While this global pandemic grows in some areas and shrinks in others, different strategies are used to confront the coronavirus.
As the United States has gone through the process of closing schools and small businesses and canceling public events, life has gone on in sections of northern Europe.
Sweden is often recognized for being the home of the disco sensation ABBA, tennis star Bjorn Borg, furniture haven IKEA and the Swedish Fish candy that hardly exists outside the United States. The Swedish government, led by socialist prime minister Stefan Loven, has received some attention from news organizations for its laissez-faire approach to the corona pandemic. Although the data has continued to change, as of April 9 there had been 9,141 confirmed cases and 793 deaths in Sweden – which is a nation having a population of just 3 million more than the state of Washington.
For the past nine months, I have been a Rotary exchange student, sponsored by Yakima Sunrise Rotary, in Stockholm, Sweden. I recently returned home to Selah due to coronavirus concerns. At the time of my return in mid-March, I was moving from a relatively relaxed environment to one behind the societal bars of quarantine.
Swedes and their Nordic neighbors are widely known for having the highest quality of life in the world. The key to this well-being lies in the Swedish concept of “lagom,” which roughly translates to “in moderation.” Due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, the Swedish government has balanced protecting the health and well-being of its people. This means that Swedish restrictions are carried out in a spirit of moderation.
In early March, all high schools and universities in Sweden closed due to fears of spreading the coronavirus. Many parents began working from home, but they would still leave the house after the work day to drop their kids off at Scouts or sports practice.
Yep, extracurricular activities did not cease, even with the closure of all higher academics. Surprisingly, elementary and intermediate schools remained in session while I was there. The Swedish health minister, Lena Hallengren, has repeatedly explained that keeping elementary and middle schools open is essential for health care and transportation employees to remain at work. The wheels must keep rolling.
Even though the virus is now flooding the streets of Stockholm, life still goes on, for the most part. In an effort to protect the economy, the majority of cafes and bars in the nation’s capital remained open while I was there. In turn, they could often be seen full of groups of high school and university students who desired a break from their online educations. Is this a troubling juxtaposition? Possibly.
Restrictions on daily life take a toll on the quality of life of a nation. Sweden’s strategy for coping with this chaos has been to administer closures in moderation. “Lagom” cannot be stopped.
On March 29, the Swedish government declared that social gatherings were limited to 50 people, a number that was reduced from 500. Restaurants, cafes and bars are trusted to adhere to this rule, as is the general public. Loven has urged Swedes to follow “common sense,” and the public hopes that the government will do the same.
As explained by Sweden state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, the nation’s golden goal has been to slow the spread to a rate that is manageable.
It is unknown if this lax approach will play to Sweden’s advantage. Perhaps comfortable moderation is the key to all things.
• Mary-Frances Ballew was a 2018-19 member of the Unleashed team during her junior year at Selah High School, and has spent the current school year as an exchange student in Sweden.