Coronavirus in Europe: Is it a myth to say it's life as normal in Sweden amid COVID-19 pandemic?

Coronavirus in Europe: Is it a myth to say it's life as normal in Sweden amid COVID-19 pandemic?
Copyright Chris/
Copyright Chris/
By Mie Olsen
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We went to Malmo to find out.


"It is a myth that life goes on as normal in Sweden," said the country's foreign minister Ann Linde on Friday, defending the government's COVID-19 response.

Sweden has come in for criticism because its measures to stop the spread of coronavirus are less strict than many other countries in Europe.

It has banned large gatherings, closed high schools and universities and told elderly people to self-isolate. But restaurants, bars, primary schools and most businesses are still open, which brings into question Linde's claim.

Journalist Mie Olsen went to Malmö to see for herself on Saturday.

"At first sight, Malmö offers evidence to support Linde's assertion," she writes. "There are few people walking the streets near the main square, Stortorget. Bars have cancelled live events and public notices thank people for keeping their distance.

"Yet, the charismatic Lilla Torg - a little square next to Stortorget - buzzes with a weekend atmosphere. Young and old drink under outdoor heaters and families stroll the pavement. The cosy corner café Folk & Rock has around 20 customers inside on a Saturday afternoon.

"Karolina Ingoldsson is a waitress at the cafe. She tells me there would be fewer customers because of COVID-19 fears. But as soon as the sun is out, she says, everybody goes for a drink and sits closely together. People don´t take it too seriously here, she adds.

"She calls it a low-key Saturday compared to normal standards and says that Stockholm is worse off than Malmö in terms of COVID-19 fatalities. 

"Outside I begin talking to Malmö-based Robert Lind who insists life is not going on as normal.

“People are more careful, avoiding crowds, staying at home more and keeping their distance, he tells me. In his building, a clothing store and a plastic surgeon have closed as custom has decreased in recent weeks.

"After our interview, Robert discretely rushes off to wash his hands by a nearby public fountain.

"Outside the historic city centre, visitors seem suspicious by their absence. Some bars and cafés,  struggling with low revenue even before COVID-19, are now out of business.

"However at the popular restaurant Mello Yello nearly every table is taken by loud and joyful groups. Beer drinkers offer off-the-record thoughts on the wiseness of continuing to socialise. For them, isolation merely acts as a delay rather than a reliable remedy for the virus.

"The bar staff call it a slow day and say usually it would be more crowded. These days, they add, the bar has weekly visits from public health authorities monitoring the required 1.5-metre separation between tables.

"Swedes in Malmö feel COVID-19 has disrupted public life but that it should not stop them from relaxing in the streets and enjoying themselves with a cold refreshment."

Sweden has registered more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths, at the time of writing. More than a third have occurred within the last week.

Despite the recent surge, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has stood firm on the government's strategy of achieving herd immunity.

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