I write from Sweden, a country which has chosen not to take strict measures as other European countries to fight COVID-19. I am an Irish masters student at Lund University and find the lack of movement worrying. Sweden at present has over 2000 confirmed cases and, sadly, 41 confirmed deaths at the time of writing. However, it is possible that the actual figure of people infected is much higher as efforts to test for the virus is currently focused on those that are considered vulnerable.
If the virus is not contained here, we will encounter a health emergency as we have seen in Italy. Indeed, no health system is equipped to deal with so many cases at the same time. Some measures have been taken. My university courses are online, and public gatherings of over 500 people have been banned. Vulnerable groups have been asked to quarantine themselves. However, these measures are minor in comparison to Ireland’s response and have not changed people’s nonchalant attitude towards the virus.
Being Irish, I have heard from my friends and family back home over and over the importance of social distancing. However, social distancing is not a common term here, and absolutely nobody that I have seen in the supermarkets practices it. In some ways, I feel like I am living in a parallel world compared to the news which comes from Ireland.
Sweden’s response has been explained by its decentralized government system. The government set the remit for the public agencies but the Public health agency has independence in decisions and is the lead authority in the crisis. Thus the government states that they are following the expert agencies advice. The Agencies lack of movement in enforcing stricter measures has been critiqued in Swedish media outlets.
The Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven delivered a speech to the nation on the 22nd March. In this, he urged people to take individual responsibility to prevent the spread of the virus. This approach blatantly ignores the fact that individual responsibility has not worked in other countries. There is thus a feeling that Swedes will act in the public interest more so than people in other countries. The Prime Minister also stated that you should not continue to go to work if you present with symptoms. This is ignoring the fact that the virus is one which has the capability of presenting itself as asymptomatic.
The newest measure which has been introduced is allowing table service only in restaurants and bars. This is not an effective measure. People can still gather in both restaurants and bars and continue to spread the virus to one another.
I genuinely hope there is some reason behind the government’s logic, but if there is, they are not sharing it very clearly with the public. Rather it seems that the economy is what is taking precedence over the people.
The Prime Minister did state that measures may come in the future with short notice. I wonder how many people will have to suffer and die before such action is taken.
Photo by Christian Beiwinkel on Wikimedia Commons
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