Your views: What Sweden’s foreign residents think about Covid-19 re-opening plans

Your views: What Sweden's foreign residents think about Covid-19 re-opening plans
Later opening hours for pubs were one of the first changes made in the plan. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT
When The Local asked international residents of Sweden how they felt about the country's plans to relax Covid-19 restrictions, many said they did not trust authorities to take the right decisions.

When asked if they agreed with the statement “The Swedish government and Public Health Agency are doing a good job in their response to the pandemic”, 44 said they either slightly or strongly disagreed, while 25 said they slightly or strongly agreed.

Exactly half of the 80 respondents to The Local’s survey, which was not scientific, said Sweden’s re-opening plan was not cautious enough, and that restrictions should instead be relaxed later or to a lesser extent. A further 17 said the plan was “too cautious” and 23 said it was “proportionate”.

Sweden took its first step on a five-stage re-opening plan at the start of June, increasing the number of people allowed at public events and extending the opening time at restaurants and bars to 10.30pm, among other measures.

“So few follow the restrictions now that it will make very little difference,” said one reader who asked to remain anonymous.

Of our respondents, 45 disagreed with the statement “Recommendations from Swedish authorities are clearly communicated”, while 27 agreed. Only 22 people agreed with the statement “On the whole, I trust people in Sweden to act responsibly regarding the pandemic”.

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We asked readers which specific measures they disagreed with, and two common themes were timing and mask-wearing.

Several respondents said that looser restrictions should have been more closely tied to benchmarks in incidence rate or ICU capacity rather than dates, or that the re-opening should have been delayed until more people were vaccinated, as well as multiple responses that recommendations to wear face masks should have been introduced earlier and more widely enforced.

The plan laid out by Sweden’s government is tied to dates rather than other benchmarks, but the government has said it takes into account the Public Health Agency’s expertise and the burden of the pandemic on the healthcare system when deciding which measures to take. This means that if the situation worsens, measures could be delayed beyond the planned date, as has happened previously.

“I think some of the ‘recommendations’ could have been enforced especially in cases of widespread disregard for certain recommendations such as the wearing of masks on transport in Stockholm – if they were going to advise this and had evidence for this then why not enforce it,” said one reader.

A reader from Australia said they had spent two weeks in hospital including six days in intensive care after catching Covid-19, and planned to continue wearing a mask in public places. He believed he contracted the virus after an outbreak at his partner’s place of work, where he said around 50 employees tested positive for Covid-19 as well as “a large number of family and friends”, several requiring hospitalisation. 

“After this incident, the company brought in mandatory mask wearing for all its staff; this has been relaxed since June 1st. My partner is continuing to wear a mask!” he added.

The re-opening plan from the government did not include any relaxations for workplaces, so people should still work from home if possible and where that is not possible, employers are responsible for taking measures to limit the risk of the virus spreading. But despite that, several people reported that the re-opening plan had led their workplace to relax measures even beyond those set out in the plan.

One reader, a Swede who has also lived in other countries, said they would work from home to a lesser extent due to the re-opening plan, even though the recommendation to work from home applies until at least the end of September.

Andrea, a Canadian in her 30s, said she would remain in isolation until fully vaccinated due to a genetic condition. Like the Australian reader, her partner’s work, which cannot be done from home, was where she saw the biggest risk, and she was concerned about the impact the re-opening plan could have.

“Where I live, I have not seen people following the guidelines anyway, but they seem to have a lot of trust in the authorities so relaxing restrictions will most likely result in people not taking any precautions. I have not felt safe throughout the entire pandemic. We have had constant scares of my husband being exposed because of his workmates’ risky behaviour,” she said.

Dining out and events

Exactly half of our respondents said they would be changing their behaviour as a result of the re-opening plan.

The most common areas mentioned were plans to dine out more or to attend events such as concerts, films or sports matches.

“It took courage to go against the common pandemic response across the world. I have been disappointed lately by the change of strategy and the tightening of restrictions which feels like succumbing to the pressure of critics, in and outside of Sweden. The drop in cases did not really coincide with a change in measures so it is still unclear what their effectiveness is,” commented Jeremie, a French researcher.

He was one of several readers who praised the fact they had been able to live in relative normality compared to many other countries.

“It will allow me to go to music events, protests, and Pride in July and August,” said one reader, a data scientist. “These public events serve a great purpose, and I feel positive about allowing outdoor unseated events with larger numbers since the timing is just right. That being said, I don’t feel incredibly confident about partaking, especially regarding the safety of others.”

One reader said they would change their behaviour, but not by socialising more, explaining that as a result of relaxed restrictions, “I will be even more cautious because Swedes are going to be even more careless”.

But many said they were frustrated that the relaxations did not make travel from non-EU countries any more of a possibility. 

At the moment, fully vaccinated travellers to Sweden are exempt from requirements to test and isolate on arrival, but can still only come to the country if they fall into one of the groups exempt from an entry ban. 

“Travel from non-EU countries should be re-opened sooner than August 31st so we can reunite with family living outside of EU,” said reader Charmaine, originally from the Philippines, referring to the date to which the entry ban on non-EU countries has been extended.

“After a year of self-isolation, while also being pregnant and on maternity leave, I am exhausted and all I want is to see my family abroad,” responded one woman who moved for work seven years ago and said she was now planning to leave as a result.

‘Personal lockdown’

“I will still be in personal lockdown, but with a more loose approach I might go out to meet friends a bit more often,” said Gus, a Brazilian living in Stockholm.

“I have been more careful than the general restrictions [required] since the beginning of the pandemic. A concern now is that relaxed restrictions in combination with mutant strains may lead to a rise in cases which could make it harder to finally travel and see family again,” one German researcher told The Local. “Since the government has decided that universities should return to on-campus teaching, I am also concerned about the next months at work. Many colleagues seem to assume that the pandemic will be over after summer and they begin to plan bigger meetings. If remote attendance is not an option, the chances of getting infected myself will increase substantially.”

“I can’t believe how unwilling so many people have been to follow even the basic, light restrictions we have had. People, in general, have not been keeping distance. Restaurants and cafes have had tables too close all year and people sit at them. People have been throwing private parties throughout the pandemic,” said Rachel, a reader from the US.

“In the past, I have always loved to heap praise on my adopted home. Before this pandemic, if I was asked to predict how Sweden would fare in one, I would have said that we would be leaders for the world in how to keep people safe and healthy. The failures of the government and the people to keep each other safe has hit me hard and I have felt sad and shocked all year. I hope that we as a country use this as an opportunity to take a good, hard look at ourselves, from our government and its policies to our values and cultural expectations.” 

Thanks to everyone who responded to our survey. We read all the comments you gave carefully, and will keep them in mind as we continue to report on the coronavirus and other issues that affect your lives in Sweden. 

The survey was not scientific, as the purpose was to give a snapshot of how our audience of international residents feel about the response to the pandemic. We closed it after receiving 80 responses, and removed answers that did not include a full name for verification purposes. Some readers asked to remain anonymous.

Tune in to The Local’s new podcast, Sweden in Focus, on Saturday, as we discuss this article in more detail.


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