This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Sweden is one of the only countries in the world to adopt a policy of herd immunity. It does not have a lockdown in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, though it has adopted softer measures like social distancing. Swedish journalist Caisa Ederyd tells us what life is like right now.
It’s confusing to live in Sweden. I know there’s a pandemic going on. I know it’s serious. But I can’t grasp exactly how serious it is. I work at a public service radio station in Stockholm. Most of my colleagues, including myself, go to work every day, socially distancing ourselves from each other as much as possible. One of Sweden’s biggest news desks is broadcasting right from our building. But no matter how much I hear about quarantines, lockdowns, the risk of economic depression and restrictions on freedom in other countries – it’s as if I don’t get it. My life is too normal. And yet, at the same time, it’s not.
I live together with my boyfriend and two kids. Having small kids and a full-time job doesn’t leave me much time to think. But I haven’t seen my mum in two months. She’s in her 70s and has a history of respiratory problems. Right now, the Swedish strategy is all about protecting people like her.
Most of Sweden’s restrictions are recommendations: wash your hands, don’t go to parties, don’t travel and keep a distance. Limit contact with other people – especially if you’re a person at higher risk from coronavirus, like my mum. Aside from a bunch of recommendations are just common sense, there are currently four government rules: no public gatherings of over 50 people; no visiting retirement homes; no travelling to Denmark (the borders are closed), and bars and restaurants have to make sure it doesn’t get crowded – guests must be served sitting down by a table.
Being healthy, I’m not afraid of getting sick. Most of my friends and family here think the Swedish way is the way to go. (God, I really hope herd immunity works.) We’re joking about it, which is the only way we’re able to deal with the situation.
Most of my friends work from home now. Anyone with the slightest symptom of a cold needs to stay at home. It’s become taboo to sneeze or cough – two months ago, I could absolutely turn up at work with a little bit of a cold (I know). We’re told to keep a distance. We’re still allowed to do pretty much whatever we want, except for clubbing, partying, celebrating – basically doing anything that’s fun to do together with your friends – and hanging out with our parents and grandparents.
Although I still go to work, my life is different. I avoid public transport. I’m distancing myself from people in the streets and supermarkets. My kids go to daycare, but we’ve decided that they can’t go to other kids’ houses. Maybe we’re paranoid, maybe we’re not.
I miss having dinner with my friends. I miss my mum. It’s as if I’m fine, but a little bit sad and a little bit worried off and on all the time. I know we possess freedoms that others don’t have, but it’s hard to be objective.
I haven’t been to a nightclub since February. The few times I’ve been to a bar over the past two months, it’s been a bit like going to an illegal rave. Yes, we’re allowed to, but is it safe? Most people think being outside isn’t dangerous, as long as we keep a distance. How much of a distance depends on who you ask.
There’s a general feeling of trust between the Swedish state and the public. Maybe it works because Swedish people like to keep a social distance anyway. I think it’s great to have a valid excuse not to hug people.
One of my friends is a doctor at a busy hospital in Stockholm. A couple of weeks ago, she told me there were signs of a catastrophe coming. There weren’t enough ICUs. Medical staff had become seriously ill. Another friend has been home alone in quarantine for seven weeks with difficulties breathing. It makes it real.
But last week, Stockholm experienced its two hottest days of the year so far. I cycle to work, and the city was crowded. There was a traffic jam in the bike lane. Outdoor restaurants were full. Every day now, more and more people are out and about. As a result, a few bars have been forced to close for not complying with the rules. People had been served standing up and too many people had been too close to each other. The closer we get to summer, the less we seem to care about the virus.
While some of my friends put themselves in (voluntary or involuntary) quarantine, others have hosted small house parties and spend weekends together at their countryside houses – despite the government recommending people from the capital’s region, which is most affected by the coronavirus, to avoid unnecessary travel.
When the government limited public gatherings to 50 people on 29th March, I thought it was only a matter of days before we too were going to experience a lockdown. But it’s been a month now, and it feels like we're heading toward another direction. Although we haven’t been close to anything similar to a full lockdown, it’s as if people have had enough: “Summer is almost here! Let’s get on with our lives.”
Lockdown in Sweden feels far away. We could probably do it for a couple of weeks if someone told us to. Other countries enforce penalties to make sure people don’t leave their homes; Sweden is asking people to trust their common sense. But what happens when the situation is everything but common? You’re guaranteed to feel a little lost. I’m just left feeling worried, all because I’m not worried enough.