I realize the Irish media avoids me despite my working in it for many years, but if anyone wants a perspective from someone who not only understands Ireland and Sweden, but also had a high-risk pregnancy and birth in “no-lockdown” Sweden, I’m right here, ya know.
Because they didn’t actually protect health care, my midwife caught Covid. My anxiety counselor caught Covid. I had *no prenatal care* for the third trimester. The clinic was open, but they had Covid running through a prenatal clinic, so as much as it was my “choice,” it wasn’t.
I ended up needing emergency care 4 or 5 times, partly because I had NO PRENATAL CARE and had no idea what was happening. During my one third-tri scan, my partner couldn’t attend. Watching people on social media have parties but not being able to...not die...that made me mad.
Sure, most people did reduce their activity levels, but not enough was done by enough people in areas where it’s risky. Oh also my stepdaughter caught it but couldn’t get a test (no testing!) and we couldn’t see her for almost 6 weeks (she stayed at her mom’s).
Anyway, my view is as nuanced a view as Sweden deserves, but clearly the only acceptable view is that Sweden can do this because Sweden is somehow better. It’s not. I’m not going to be unfair, but the Covid response here has been especially unfair to many of us. Listen to us.
The response was designed for the comfort and convenience of middle-class, Swedish Swedes with Swedish loved ones. It also increased the hatred of Swedes toward foreigners. So many people have angrily told me I just don’t understand Sweden. But I’m here, experiencing it, too.
At least ask about the role of Swedish exceptionalism. At least ask about the social cost of asking critical questions. At least point out that our economy has not been protected. At least ask about ICU admissions and follow up with hard questions. At least center the vulnerable.
Even now, I have to lie about my experience. If I said it was terrifying to give birth in this, where no one wore a mask and I rarely saw anyone wash their hands in 5 days in the hospital. Because if a foreigner doesn’t flatter sweden, we get met with aggression or condescension.
People were perfectly nice, but I had to put out of my head questions like, who had to ride the subway to work? Who has kids in a school with undisclosed (or unknown!) covid cases? The spread in that context would be in spite of cautions because the guidelines didn’t allow more.
The focus is so much on what “freedoms” people were allowed to keep (as if small sacrifices for protecting others is unfree), but not on what people haven’t been free to do: protect themselves in potentially risky settings. Health workers weren’t *allowed* to wear masks.
And Swedes aren’t that good at caring for others. My Irish friends who helped me most through infertility and pregnancy. My Swedish partner still can’t believe the piles of packages for Josephine. So many from Ireland. For a while there wasn’t even post between Ireland and Sweden
For Swedes in Sweden with Swedish support networks, the strategy was a little easier, but for those of us whose loved ones are more international, not only were we cut off from our support, we were constantly told it was for the good of Sweden and our worry was “spreading panic”
I also missed Ireland because many more Irish people see through bullshit and don’t automatically trust authority to protect them. The discussion seemed more mature and nuanced there. I mean, hell, I was on the brink of thinking well of Leo Varadkar. Praising a Tory boy!!?? Me???
Finally, if you want a good example of a European country that handled Covid relatively well without a hard lockdown, look at Norway! Sweden has a very powerful nation branding strategy, which is part of why everyone pays attention to them even when it’s not warranted.
Watching friends abroad grappling with complex questions, there being no good approach to school opening that doesn’t unfairly burden some groups, I understand why Sweden’s strategy seems attractive! But they weren’t not-grappling bc they solved it, they just decided not to worry
Some amount of worry is a *good* thing in a crisis of unknown shape. But there is a powerful pressure in Swedish culture to show no emotion beyond rictus-grinned self-satisfaction. Not everyone does that, of course, but the heart of the strategy was a demand to ignore anxiety.
On the ground, by the way, outside of the small cluster of rich gowls named Pelle who never met a bus driver and thinks nurses aren’t people, there was a more nuanced view of the strategy. Walking our dog we talk to people a lot, and a LOT have been uneasy about it.
Most people are still being careful. It’s true! But when the burden is on the individual, it means way more mental calculus for much longer. Everyone has had to make our own guidelines, which has been tiring. We’re as covid-exhausted as anyone, but we got a giant death toll.
My neighborhood has a couple of big nursing homes and at one point our death rate was 28% (due to v little testing). I kept wondering how many health workers caught it by riding the tram or the 160 bus with people hitting the local “party” restaurant at the bus stop on the square
One of our dog lady friends works as a nursing care inspector and we ran into her one day. She was fuming that authorities are blaming the care homes when they did nothing to keep the virus out. Our ICU nurse neighbor wanted a break but barely got days off. People did sacrifice!
