Newsroom / CNA
Sweden’s Ambassador in Nicosia Anders Hagelberg has spoken of the need for a sustainable approach as regards dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak and has noted that one cannot compare the measures taken in different countries, as each one has different social and family structures in place.
In statements to CNA and asked to comment on the fact that Sweden, in contrast to other European countries, has not imposed any measures restricting the movement of people but has issued recommendations to its citizens, Hagelberg says that “it is very difficult really to compare countries, because we have different structures both when it comes to society and family structures, when it comes to the normal social distancing.”
But also, he adds, we have differences when it comes to the trust on authorities.
“Therefore, I think that when you watch Sweden you need to include also one layer of a very high level of trust of authorities,” he points out.
“Even if there are some restrictions, I would say that most people, I would say the great majority is very much limiting their behaviour because of the trust in the recommendations from the authorities,” he says.
He gives the example of people over 70 years of age, the great majority of whom, are self-isolating themselves. People, he says, try to avoid to come too close to each other to keep some social distancing. So, he added, “even if they are allowed to do things, the great majority is behaving very carefully.”
Sweden’s Ambassador also speaks of a sense of individual responsibility Swedes have. “It is not only through regulations it is also through recommendations and people’s own responsibility,” he notes.
So, Hagelberg continues, “I think there are differences off course, but when you watch Sweden, maybe at the very end, the final behaviour among people does not differ as much as the level of restrictions would indicate.”
He gives the example of Easter weekend during which citizens were strongly urged not to leave for the countryside. On the basis of data from mobile networks, he says, there was an decrease of between 90 and 95% on people travelling from Stockholm to the more popular resorts during the Easter holiday.
Referring to other measures in place, Hagelberg says that restaurants are open but have to limit the number of seats they offer to customers.
“There were inspections before the Easter Holidays, 90 restaurants were checked, some of them were criticized,” he notes, adding that during the Easter holiday inspections took place again with results being “much better”.
Replying to a question about schools remaining open in Sweden, he explains that “it is also a matter of structural society because we have a very high employment rate in Sweden in both sexes and if you should close schools for the youngest and kindergartens, the parents would have to stay at home and it would affect also the health sector, because it would reduce the number of people able to work in the health sector.” So, he adds, “it was also one reason to continue to keep them open.”
At the same time, he points out that after two weeks of very restrictive measures some countries are now trying to ease them because “you need to have a sustainable approach.”
Asked about the number of deaths and confirmed cases in Sweden from COVID-19 he replies that it is always very difficult to compare the number of deaths to the number of confirmed cases. “What we need to know off course is the number of total cases, which no-one knows anywhere in the world,” he says. But you could say, he adds, that the figure 919 compared to the size of the population is much bigger than the total in Cyprus for example but also it is about one third of the figure of Italy it is less than a lot of countries that we see in Western Europe
The key, Hagelberg stresses, “is very much trying to have a sustainable approach”, adding that “to completely close down the country could of course be done in the short run, but in the long run all countries need to find a sustainable approach.”
“That is really one of the guiding principles, to have a sustainable approach where you limit the number of deaths as much as it is possible, but at the same time making it possible to work within the limits of the resources of the health sector. And off course to be able to do it week after week after week,” he notes.
At the same time, he acknowledges that “one obvious problem in Sweden has been the situation in elderly homes,” adding that ot is also a matter of structures, it is a matter of how you are structuring your society, what kind of elderly homes you have, the size of them but also how you manage elderly homes.
According to Sweden’s Ambassador in Nicosia, too many fatalities have occurred in elderly homes. In the Stockholm area, I think if you look on people over 70 years old, the majority of the fatalities, I think 50%, have been in elderly homes. “That is probably one of the many challenges in a society like Sweden,” he says.
Asked about the diagnostic testing done in Sweden he replies that in all countries there are off course limited resources. “We have a mix of testing people in the health sector and also random testing,” he says, adding that 2it might be less testing in Sweden compared to Cyprus. Cyprus has one of the highest testing numbers and Sweden is definitely not there.”
Replying to a question about the repatriation of Swedish citizens stranded in Cyprus he says that “I would say that those just here on short-term holiday have definitely left.”
The Embassy has used many different channels including social media to reach Swedish citizens in Cyprus and offer them the possibility to return home.
We have collaborated with other Nordic countries, he says, informing that there have been flights to Oslo and a flight to Helsinki. Also, Germany has been very generous and offered seats on their flights, something which has been appreciated very much, he notes.
“Last week we had a flight to Stockholm and in the very end there were 100 Swedes leaving on that flight,” he says, adding that the flight was not fully booked and that places were also offered to other Nordic and EU countries.
“This indicates that everybody who really wanted to leave has left,” he notes.
Sweden’s Ambassador also informs that for those Swedes who chose to remain in Cyprus “we don’t see another flight in the foreseeable future and the possibility for the Embassy to support them when it comes to flights will be very limited.”