Sweden takes softer approach on coronavirus lockdown than European neighbors

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As much of the western world has shut down amid the coronavirus outbreak, Sweden has taken a noticeably softer approach than its European neighbors who have closed schools, restaurants and nonessential services, according to a report.

Sweden’s ostensibly light approach has sparked criticism within the country, with some calling for more stringent measures.

"We cannot allow the human desperation in Wuhan and Bergamo to be repeated in Sweden. That would be a gamble that violates society's most fundamental principle: that every person has an inherent value," wrote Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief of Sweden's biggest newspaper, on Sunday.

Sweden has recommended its citizens work from home (if they’re able) and practice social distancing. Gatherings that exceed 500 people have been banned – compared with the ban on gatherings of more than two people in the U.K. and Germany.

The government has also advised secondary schools and universities to close and conduct lectures online. Bars and restaurants, meanwhile, are allowed to stay open.

Citizens have largely ignored these recommendations, according to a report from AFP. Over the weekend, bars and restaurants were packed with patrons.

People gather for a drink at the Half Way In pub, as bars and restaurants are still open despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in central Stockholm, Sweden.

People gather for a drink at the Half Way In pub, as bars and restaurants are still open despite the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in central Stockholm, Sweden. (Reuters)

Amid media criticism of its laid-back attitude, the government said it will change its approach based on information from Sweden’s Public Health Agency.

“As soon as the Public Health Agency requests that the government make a decision, we will do it this quickly,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren earlier this month.

But the agency has yet to call for stricter measures. The agency’s inaction has led to a stream of criticism on social media, AFP reported.

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Johan Giesecke, Sweden’s current advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO), on Monday encouraged citizens to go outside and get some sun.

“Bring a friend and walk a meter apart,” he said during an appearance on SVT’s morning snow. “Don’t hug your neighbor. Bring a thermos and sit on a park bench. It’s bad for your health to sit at home too.”

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As of Tuesday, Sweden has nearly 2,300 cases with 36 deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.