The first outdoor fad of the Swedish corona winter of 2021 was sledding on cemeteries. Now, pandemic after-skis are all the rage, causing a lot of outrage, too. For as a large part of the capital’s moneyed middle class head to resorts such as Åre and Sälen during this week’s winter sports break, the rest of Stockholm’s families are left paying the price, with schools closed physically for 13-18-year-olds the following week to prevent further spread of Covid-19. This on the orders of the county’s medical officer for communicable diseases (inducing much anxiety for those with children under that particular age).
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Sweden may still uphold the ideal of equality, but in reality, there are huge gaps between the haves and the have-nots, between inner city elites and multicultural suburbs, between those forced to work in unsafe milieus such as taxis and metros during a pandemic and the self-employed middle class who can easily work from home and avoid falling ill. As a Swedish cartoonist captured it this week: “There won’t be any skiing as usual this year,” a family in a posh suburban villa laments. “As usual, there won’t be any skiing this year,” counters the family in a high-rise across the tracks.
The price of a winter holiday in Sweden tells you what a small percentage of the population can actually afford it. A ski pass in fashionable Åre is 2,640 kronor (approximately $314) per adult per week, 2,110 kronor per child (age 7-17). Add at least 10,000 kronor for a four-bed cabin or similar (prices run much higher if you book late) and the total for a family of four would be at least 20,000 kronor – add to that the cost of fuel, food, skiing gear, possible car hire and so on.
Not that it’s the price that should turn people off this year. Sweden holds the tragic Nordic record of Covid deaths, our 13,000 lost lives far exceeding that of neighbouring Finland, Norway and Denmark put together. A third wave is on its way (or already here, depending on who you ask), and as the media is increasingly reporting, a debilitating post-Covid disease – long-haul Covid – is affecting at least tens of thousands of Swedes (statistics are lacking in many respects), including the young and previously healthy. No one yet knows for how long.
Sweden’s pandemic response is built on individual responsibility in exchange for less Covid restrictions than the rest of the world, with cafés, shopping malls and so on staying open throughout the crisis, which many understandably confused readers have questioned in The Local’s articles. In essence: Keep your distance, and you get to keep your freedom.
But what happens when a part of the population no longer adheres to these rules, despite infections running rampant? In reality, nothing at all – apart, of course, from a greater risk of people getting sick. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven et al can wave their fingers all they want, using a grave rhetoric about “shared responsibilities” and “staying strong, hanging in there” (håll i och håll ut). But there are no fines or other consequences for throwing crammed after-ski parties or failing to wear a face mask on local transport. If you want to live your life as if the pandemic is over, there’s little stopping you from doing so.
But it’s not over for our exhausted health care workers, who on Tuesday reported that the pressure is increasing on the country’s emergency wards, with an increase too in the amount of younger patients taken seriously ill.
It’s not over for our isolated elderly, who – in their hundreds of thousands – are waiting patiently for their vaccine ticket back to a normal life, bypassed in the official queue by everyone from vaccine-stealing managers and their families to non-essential health care workers, even teenagers (!).
And, speaking of individual responsibilities, it’s not over for you, either. Not until every last one of us is safe.
Lisa Bjurwald is a Swedish journalist and author covering current affairs, culture and politics since the mid-1990s. Her latest work BB-krisen, on the Swedish maternity care crisis, was dubbed Best reportage book of 2019 by Aftonbladet daily newspaper. She is also an external columnist for The Local – read her columns here.