We needed time. Time to sit down and reflect on the past 10 weeks before writing down this article. As you might know, since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden has been taking a different approach compared to other European countries, on how to tackle the virus. And this has been quite hard on us! Especially at the beginning of the pandemic when measures taken in Sweden were close to nonexistent. While everyone back home was under a serious lockdown. In this article, we want to share with you some insights… How it is like to be living in Sweden during the COVID19 pandemic, but also how we feel as foreigners in the country during these disturbing times.
This is such a strange time and never have I thought I’d be writing this type of article! We are also very happy and thankful for being healthy and that no one in our families nor close friends have been affected by the virus. Writing this article also took us a bit of time as we wanted to find the right words. We wanted to see how the situation would be evolving, and in what words it has to be described in order to not offend anyone. We are splitting this article into 2 parts. In the first one, we’ll talk about the start of the pandemic in Europe and when the first measures were applied in Sweden. Whereas in the second one, we will talk about the current state, our reflections, and what is coming next.
The Beginning of the Pandemic
A little over 2 months ago, the coronavirus started to spread in Europe, and Sweden has been touched by it together with other countries. While the scale of it is not as severe as in Italy or France by looking at the general numbers, the deaths per capita rate is, arguably, the highest in Europe.
From mid-March, we could feel something different in town and especially in offices. People coming back from travels abroad were asked to stay home for a 14-days quarantine period, business trips got canceled, and slowly people started to work from home, on a voluntary basis.
Shortly after this transition period, when the situation got more intense, the government issued a list of ”recommendations”. It is important to understand that in Sweden it’s almost impossible to restrict the free movement of people by law (something we were not aware of before). Thus, we were “strongly recommended” to avoid taking public transport, work from home if possible, avoid all non-essential travel outside the city and stay home even if you have the mildest symptoms such as sore throat or cough. Even though imposing ”strong recommendations” is pretty much all the government can do, they are highly followed by Swedes. That was also something we didn’t know and were freaked out a little.
When looking at the news, the Swedish prime minister was not saying anything really, no strict measures, no timelines, but that hopefully, we could reach a global immunity. At the same time, back home in France and Lithuania, countries went into very strict lockdowns. So, we were here, free to do anything we wanted… While everyone else was stuck inside and needed to have the authorization to do their groceries…
Not only it felt weird but when we would go outside for a walk in the evening, the whole city of Stockholm was also outside taking a walk. The walking paths were packed with people. And, we are not even talking about a 2 meters distance or anything. This also happened when the weather was getting better over here and a little warmer. You can understand that after 6+ months of winter, the one thing you want is to get out of the house!
Of course, I completely understand that going for a walk was needed for everyone. Because not only the weather was getting better… But mostly because of spending a full day/week, at home, together with your partner/family while working in a small apartment… Yes, you need to go out, get fresh air, and move.
So, since Erikas and I started working from home, we have also implemented other measures. Such as avoided taking public transport, stopped going out for dinners, afterworks, canceled our gym memberships as well as any other social activities that we were involved in. Instead, we have fixed our bikes, took walks in nature, did sports at home, and perhaps enjoyed an occasional takeaway dinner… So, it has been quite a change but it felt right like we were bringing our little contribution.
On the other hand, we were seeing people outside on terraces, queuing for their favorite pizza, or enjoying a packed newly opened restaurant. This is pretty much when we started to get a little annoyed at this situation. And at the Swedish way of handling things. Not gonna lie, but it felt like we were some kind of guinea pigs for a social/medical experiment. To which we did not agree to.
It also made us realize that when living in Sweden during the COVID19 pandemic, you should follow the local recommendations, and maybe not feel bad for people back home or at least not compare everything to back home. We’re not saying this is easy, but this is what helped us not being (too) frustrated or annoyed at the Swedish system!
10 Weeks Later (mid-May ’20)
Now, in the second half of May, the situation in Sweden regarding the infection got a little better. Yet, all the ”strong recommendations” remained in place. While other European nations are slowly opening up and are planning to reopen their borders to the neighboring countries for the summer season, Sweden remains in the same state. As the prime minister has announced: ”such recommendations will be in place for weeks or even months to come”. Meaning, that instead of having a lockdown in the beginning and then slowly opening everything up. We will be in this ”in-between” state for much longer. For instance, the recommendation to not leave the country has just been extended to mid-July. You are only ”allowed” to travel up to 1-2h away from your place of residence. In addition, we are, supposedly, not expected to go back to offices until the end of summer.
How do we feel about it?
Has this worked for us? I think so. Even though now we do allow ourselves to sit in an outdoor terrace or roam the empty streets of the Old Town, we still stick to the general recommendations and don’t feel that frustrated. We haven’t taken a metro for over 2 months and didn’t go shopping or so. However, the ability throughout this time to be outside, go for a run, or just have a pick-nick in a national park raised our frustration threshold. Which allows us to work from home and avoid bigger public gathering for the weeks to come.
We are not saying that Sweden’s approach is better or worse than any other country’s, but it’s simply different. It’s more oriented to the long run. People are expected to stick to ”milder” regulations for a longer time compared to strict short terms lockdowns. I guess we will see the real results of all of this in the next year or so. Once extensive research will be conducted. However, now, we just wanted to shed some light on the broadly critiqued Sweden’s approach.
If you are also expat, or living abroad, feel free to share your experience with us! We’d love to know how you feel!
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