My neighbor lost her grandma to Covid in a nursing home. Her dad is in a risk group so he couldn’t be the one handling it. She said all the residents had been locked in their rooms 24/7 for months, and no one would admit the workers were spreading it (who aren’t allowed masks!).
She had to get permission from an Orthodox patriarch to have grandma cremated and she still can’t get the ashes to Serbia so she can be buried beside her husband. The urn is sitting in the crematorium at Skogkyrkogården. Her brother had a baby in Vienna her mom couldn’t be there
Every time I run into *her* mom, we both cry because I want my mom, she wants her grandbaby, and I wish it were safe to let her snuggle Josephine. Anyway, my point is, the situation here isn’t that no one cares or Covid was NBD. The story peddled by Geisecke/Tegnell sucks.
We are all Swedes, despite the best efforts of a certain type of white Swedish Swede. Asking Pelle from Täby who doesn’t think cleaners count as human isn’t going to help you understand the response. Ask a person from Rinkeby who lost multiple family members!
Even ask a care worker here in Årsta what it’s like that there’s still no plan to let the “unhealthy” live their lives. Ask a person who gave birth in this. I totally get why people want to believe Sweden figured out a way to do it without suffering, but we didn’t.
My baby is almost 5 months old and she’s still never been held by anyone outside of my household, except the people in the OR where I had my c-section. The “soft” lockdown means we’ve had to do all of this for so much longer, some more than others.
There is a group for whom life has been relatively unchanged, or minus a few luxuries, and they tend to be loud about the strategy, constantly insisting the crisis is over, and trying to dig up graphs to confirm it. You’ll find Sweden generally works for their overall comfort.
Again, I understand the impulse to think this small, long country in the Nordics has it all figured out. To feel puzzled that they SOUND like the Covid deniers but that doesn’t align with the image of a gentle progressive nation, and to assume you must be missing some vital fact.
The frame that will help is this: Sweden is more diverse but segregated, nativist, classist and racist than is visible from the outside. It also is extremely neoliberal and capitalist in ways that are shocking. The welfare state is being dismantled all over, worst in Stockholm.
The differences in regions can be pretty big. The north is still partly run by social democrats, but Stockholm is mainly dominated by right-wing parties and money-driven policies that benefit the rich. When you shed the utopian lens, then you can see the complexity here.
The social democrats are desperately clinging to power on a national level, and like the Irish Labour Party, still have progressive members but have betrayed their values to keep power (although it didn’t work in Ireland, obv). If they had undermined FHM they’d be toast.
I also have started asking people: do you have a stash of masks but you’re waiting for everyone else to start wearing them? A lot of people say they do! I think there’s a little more (quiet) criticism, but the fear of sticking out wins out most of the time.
I agree there’s value in keeping things open where possible, since this is a long-term situation. But a lockdown would have bought us time to learn about the virus. Now the issue is we aren’t doing contact tracing. Relying on voluntary measures here ignores the role of privilege.
Contact tracing here is based on STD contact tracing and is the responsibility of the infected person. You know, the one who might die. Do you remember every person you had contact with in the past 14 days? Including on the bus, in a shop, etc? Could you find them all while sick?
If we’d used the summer to ramp up contact tracing (we aren’t doing *great* with testing, but at least we’re doing it now) and implement test-trace-isolate for the inevitable autumn increase, we’d be better off. Maybe we won’t have a big winter spike, but is it worth the risk?
What I keep coming back to is that safety is also a feeling. Clear communication, being heard, not being forced to assume excess and unknown risks, those are also essential elements. They are solidarity. We didn’t choose that here. We chose individualism and called it “science.”
A lot of the data they talk about is not there. We can only extrapolate infection rates. We don’t know how it spread in schools because we didn’t test kids until now. But we CAN be fairly confident that you can’t protect some groups and let the rest just do what’s convenient.
The refrain in the beginning was “you can’t lock up healthy people” as if there’s a binary situation where it’s ok to imprison the sick. Besides, plenty of people in risk groups are otherwise healthy. But lockdown was framed as punishment, not care and compassion.
We also have very little data on Long Covid, which we know now can affect “healthy” people. Yes, spread has apparently slowed, and I hope it stays that way! What I can’t stomach is the erasure of trauma and loss by the narrative being focused on some weird political victory.
Anyway, I just ignored my morning’s work and flooded your feeds. I got lucky and had a healthy birth and baby, but it was more terrifying than it needed to be because some people decided going to the gym was more important than public safety. Josephine says justice for Breonna.
I am nap-trapped so here’s a thread from April where I talked a little about working in a skyscraper with no stairs that turned out to have stairs after all. None of this is intended to be any kind of final say or complete picture btw, just some feelings I’ve personally had https://twitter.com/janeruffino/status/1249374591253975046
You can follow @janeruffino.
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