Sweden’s approach to combating COVID-19 has been a bit different than the U.S.’s approach!
In the beginning, Sweden attempted “herd immunity” while protecting at-risk groups such as the elderly. Unlike the surrounding European countries, they never imposed a lockdown or closed their borders. In March 2020, the government temporarily imposed a rule that prohibited gatherings of 50 or more people, then in November this number was changed to 8 people . The King of Sweden and the Prime Minister stated in December 2020 that Sweden’s approach to controlling COVID-19 had failed.
The Swedish Public Health Agency recommends that people work from home, avoid unnecessary travel, socially distance, stay home if they are 70 or older, and stay home if they have even minimal cold symptoms. Distanced learning was implemented for schools and universities (but not preschools and elementary schools) and alcohol sales were given a curfew of 10pm and then later 8pm .
As of May 23rd 2021, there have been 1.06 million cases and 14,000 deaths . Sweden has 10.2 million people. The United States has had 33.1 million cases and 589,000 deaths . The U.S. has 328 million people. Both countries have had about 10% of their populations contract COVID-19! Sweden had peak COVID cases in December 2020, and January and April 2021. The U.S. had peak COVID cases in November and December 2020, and January 2021.
The vaccines are rolling out slower here in Sweden than in the United States. Sweden originally planned to have their entire population eligible to be vaccinated by June 2021, but this has been postponed to August due to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being put on hold . Currently, the people eligible to be vaccinated are the elderly and other at-risk citizens. It is my goal to be vaccinated by the time I leave, June 15th, but I am not sure now that I will be able to do this because I am not a Swedish citizen .
I have observed that some stores have limited the number of shoppers that are allowed, hand sanitizer is more common in stores, and museums and movie theaters are closed. Recently, larger gatherings have been allowed and some museums are starting to open up. Trains have been operating normally the entire time I have been here. Masks were never required to be worn in Sweden, unlike in other countries. However, I visited a doctor’s office last month and was handed a disposable mask at the door. I am usually the only person wearing a mask when I exercise in the gym, and when I walk around town I see a few people wearing masks but not many. Usually they are elderly, or other international people.
Even though most people in Sweden are still going about their normal lives, I have chosen to limit my interactions with large groups of people, like I am used to coming from the United States. It has been lonely at times–I do not have a large number of friends because I live alone. I am not living in a “corridor” style housing like many other international students are, and I do not frequent bars and clubs. I have made sure to wear a mask when I leave my apartment, and I disinfect and wash my hands often. So far, I have not even had a cold! I have made one great friend from Texas, and she and I have been exploring local areas of Sweden these past four months. I will describe our trips in my following posts.
It has been disconcerting to be in this environment that is so different than the U.S., but I am glad the vaccines are developed and vaccinations have been increasing. My stress decreased greatly when my parents and my friends were vaccinated in the U.S., and I hope to get one as soon as possible here, or immediately upon my return in June.