This time 18 months ago, nobody had heard of COVID-19, nor could have predicted the enormity of its takeover of our lives. While the virus, before the development of multiple strains in recent months, has acted in the same way internationally, government handling and restrictions have not been so consistent when compared between Sweden and England. Journalist, Callum Wells, investigates the former’s controversial strategy for dealing with an unprecedented pandemic.
“SWEDEN has been really like an island during this whole pandemic,” says Dino Skodo, a probation officer and lifelong resident of the nation which borders Norway and Finland.
“It’s been very very different to most countries and consistently different,” he adds.
While residents of England were obliged to follow the strictest level of social distancing, including PPE wearing and home-quarantining to name only a few, the Swedish government announced it would not be rolling out a nationwide lockdown. It would be putting in place recommendations, rather than legal restrictions, for its citizens.
I listen, fascinatedly, as Dino tells me that almost nobody can be seen wearing facemasks, not even indoors, and restaurants and bars have remained open throughout the whole pandemic. In this case, the recommendations put in place advise that there should be at least two metres between each table.
I learn that life for most people around him has been normal in Jönköping. This is an adjective I could never have associated with my own experience of 2020 and 2021 – at least from my perspective of living in England where police action can be taken against those who do not follow strict laws.
Could it simply be that the Swedes are more trustworthy than us Brits in following guidance? At the beginning of the pandemic, the Swedish state epidemiologists merely advised the public to avoid non-essential travel, to work from home where possible and to avoid visiting the elderly in hospitals or care homes. The Swedes, on the whole, complied like diligent citizens.
Data regarding mobility shows that the populations of Sweden and England reduced their movements and interactions by a similar amount at the start of the pandemic. The big difference is that we were compelled to do it, yet non-compliance with the rules on household mixing, self-isolating, and quarantining after holidays went under the radar in many cases. It’s worth noting, however, that Sweden boasts key advantages that we don’t have. The most obvious being that England is 17 times more densely populated, with 28 per cent of our households being made up of a single person, compared to 40 per cent in Sweden.
What we’re left with is a result. For every 100,000 residents of the UK, 191.52 died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test. Sweden’s figure sits at 139.96, along with the position of not being in an economic recession. In fact, the first quarter of the year saw the Swedish economy grow by 0.1 per cent.
While members of Generation-Z have been dubbed as the Covid Generation across the globe, Swedish school pupils have been largely unaffected. Excluding a temporary shift to remote learning for over-16s in December 2020, schools have stayed open throughout the pandemic in the Scandinavian nation.
Dino finds it difficult to generalise with the ways in which young people have reacted to the virus, and has seen both extremities. Overall, the only demographics Dino sees wearing masks are the very old, or those from Gen-Z, who are the least at risk but use it as an opportunity to make a statement, in his opinion. On the contrary, though, many young people are having big parties – something Dino is steering away from, in order to protect those around him.
He firmly believes that mask-wearing acts as a reminder that the virus exists, saying: “I think that most people are trying to be responsible and, to a certain extent, the government’s policy of trusting its citizens has worked out because most people have been taking their responsibility without being forced to. But, I think many of us simply forget that the virus exists. That’s the main issue.”
At Harlow College in Essex, masks are a staple and it’s virtually impossible to forget about the existence of the infamous virus.
Marian Hollingsworth, safeguarding manager at Harlow College, explains: “Two years ago, if you’d come into college with a black mask up to here,” she gestures, “and a hood down to here, we would be asking you for your identity and we’d have been wondering what was going on. Now, if you don’t come in with a mask on, we want to know why.”
When asked about the UK government’s handling of the pandemic, specifically in places of education, she answers: “Personally, I feel the government could have made teachers front line staff and perhaps they should have got their vaccines earlier because they’re not only dealing with young people, who have absolutely no idea when they’re going to get their vaccine, but they have got families of their own they want to protect.”
Over in Sweden, only 12 per cent of its population has been fully vaccinated, compared to 35.7 per cent in the UK.
In conclusion, I learn from Dino that he believes most people in Sweden are trying to be responsible and, to a certain extent, their government’s policy of trusting its citizens has worked out because most people have been taking their responsibility without being forced to.
Featured photo: Swedish citizens dine out in groups while its neighbouring countries follow strict restrictions.