March 26, 2020
I’m surprised that Sweden is now suddenly doing something that makes sense for a change.
While most of Europe is firmly locked down in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, Sweden is taking a softer line, keeping primary schools, restaurants and bars open and even encouraging people to go outside for a nip of air.
This stands in stark contrast to the urgent tone elsewhere and has sparked heated debate whether Sweden is really doing the right thing.
Gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned — compared to more than two people in Britain and Germany — and the government has advised secondary schools and universities to close their facilities and conduct classes online.
On Tuesday, the government announced that restaurants and bars would only be allowed to provide table service to avoid crowding but stopped short of actually closing them.
Health authorities also urged people to reconsider trips to visit relatives over Easter.
But for many, life is carrying on close to normal.
Bars and restaurants were full at the weekend, and Stockholm’s city buses have been jam-packed at rush hour despite the social distancing recommendations.
Grilled by media about their apparently relaxed response to the pandemic, Swedish politicians respond that the government will take its cue from experts at the country’s Public Health Agency.
The agency has yet to call for stricter measures, arguing that the elderly should stay home, not children.
“As soon as the Public Health Agency requests that the government make a decision, we will do it this quickly,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren, snapping her fingers, said earlier this month.
But not everybody shares the government’s faith in the agency, with some accusing it of putting lives at risk.
This has led to a stream of vitriol on social media directed at the agency and its main spokesperson, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell.
The amount of hateful comments became so overwhelming that the agency’s director, Johan Carlson, felt compelled to defend Tegnell, saying: “I think it’s close to unworthy, what he has been subjected to”.
The mounting pressure has not changed the authorities’ stance that draconian measures are not effective enough to justify their impact on society.
On Monday, Sweden’s former state epidemiologist and current advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), Johan Giesecke, encouraged Swedes to go out and enjoy the spring sun.
“Bring a friend and walk a metre apart. Don’t hug your neighbour. Bring a thermos and sit on a park bench. It’s bad for your health to sit at home too,” Giesecke told broadcaster SVT’s morning show.
The Netherlands is also taking a common-sense approach to the pandemic.
As most of the world practices social distancing, the Dutch are trying a different strategy to protect the vulnerable from the coronavirus: They’re aiming for so-called “herd immunity,” or what happens when enough people have survived the illness to effectively slow its spread.
“As we wait for a vaccine or medicine, we can slow down the virus spreading and at the same time build up herd immunity in a controlled manner,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said last week during an update on COVID-19, the contagious respiratory illness caused by the coronvirus.
Like a lot of other world leaders, Rutte is now in the business of calming his citizens down. But he’s also a pragmatist.
“The reality is also that in the coming period a large part of the population will be infected with the virus,” he added.
So unlike the Italians or the French, the Dutch are not on lockdown. Schools and restaurants have been told to close, but strict social distancing hasn’t been imposed. People are still hanging out in parks. Even the coffee shops that sell weed are open, though now only for to-go orders.
Mexico, too, refuses to promote mass hysteria.
Many countries in Latin America have taken aggressive measures to deal with the coronavirus such as closing their borders, dock and airports to foreigners, declaring states of emergencies and ordering business shutdowns.
Mexico, by contrast, has so far taken a “business as usual” attitude. People still crowd street markets picking through piles of fruit and vegetables. Cars and trucks continue to fill the streets and commuters throng subway trains, though the volume of traffic is noticeably lower.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his government have said a shutdown of the country would disproportionately hurt poor people and also be a psychological weight on all Mexicans. They say there is no reason to impose major restrictions before health officials deem them necessary — a moment they are expecting in late March, based on the virus’ pattern elsewhere and the Feb. 27 date of Mexico’s first confirmed case.
The lockdown really is a psychological weight on people, especially because it only exists to save the lives of older persons, as well as fat and sick individuals who don’t even go out that much to begin with.
Healthy, social people want to go out, do cocaine and perform sexual acts on hookers who are cosplaying as Corona.
Unless governments start delivering cocaine and hookers wearing Corona costumes, civil unrest will rise.