STOCKHOLM - Here it is noon, and from the window of my home office I can see my two daughters playing in the playground of their preschool across the street. I reach for my phone to text my best friend, a nurse who lives in Westport, Connecticut, to share some family curiosities that I just discovered. She has been snuggled in her home with her husband and two daughters since March. You are beginning to wonder what you will lose first: your jobs or your minds.
"Guess what my great-grandmother's name was? Jósephina Corona. From Italy", I write. Unlike my friend, I am not forced to stay home. No, the coronavirus has not saved Sweden. As of Thursday, we have had more than 28,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 3,500 people have died.
Leaders around the world have declared war on the coronavirus. But that kind of aggressive bombardment would not resonate in a nation that has enjoyed two centuries of peace. Instead, our country has opted for a more measured approach, which has drawn the attention, even of the President Trump, who said: "Sweden did that: the herd"
Contrary to popular belief, herd immunity is not part of Swedish strategy. Rather, the idea is to slow the spread of the virus enough to avoid overwhelming the country's health care system and mitigate the effects on the economy and people's lives. Life here has changed, but it hasn't stopped.
The strategy relies heavily on the government trusting the public to follow the recommendations on hygiene and social distancing given by the Public Health Agency, not a mandatory closure. Since we have paid sick leave and reimbursed for the care of sick children, most of us have an incentive to stay home if we have any symptoms of COVID-19, which is the main recommendation.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, but shops, restaurants, and gyms are still open. People over the age of 70 have been advised to stay home and limit social contact. High schools and universities have switched to digital classes, but preschool and elementary schools remain open, a saving grace for parents who work like me.
Sure, people accumulated toilet paper and yeast at first here too, but we've calmed down. Like many, I am working from home and barely leave the suburbs. In addition to the occasional game dates, our social life is on hold. Instead, we take the children and our dog for a walk in the woods or on the beaches near our house.
We were urged to limit travel within the country. So we do Facetime with our parents, who live in other cities. My 5 year old daughter wonders if she will ever see her grandparents again. For her a few months feel like an eternity.
The approach of Sweden It differs even from that of our Scandinavian neighbors, where society closed quickly and far fewer deaths have been reported. Critics argue that our government and the Public Health Agency They acted too late and that the strategy has failed, citing the death toll relative to the population of just over 10 million.
Officials respond that, Although many hospitals are under unprecedented stress, the heavily subsidized, tax-funded health care system still has the capacity to care to the sick.
The vast majority of those who died in Sweden were over 70 years old. Many of them were people who lived within the elderly care system, even though visits to nursing homes have been prohibited. Friends whose loved ones have succumbed to the virus are understandably inconsolable.
We still don't know how fast the coronavirus spreads. But we know that the elderly care system has been struggling for years. Older people living in nursing homes or at home are often cared for by temporary workers who have little or no training. The first Minister Stefan Lofven said that the pandemic has shed light on that fact.
While other countries are beginning to open up again, the focus here is on accession over time. In the first sunny spring days of the year, sunless Swedes last month became too welcoming in restaurants. Consequently, some were closed for not respecting the guidelines. The rest of us are being pushed along with constant reminders of our personal responsibility.
"I wish I could say that the crisis is behind usPrime Minister said on Wednesday Lofven, "but we still haven't arrived"
The government has promised to cover all the extraordinary costs that the public health system will incur due to the coronavirus pandemic and has reinforced the reimbursements for sick leave. It has delivered extensive support packages to shore up the economy, which is headed for recession. I am already beginning to see the ramifications of this crisis all around me, with neighbors on the decline and friends who are small business owners forced to close or fire employees.
The statistics that bathe us daily are instantaneous. But of what? There are many inconsistencies in how countries measure the spread of infection. With data taken out of context, comparisons between countries are not reliable at this time. We still can't see the profound impacts that can follow from this pandemic.
What is certain is that most Swedes have great confidence in the Public Health Agency and its state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell. Our government agencies differ from most countries in that they are not micromanaged by ministers and their transparency is enshrined in the Constitution.
Their recommendations should be based on facts and not overshadowed by politicians who flex muscles or seek re-election. Swedes across the country tune in to dry and nuanced daily press conferences, which contrast with the erratics of the White House.
Most find the strategy well balanced, according to surveys. I do it too and hope that in time it will be prudent. Of course, I wonder what could have been done differently to better protect those who are at high risk. Not everyone can work from home or practice social isolation.
My friend in Connecticut is starting to panic. Schools there won't open until September, if so. I, on the other hand, consider that the recommended restrictions are feasible in the coming months if necessary. I also worry. But it's not about covering the hospital bills if we get sick or if we have to go back to work before we recover. I'm not worried that we will have to sell our house if we lose our job, because unemployment insurance would keep us afloat.
I don't worry about my children's college funds shrinking in case the stock markets crash, because even the best universities offer free tuition. And with the preschool still open, I am not concerned that my children are too affected by agitation, as they have normal routines.
We may or may not obtain immunity in the short term. We will see about a vaccine. Meanwhile, what we have are the partnerships we have built and our joint investments in them. That's another way of looking at the power of the pack.
(C) The New York TImes.-
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