Much of Europe is still on coronavirus lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement and penalties for those who transgress.
Sweden’s actions are about encouraging and recommending, not compulsion. Two days after Spain imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 14, Swedish authorities were encouraging people to wash hands and stay at home if sick. On March 24, new rules were introduced to avoid crowding at restaurants. But they very much stayed open.
So did many primary and secondary schools. Gatherings of up to 50 people are still permitted.
Tegnell defended the decision to keep schools open. “We know that closing down schools has a lot of effects on health care because a lot of people can’t go to their work anymore. A lot of children are suffering when they can’t go to school.”
Elisabeth Liden, a journalist in Stockholm, told CNN the city is less crowded now. “The subway went from being completely packed to having only a few passengers per car. I get the sense that a vast majority are taking the recommendations of social distancing seriously.”
Some opponents of the government’s policy fear that reliance on voluntary behavior will cause a much faster spike in cases, potentially overwhelming the health care system. Sweden also has one of the lowest ratios of critical care beds per capita in Europe, and the government official who spoke with CNN said that supplies of protective equipment are only just staying ahead of demand.
In some ways, however, Sweden is better prepared to weather the storm than other countries. Some 40% of the country’s workforce worked from home regularly, even before the virus struck and Sweden has a high ratio of people living on their own, whereas in southern Europe it’s not uncommon to have three generations under one roof.
The next month will determine whether the Swedish system got it right.