November 23, 2020

Lockdown, what lockdown? Sweden’s unusual response to coronavirus

While swathes of Europe’s population endure lockdown conditions in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, one country stands almost alone in allowing life to go on much closer to normal.

After a long winter, it’s just become warm enough to sit outside in the Swedish capital and people are making the most of it.

Families are tucking into ice creams beneath a giant statue of the Viking God Thor in Mariatorget square. Young people are enjoying happy-hour bubbles from pavement seating further down the street.

Elsewhere in the city, nightclubs have been open this week, but gatherings for more than 50 people will be banned from Sunday.

Compare that to neighbouring Denmark, which has restricted meetings to 10 people, or the UK where you’re no longer supposed to meet anyone outside your household.

‘Each person has a heavy responsibility’
On the roads in Sweden, things are noticeably quieter than usual. Stockholm’s public transport company SL says it saw passenger numbers fall by 50% on subway and commuter trains last week.

Polls also suggest almost half of Stockholmers are remote working.

Stockholm Business Region, a state-funded company that supports the city’s global business community, estimates that rises to at least 90% in the capital’s largest firms, thanks to a tech-savvy workforce and a business culture that has long promoted flexible and remote working practices.

“Every company that has the possibility to do this, they are doing it, and it works,” says its CEO Staffan Ingvarsson.

His words cut to the heart of the government’s strategy here: self-responsibility. Public health authorities and politicians are still hoping to slow down the spread of the virus without the need for draconian measures.

There are 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.

Sweden has so far reported nearly 3,500 cases of the virus and 105 deaths.

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