A Greek Expat Debunks the Myths of Sweden’s Pandemic Strategy

An almost-deserted street in Stockholm. Photo credit: pxfuel.com

While almost every EU member state has been on a partial or complete lockdown for weeks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Sweden has approached the situation quite differently.

The very fact that Stockholm chose a different approach than nearly all of the rest of the world has created many myths, which sometimes reach the sphere of fantasy or fake news.

Greek Reporter spoke to a Greek national who has been living and working in Sweden for more than three years now.

Nikolaos Alexios Sapkaris, a clinical psychologist, has been living in Sweden for approximately three years.

Nikolaos Alexios Sapkaris, a clinical psychologist, lives and works with his family in Malmö, the third-largest city in Sweden.

Sapkaris, a native of the Ptolemaida region in West Macedonia, where many Greek citizens have already died from the coronavirus, told Greek Reporter that what happens in the entire world — not just in Sweden — is most likely the largest psychological experiment in history.

”Nothing similar has ever happened, be it war or another pandemic,” Sapkaris said, noting how novel and unprecedented this current situation truly is.

The main question everyone asks about Sweden is whether the country has chosen a risky and potentially dangerous path or not, as it has not closed any of its shops and it simply recommends measures, rather than imposing them legally.

Sapkaris is quite clear on this, stating that Sweden has tailored its response to the pandemic to its society’s own needs.

The country has a vast territory and a small population.

Sweden is the third-largest European Union member state by area; however, its population is even smaller than that of Greece.

This very fact creates a much different situation, compared to that of Belgium for example, which has the same population as Sweden, but with a massively higher population density.

The Greek national says that he believes a complete lockdown would not actually offer anything useful to Sweden.

”The only metropolitan area in Sweden is Stockholm, which is pretty much half the size of Athens,” Sapkaris said. ”People are recommended not to travel to the countryside, so effectively, Stockholm is in a form of quarantine anyway,” he explained.

Swedish society is also very different in many ways compared to Southern European societies.

”The Swedes have social distancing in their DNA,” Sapkaris explains, chuckling. ”When you greet a Swede from afar, he’ll be happy. When you do that to a Greek, he will think that you’re trying to avoid him,” he says.

This, of course, makes the social distancing recommendations much easier for the average resident of Sweden, since they’re used to being a great deal more distant when it comes to social interactions anyway.

But what about the wisdom of the country’s overall coronavirus strategy, though?

Greek Reporter asked Sapkaris about whether Sweden is pursuing what has become known as ”herd immunity” or not. Sapkaris was quite clear about this issue.

Sweden has not moved in this direction, but has simply tried to strike a balance between what it deems appropriate and necessary, in Sapkaris’ opinion.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s decision not to close shops, restaurants and bars in his country has sparked international concern. Photo Credit: facebook.com/stefanlofven

”The government, as well as all those medical experts, who brief the public every afternoon believe that these rumors are simply false,” he said.

”The Swedish government did not close all schools. They decided to keep primary schools open, so that key workers, such as doctors and nurses, can keep going to work,” he explains.

”However, they closed high-schools, with the idea being that a teenager can help his or her parents at home,” Sapkaris says.

This was also a measure which would not cause major health issues, since the vast majority of elderly people in Sweden live either by themselves or in care homes.

This is not the case in countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, where most of the older members of our society live either close to, or with, their children and grandchildren.

Of course, the political leadership of Sweden is not afraid to own the fact that they can make mistakes too.

”The Swedish government is adjusting its strategy every day, based on new scientific information,” Sapkaris explains.

”They banned all gatherings of 500, and then 50 people or more in February, much earlier than most of the other European nations,” he notes.

However, the fact that the government has not imposed measures, but rather “recommends” them, is a matter which should not be put under scrutiny, comparing Sweden with Greece or Italy.

”When the government makes a strong recommendation, then this is it. The Swedes will know that there is a reason behind this and they will follow it,” Sapkaris explained, trying to offer an insight ino the reasons why the government has approached the issue in such a way.

Of course, everyone knows that this situation is unprecedented, and no one is completely sure about what is the best way to go forward.

Sweden had recorded 919 deaths from the pandemic as of Tuesday, a figure almost ten times higher than Greece’s; however, its economy has kept operating — not in the same way it was before the pandemic — but it is still ”alive,” according the Greek expat.

”People are showing solidarity. We go to buy a coffee even if we don’t need it, to support the local coffee shop. I know people who book hotel rooms without even going there, just to keep business going,” Sapkaris explains, showing how very differently Sweden has approached the economic aspect of the pandemic.

This happens because, despite shops and cafes being open, they are deserted most of the time.

”However,” Sapkaris admitted, ”this is an unprecedented situation,” so the entire society is ready to accept tougher measures, if they are deemed appropriate.

So to conclude, yes, being an overwhelmingly rural country, Sweden has approached this pandemic differently. However, the nation is not behaving as if nothing has changed.

People are working from home, and they are working less, and as the obedient people they are, they continue to follow the government’s strong recommendations.

Should the strictures have gone further? Perhaps. However, only time will tell whether Stockholm chose a more prudent way to respond to the coronavirus crisis — or if it has instead made a huge mistake.

What’s for sure, however, is that every society has very different characteristics and needs; in the same way that the US state of Oregon is very different from Florida, Sweden is different from Italy or Greece in many societal ways.

Thus, comparing in an absolute and one-dimensional manner the measures Sweden has taken to beat the pandemic as opposed to those taken by Greece is not only wrong, but can also be very misleading.