I love watching the Swedes. That is, in fact, what this whole blog is based on. Usually I’m struck with admiration and curiosity, sometimes outrage and anger. But right now, disappointment is the biggest emotion I’m feeling.
Sweden is an amazing country that has handled the corona pandemic in a very different way from the rest of the world. This is culturally not so surprising as Sweden is a country that often deviates from the norm. Instead of draconian lock downs, Sweden’s approach is based on personal responsibility, solidarity and common sense.
So why my disappointment? Well, a couple of reasons.
The instructions about social distancing are very clear. Avoid crowds and stand or sit 2 meters away from the nearest person. And yet, many Swedes are not doing this. On outside restaurants and cafe terraces, people are packed together like sardines. In parks and squares, people are squeezed onto shared picnic blankets. What is it about social distancing that people don’t understand? Be sociable yes, but be physically distanced. It’s so easy that it’s ridiculous to not follow it.
The second source for my disappointment is the lack of perseverance that seems to be prevailing. After a few weeks of self control, it looks like many Swedes have tired of it. They think that the worst is over. They couldn’t be more wrong. Now is not the time to relax. Cases are increasing, not decreasing. Now is the time to persevere, to work from home if possible, to keep washing hands and keep your distance. Even if the sun is shining and the weather is warmer.
I am sure my disappointment is temporary. But I would like to say to everybody in Sweden – be happy things are more relaxed here but do follow the instructions of the authorities. It’s that simple. If we all do it, it will all be over sooner. And then we can all sit in the sun in the park.
In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Swedes – from a comfortable distance.
2 thoughts on “When watching the Swedes is a disappointment”
I hope you can endure my long message 🙂 I apologise for its length already but I have so much to say 🙂
I love your blog. It has been a breath of fresh air amongst the craziness that has been invading non-Swedes in Sweden. They are very loud. They are very stubborn. They are not making any sense or trying to understand how this country works or how epidemiology works. Although, I think they are mostly panicked. Your response has been balanced and responsible. My name is Rama, I am originally from Syria and I came to Sweden on a scholarship to study a master’s degree in 2015. After my masters, I temporarily moved to Paris for a job at UNESCO but then lost my dream job because if you are a Syrian in Europe who is not a refugee, you probably have the worst passport ever and getting visas is a nightmare. So thankfully I made it back to Sweden right before Christmas of 2017 and I have been here ever since. I am doing a PhD in Philosophy of education now and I was so inspired lately to apply for a post-doc and conduct an interdisciplinary study about this pandemic and how the world is reacting to it. I have many thoughts about why we reacted the way we did as a human collective. I will share some of them in regards to Sweden. I felt like sharing this with a reasonable person, so here it goes… Naturally, the fact that Sweden is the only country in the world where the policy has been decided purely by epidemiologist has made it special. After obsessively following scientific news and reading academic epidemiology papers, I found that Sweden did the right thing. Its policy aligns with science more than anything else. However, I would say that somethings that happened here is not helping people to see this. It was the perfect for Sweden because of our bad timing with Sportlov and the habit of Swedes to go to ski resorts in Italy at that time of the year. I think the virus came very early to Sweden through these resorts and hit the worst place it could hit first. The theory is that once these skiers landed in Arlanda, they took taxis that were driven by drivers from the densely populated immigrant areas in Stockholm. When you realise that the majority of workers at elderly homes come from these areas as well, it becomes clear how early the virus got to elderly homes. Yes, we could have paid attention to this earlier, and yes protective gear for workers would have helped earlier, but regardless of that, the virus was there early. This is the major mistake that FHM had made and it might cost us more than we expect. If you humour me and read to the end, I will explain why I think that a Swedish win over the virus is a win for science and the world, but this stupid mistake is going to cost is a lot. People think that the high mortality rate in Sweden is because of its response policy, but it mainly because of this mistake that maybe (and let’s be fair) was easy to miss. Sweden like many other countries in the world (I dare day all of them) is guilty of forgetting about poor and densely populated immigrant areas. The second reason of why the mortality rate is high here because different response models imply going through different stages of the pandemic. The fact that Sweden did not aggressively shelter people from