If you’ve been following the news about the coronavirus pandemic, you probably already have a strong opinion on Sweden’s approach to combating the spread of COVID-19.
But the experiences of some Australians currently living in the conditions in the Scandinavian nation could only be different.
When the pandemic broke out, Sweden made the unconventional decision not to impose lockdowns unlike most of its European neighbors.
Instead, his strategy relied heavily on people taking personal responsibility for protecting themselves and those around them from the virus.
The decision to go its own way made it a popular topic of debate among international health professionals, news organizations and political experts.
Those who oppose lockdown point to it as an example other nations should follow, but others who advocate tough public health measures highlight the coronavirus death toll, which is significantly higher than that of its Nordic neighbors.
So what was it like to see Sweden’s great coronavirus experiment? The ABC spoke to several Australian expats who live across the country to get their thoughts.
“People don’t seem to break the rules”
Wendy Luttrell lives with her Swedish partner and their newborn baby in Skellefteå, a town with around 32,000 inhabitants in the north-east of the country.
Ms. Luttrell had only lived in Sweden since December and said she was initially critical of the country’s reaction, especially after learning of Australia’s actions.
She said she asked why the land wasn’t locked and why nobody wore masks, but she has since changed her mind.
„“[Culturally], of course they are almost prepared for it. “
According to the Swedish Health Department, there have been a total of 1,141 coronavirus cases and 31 deaths in County Skellefteå out of a total population of around 270,000 people.
However, the numbers elsewhere in the country are far more alarming.
While the Swedish population is less than half that of Australia, at around 10 million, 102,407 cases have been reported – about four times the 27,371 cases here.
Sweden also has the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths and cases when compared to other Nordic countries.
As of Friday, more than 5,910 people had died of COVID-19 in Sweden, compared to 278 people in neighboring Norway, 675 in Denmark and 346 in Finland – even though Sweden has twice the population.
Sweden has the 14th highest deaths per capita in the world, just one position lower than Italy, according to the latest Oxford University figures.
Many of the deaths occurred in elderly care facilities or in homes where people received professional care.
Less strict rules are difficult to replicate in Australia
In the capital Stockholm – about nine hours by car from Skellefteå – fellow expat Andrew Digges said the rules are not as strict as in countries like Australia.
Swedes are instructed to work from home when they can, stay at home when they have symptoms, and while restaurants, pubs and even nightclubs are allowed to stay open they can only offer socially distant table service.
Simon Keane, a Melbourne graduate student who lives in the city of Skövde, said although he is in favor of the Swedish approach to managing COVID-19, he doesn’t think it would work in Australia.
“I think most Swedes trust that government agencies make good, informed and informed decisions,” he said.
“And while they may not like the decisions or rules, at least they follow them. I don’t think people in Australia have the same respect for government agencies. “
As an added plus, Mr Keane said he felt Swedes’ natural fondness for social distancing might work in their favor too – a fairly common observation among expats and Swedes alike.
Travel for free at home and abroad
Ethan Brooker lives in the small town of Lidköping with his Swedish partner, who is a doctor at the local hospital.
As a sign of how different the rules on pandemics are in Sweden compared to Australia, Mr Brooker recently traveled to the southern city of Malmö for a baptism and took a week-long holiday in France last month.
Despite the relative freedom they enjoyed over the European summer, he said the people of Lidköping had worked hard to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Life in the city of around 25,000 people changed significantly at the start of the pandemic, when locals worked from home and avoided public places like the library, shopping malls and cinemas.
“The town was pretty empty for months,” said Brooker.
He said the coverage of Sweden’s pandemic policy in the Australian media, which has often focused on the country’s decision not to impose bans, has not been particularly helpful.
“I felt like [it] did not help improve the quality of the debates in Australia … it was pretty black and white and centered on the idea of ”lockdown versus no lockdown” when in reality there are many more components to a successful public health response . “
For Melbourne’s father, Clint Grundy, the decision to move his family to Sweden last year was almost accidental.
Mr Grundy, a construction project manager, currently lives on Gotland Island and said his experience was completely different from that of his extended family and friends back home.
“Lots of family members and friends are having pretty bad times,” he told ABC.
Mr Grundy said there was “less panic” in Sweden and that the Swedish government’s approach was “less political” domestically than in Australia.
The Grundy family’s life in Sweden could hardly be more different than what they would have experienced if they had stayed in Melbourne.
“We’re actually going to travel in a couple of weeks, we’re going to Prague … one of the biggest and fastest growing COVID places, but I kind of made up my mind to get on with life instead of sitting still for too long. ” he said.
Not all industries have remained untouched
However, life in Sweden during the pandemic was not relatively unchanged for everyone.
Stockholm chef Gaeton Graham told ABC that he lost his job due to COVID-19: he works for the Gröna Lund theme park, which has not been able to stay open due to the ban on public gatherings of 50 or more people.
“I am in the unfortunate position of working for an employer that cannot be legally opened,” said Graham.
On the plus side, Mr Graham said he will be spending a lot of time with his children, although schools in Sweden remain largely open.
“School policy is that young children must stay home for all flu-like symptoms and then for 48 hours without symptoms,” he said.
“We have two young children, so we kept them at home a lot.”
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