‘The biggest myth about Sweden is that life is going on as normal’

'The biggest myth about Sweden is that life is going on as normal'
Isabella Lövin, Deputy Prime Minister, Environment Minister and co-leader of the Green Party. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT
Life in Sweden is absolutely not going on as normal, the country's Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin told The Local as she warned the government was prepared to take stronger measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Read The Local's full interview with Deputy Prime Minister Isabella Lövin HERE.

Sweden has been the subject of huge international attention during the coronavirus crisis given the decision not to impose the kind of strict lockdown similar to those imposed across Europe and in the United States.

It has banned events of more than 50 people and barred visits to retirement homes, but has mainly relied on guidelines for social distancing and has stressed personal responsibility in the battle to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But in an interview with The Local, Deputy PM Isabella Lövin said it was wrong to suggest the more relaxed approach meant it was business as usual in Sweden.

“The biggest myth and misconception is that life goes on as normal in Sweden,” she said. “It absolutely does not.”

“We have seen Easter travel decrease by 90 percent, we have businesses going bankrupt, a record number of temporary layoffs, and a lot of unemployed people.”

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Lövin said the tourism industry in Sweden had been hit “incredibly hard” by the crisis caused by the pandemic, which has been linked to over 2,000 deaths in the country.

“A lot of small businesses are on their knees because production is down or has decreased a lot. It is not business as usual in Sweden but the opposite, things are very, very tough.”

While there is no complete lockdown in Sweden Lövin said the impact of the health authorities' advice has led to a similar kind of changes in habits and way of life that other countries have seen.

“If you look at people's behaviour it is a very big difference compared to a normal situation. A lot of people are working from home, a lot of people have called in sick with minor symptoms,” she said.

As part of the official guidelines to the public the Swedish government and health authorities have been urging people suffering even minor coronavirus-like symptoms not to go to work, to lower the risk of spreading the virus.


A mosque in Sweden announcing that Friday prayer has been cancelled due to the coronavirus. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

'It's a marathon not a sprint'

Lövin stressed that many people have also stopped seeing their elderly relatives and avoided travelling.

“That comes as a result of people obeying the recommendations our government agencies have issued,” she said.

The deputy PM however accepted that not everyone in Sweden is following the government's advice, which includes keeping distance from other people when in public places.

While Sweden's plan of action to tackle the coronavirus spread continues to garner both criticism and approval both at home and abroad, Lövin says the government and public alike must see it through.

“We need to keep going with this strategy that we have started, and that means that everyone has to take personal responsibility for making it through this epidemic, so that the healthcare sector is not overwhelmed and so that the elderly and vulnerable groups who actually risk dying with this illness do not catch it. It is important to keep repeating what we have said all along: Stay home if you feel the slightest symptom.”


People soaking up the sun in Malmö on April 23rd. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Nevertheless she also warned that if the outbreak shows signs of worsening or members of the public deviate from the official social distancing guidelines then tougher measures could be implemented.

“We are constantly prepared to take stronger measures if it is necessary to curb the spread of infection, and if the situation deteriorates we will look at further measures,” she said.

“Exactly what kind of measures depend on where we see that there may be big problems ahead. We are now issuing very strong calls not to travel, not to have parties at Walpurgis and definitely not demonstrations on May 1st.”

Walpurgis night is when Swedes celebrate the end of winter by building bonfires and takes place every year on the last day of April. 

“But we also need to hold on and hold out. This is, as I said, a marathon, not a sprint,” Lövin said.

“The Swedish government's strategy is to make sure that those measures we take are acceptable enough to people that it is possible to keep them going – we're now talking about many months or maybe even years.”

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren spoke with Isabella Lövin in an exclusive telephone interview on April 23rd. The full interview, in which Lövin also speaks about how Sweden plans to address the coronavirus' impact on foreign residents, can be read HERE


Don't miss The Local's full interview with Deputy PM Isabella Lövin. Click here to read it. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

What should you be doing to help reduce the rate of infection?

In Sweden, the official advice requires everyone to:

  • Stay at home if you have any cold- or flu-like symptoms, even if they are mild and you would normally continue life as normal. Stay at home until you have been fully symptom-free for at least two days.
     
  • Practise good hygiene, by regularly and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, using hand sanitiser when that's not possible, and covering any coughs and sneezes with your elbow.
     
  • Keep distance from all other people when in public places. That includes shops, parks, museums, and on the street, for example. The World Health Organisation recommends keeping at least a 1.5-2 metre distance.
     
  • Avoid large gatherings, including parties, weddings, and other activities.
     
  • Work from home if you can. Employers have been asked to ensure this happens where possible.
     
  • Avoid all non-essential travel, both within and outside Sweden. That includes visits to family, planned holidays, and any other trips that can be avoided.
     
  • If you have to travel, avoid busy times such as rush hour if you can. This reduces the number of people on public transport and makes it easier for people to keep their distance.
     
  • If you are over 70 or belong to a high-risk group, you should stay at home and reduce all social contacts. Avoid going to the shops (get groceries delivered or try to find someone who can help you), but you can go outside if you keep distance from other people. Read more about the help available to those in risk groups here.
     
  • By following these precautions, we can all help to protect those who are most at risk and to reduce the rate of infection, which in turn reduces the burden on Sweden's healthcare sector.
     
  • Read more detail about the precautions we should all be taking in this paywall-free article. Advice in English is also available from Sweden's Public Health Agency and the World Health Organisation.

Member comments

  1. Holden, yesterday I went to Bromma Blocks for the first time since early March, I went to walk in and a man violently sneezed in the enclosed revolving doors….I hear ya! This article focuses, overwhelmingly, on the economical impact on Sweden. It barely touches on the 2000 people who have lost their lives. Bus drivers, nurses and now teachers are dying. The government is all over the place, the message is confusing. Kids can play in sports tournaments but adults can’t yet, kids can go to school but adults can’t. You can go to work and school and shopping and be a group of 50 but you can’t go to your Summer cottage…..It’s a mess. Tegnell had his plan for herd immunity couching it in this idea of “slow enough not to overwhelm the medical community and making sure to protect the elderly”. The elderly were not protected and are now paying the price for the governments incompetence. Sweden chose their path and are now doubling down and digging in their heels. We need more voices from the scientific community, more transparency from the government and more political response instead of this elder Sheldon Cooper (Tegnell) who views humans as nothing more than bags of cells.

  2. Lol , I see no difference in behavior , ppl with cold cone out to shop , ppl are taking sun bath in garden with dogs etc get some grip pm and dpm STOP TRIAL ERROR METHOD

  3. Most shops and restaurants,many schools,hairdressers etc are open.How is this deifferent from normal life in Sweden?
    Why keep threatening more draconian measures,why not just do it now?
    I was in a store today and a tall white Swedish man sneezed loudly and profoundly near me…This is no doubt a wonderful example of a Swedish person following the rules of staying at home if they have the slightest symptoms.Not.

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