the virus allowed it to spread faster, so we are seeing deaths now that other countries will only see later on when they open up, no matter how careful they were with that. Thus, we are going through earlier stages of death waves. Other countries will have to open up eventually. We can’t simply hide and wait for a vaccine, and it scares me that we would find one anytime soon, because vaccines need to be tested over and over again for months upon months. Having one so quickly will be the same kind of rushed science that gave us the imperial college report, which we know now how massively wrong it was, but how massive its impact was on the UK and the world. The more I follow the recent epidemiological studies, the more it’s becoming clear that COVID-19 is not as dangerous as we first thought it was. It is absolutely not a mild disease, and definitely not the flu and definitely more dangerous than the flu. However, more and more studies are suggesting that its fatality rate is probably less that the 3,4% that WHO announced earlier this year. We still need many more studies to be sure because like I always say: rushed science is bad science. However, more and more now, we are starting to realise that the only correct policy we should have went with is sheltering the old and frail as strictly as possible while letting the young healthy individuals out there to deal with the virus and get immune. Herd immunity is the only way to protect our loved ones. Herd immunity is not a policy or a plan that the evil Swedish government is using to try to kill the old and weak. The way we harness it is not by letting the virus loose on the population, but through sheltering the weak and immunising the strong. Science is also clear on the fact that an immunity through infection is stringer than an immunity through a vaccine. We also don’t know if COVID-19 will mutate in the future or become another seasonal disease that we need to deal will every year. The immunity might be temporary like the flu immunity but it would probably last a whole season, and that would be enough to protect the old and sick. So, my point here is that these irresponsible young Swedes in restaurants might unwittingly be doing the right thing. It is too early to make that statement affirmative and I will say again and again that we need more studies to prove that, but let’s wait and see. However, I think we know enough now to speculate that this statement has more than a 50% chance of being true. What we know for sure is that virus transmissions out in the open is way much less effective than it is indoors. So we could be disappointed by people indoors, but not by people on picnic blankets outside. The biggest mistake that we’re doing as a collective is generalising. However, each situation is contextual, and our criticism should be led by science in this case like how the Swedish scientists are dealing with it. I have to say though that scientists are not necessarily good speakers or good communicators, I know that very well from being in academia. This did not help when people try to humanise Tegnell because he looks so cold and reckless, but he’s a scientist not a politician and we should not expect of him to be a good speaker or a charming politician like Mikael Damberg. One more thing: as of today we know that the economy in Sweden has already reached a difficult position, so our policy here did not save the economy, but might have saved many abuse victims, suicide victims, acute disease victims, poverty victims, and so many more in our society, which a lockdown would be devastating for. I have ADHD and my medicine (that saved me from suicide earlier this year) is imported. I have been having a hard time finding it in pharmacies because of this crisis and the border closure and other economical factors that came with it. I have a lot more to say about lockdowns and economic recessions and their effects on the working class and the vulnerable in society, but maybe I should end this long message here and tell you why I think we should cross our fingers that Sweden did the right thing. If Sweden was right in the end, the world will learn to listen to scientists instead of populist politicians. The world will know that they made a mistake when they panicked and supported harsh measures that devastated so many people in society on the long run, more than COVID-19 ever did. A Swedish win will teach people that they should push for scientists to call the shots. If Sweden lost its battle against this virus, we will never recover from the dominance of politicians over science. We will always put things in their hands instead of the hands of those who are “the experts”. If Sweden lost, the world will abide by the fact that the personal freedom that the Swedish constitution holds high regard of, is not necessary. That will leave loopholes for populism to take an even harder grip on us. If Sweden wins, we may see a future where other countries also appoint scientists to run their health agencies. Now wouldn’t that be awesome?
Hi Rama, thanks for your response which was very interesting to read. Thanks also for following my writing, I appreciate it. I wish you all the best in your education, career and your life in Sweden.