Monday, September 21, 2020

What life is really like in lockdown-free Sweden

The golden spire of Stockholm’s city hall glistens in the sunset, runners sweat away the day’s stresses on the boat-lined waterfront, and a young couple wobble along a cobbled street on a single-seater bike. I’m watching the evening unfold from the 52-metre high glass-flanked rooftop bar TAK, which, like almost every popular drinking spot in the Swedish capital, has remained open throughout the pandemic.

As a dual British-Swedish citizen living in Stockholm, I’m treating myself to a glass of fizz to celebrate Sweden finally joining the UK’s quarantine-free list. For me, it brings a chance to visit family for the first time since February. But my phone’s also been pinging with British contacts curious about holidaying in Sweden following the dramatic drop in cases here over the summer and an ever-dwindling list of alternatives for those seeking an autumn break in Europe.

The first thing any would-be tourist here will notice is the lack of face masks. They’re requested at Swedish airports but aren’t compulsory on transport, in shops, hairdressers or indeed any part of public life. A recent major poll found just 6% of Swedes currently use them, despite 43% believing they could stop the spread of infection and several prominent Swedish scientists lobbying the authorities to change their approach. Anders Tegnell, the country’s state epidemiologist, has said he might reconsider things if there’s a renewed increase in cases, but he’s repeatedly argued that hand-washing and social distancing remain more effective barriers against the virus.

For now, the lack of this year’s must-have accessory means Stockholm – usually ahead of fashion trends – certainly looks and feels significantly more “normal” than most European capitals. Yet it’s a myth that life hasn’t changed in Sweden, which also stood almost alone in shunning a lockdown at the peak of the pandemic and has relied largely on voluntary recommendations. At my rooftop location, there’s table-service only – ordering at bar counters stopped in March, in an effort to stop mingling. Social distancing between groups is guided by crosses of black and yellow plastic tape between the window seats, an incongruous clash with the venue’s plush leather and velvet seating. There is a DJ, but dancing’s not allowed. Major nightclubs have temporarily closed or, like the city’s hipster concrete mega-venue, Trädgården, pivoted into restaurants and maxed out their outdoor seating capacity.

As in other parts of the world, maintaining order once the drinks start flowing is challenging in some locations, while those hell bent on partying organised illegal raves in the forest over the summer. Yet at TAK, 27-year-old customer Olena believes that after six months of consistent guidelines, many young Swedes have got used to more sedate socialising. “You can meet friends in small groups. But a night out probably ends that evening, not going into the next morning!”

What she really misses are gigs, which, alongside most sports events and theatre productions, have largely been off the table since the spring due to a ban on public gatherings of more than 50 people. The public health agency recently recommended increasing the limit to 500, although it’s unclear exactly how or when things will change.

Swedes’ working lives remain different too. They’ve been asked to do their jobs from home until at least the end of the year if they can, although there are no official figures on how many are actually following the guideline. “We think most major company buildings are still closed or they’ve put in place a rota so people can go back in once a week or so for a different quality of interaction,” says Staffan Ingvarsson, CEO of Stockholm Business Region. Telecommuting has largely been “going well”, he argues, due to high levels of trust between employers and employees, a tech-savvy population and almost 100% broadband coverage. But anecdotal evidence suggests some employees bored of working from home are increasingly hanging out in coffee shops or even paying for spots at coworking spaces. And, while figures from Stockholm’s public transport company SL indicate people are still travelling less than before the pandemic, there are concerns about overcrowding during rush hour, especially since over-16s returned to high school in August for the first time since March.

Visitors hoping to avoid subways and buses by using the capital’s bike sharing scheme will be disappointed; a break between suppliers saw all cycles and racks removed in 2018, although several e-scooter startups are plugging the gap in the market. Yet with hotels crying out for guests, it’s currently no challenge to find affordable, central accommodation from which to explore the main hotspots on foot.

“Although business is very slow, it is kind of beautiful to see the streets so quiet,” says Mats Bengtsson, who runs The Collector’s Hotels, three antique-filled boutique venues set amidst the iconic spice-hued buildings of the city’s Medieval old town. Bookings have been so low since March he’s made half his staff redundant, with the rest propped up by a government support scheme. “Places in the countryside got Swedish tourists visiting this summer, but there wasn’t much reason for Swedes to come to the city because all the events were cancelled,” he explains. “We are starting to get a few international guests now and the UK has always been a strong market for us, so I’m hopeful we will get some business back.”

