on TV last week, many Swedes expected to at least announce the closure of schools for children under the age of 16.
But no. Lofven only asked the Swedes to take responsibility for their health and that of their loved ones.
So why do Lofven and his government choose such a potentially dangerous approach?
Part of the reason is to protect the Swedish economy. Thanks to the relatively late first case of infection in the country, the government is well aware of the devastating economic consequences the country would have if an Italian-style lockdown were to come.
But there is another important Swedish feature that may explain the country’s more reserved attitude: the government trusts its citizens to do the right thing and follow the guidance of experts.
Sweden is still a community-led nation, especially away from the cities. People are convinced that community is paramount, not the individual.
In my village of Vastantrask, everyone dabbles in and those who don’t, are quickly expelled as outcasts. We even have a lawn mower.
At my house, there was significantly less activity than usual. As my neighbor said, “We shouldn’t be forced to help when our country needs us.”
Of course, it also helps that Sweden still trusts its experts in general. During this crisis, Lofven transparently gave the floor to the Public Health Authority and his state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, who seem to have jointly led this approach.
Meanwhile, despite turmoil in the country’s scientific community, most Swedes seem to trust the government.
In a recent poll by daily newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, just over half of Swedes said they thought their country’s response to the corona virus had been “balanced” so far.
Tegnell and Lofven have not ruled out stricter measures if the situation worsens.
But meanwhile Sweden continues to play an ambitious long game to protect its economy, citizens and society.
And while the Swedes may not like to be the center of attention, if this risky strategy limits the loss of life and prevents the protracted agony of a devastating economy, they can forgive the government for putting them in the limelight of the world pushed.