Sweden’s world-famous fashion and design stores are also looking forward to more global customers. While the retail economy hasn’t taken as big a hit as in the UK, it’s still experiencing its worst year for four decades. Covid safety measures taken by shops vary considerably; I’ve seen staff at tills standing behind plastic sheets, while others have grumbled when I’ve asked why there’s no communal hand sanitiser. Many venues have introduced floor stickers designed to encourage distancing in queues, albeit with varying effects. Some clothing brands closed their changing rooms at the peak of the pandemic, but most have now reopened.

Unsurprisingly, the strictest changes to public life here are in doctor’s surgeries and hospitals, where, emergencies aside, nobody’s allowed in without an appointment. There’s a backlog of tens of thousands of operations affected by reorganisation and delays designed to prioritise patients with Covid-19. Therapists have been allowed to offer face-to-face meetings throughout the pandemic though, with reports of a recent increase in couples seeking help. Even in a country that avoided a lockdown and the pressures of homeschooling, there’s been a spike in separations.

Despite intense international criticism over the country’s high early death toll and sharpening national political debates about the government’s preparedness for the crisis, domestic support for the public health agency has remained strong. And locals are acutely aware that their country’s back in the global spotlight for avoiding the fresh spikes seen in the UK and other parts of Scandinavia.

“We can’t know for sure but a lot of people are hoping we won’t get a second wave because we have kept more of society open instead of going in and out of lockdown,” said a Swedish gym friend, after my last socially-distanced evening exercise class. “I hope we can prove we did it right.”

Scientists have varied opinions on whether Swedes have developed greater immunity to the virus, are better at social distancing, or if other factors will turn out to be more relevant to the country’s downward curve. But many agree that the consistency of the measures in Sweden has contributed to a calmer public mood here than in the UK. That might prove another incentive for British tourists seeking a respite from the new rule-of-six, just in time to see Sweden’s forests burst into their autumn colour palette. Meanwhile, I’m stocking up on masks as I prepare to fly in the other direction, and crossing my fingers I don’t touch down to a local lockdown.



Ted Cruz Explains Perfectly Why RBG’s Seat Must Be Filled Before the Election

RINO Murkowski, prior to Ginsburg passing, said she 'would not vote' to confirm a nominee to Supreme Court before election

Republican Senator Ted Cruz says President Donald Trump needs to nominate a successor Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg next week, and that the Senate should confirm that choice or the country risks a constitutional crisis.

“I believe that the president should, next week, nominate a successor to the court. I think it is critical that the Senate takes up and confirms that successor before Election Day,” Senator Cruz told Sean Hannity on Fox News.

“Democrats and Joe Biden have made clear they intend to challenge this election. They intend to fight the legitimacy of the election. As you you know Hillary Clinton has told Joe Biden ‘under no circumstances should you concede, you should challenge this election.’ and we cannot have election day come and go with a 4-4 court.”

Cruz continued, “A 4-4 court that is equally divided cannot decide anything. And I think we risk a constitutional crisis if we do not have a nine-justice Supreme Court, particularly when there is such a risk of … a contested election.”

Cruz then shared his experience litigating Bush vs. Gore case and how the country didn’t know for 37 days who the president-elect was. “I think we have the responsibility to do our job. The president should nominate a principled constitutionalist with a proven record and the Senate … should do our job and protect the country from the constitutional crisis that could result otherwise.”



To mask or not to mask

I certainly cannot see any point in wearing a mask if you are not infected. A rule that all infected people should wear masks should be sufficient

Public trust in the word of “experts” and public health officials over the past few months has rapidly deteriorated.

It started in April when members of the White House Wuhan coronavirus task force told the public to start wearing face masks after two months of officials screaming at Americans not to wear them.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Surgeon General Jerome Adams angrily tweeted on February 9.

“Whenever you leave home, be sure to put on your mask!” Adams said on August 7.

Then after months of life-altering economic sacrifices to help slow the spread of the disease and prepare hospitals for patients, on June 5, more than 1000 health officials signed a letter approving of mass protests in the name of social justice.

“We created the letter in response to emerging narratives that seemed to malign demonstrations as risky for the public health because of Covid-19,” the letter states. “We wanted to present a narrative that prioritizes opposition to racism as vital to the public health, including the epidemic response. We believe that the way forward is not to suppress protests in the name of public health but to respond to protesters’ demands in the name of public health, thereby addressing multiple public health crises.”

Americans have been forbidden from going to church or other religious services, funerals for loved ones, major life events and more. For a period of time, crucial yet “non-essential” health issues and procedures were canceled or delayed for the sake of stopping the virus. A salon owner in Dallas was thrown in jail for defying shutdown orders so her employees could work to feed their families. And yet, these health officials threw their previous advice about large crowds out the window for a leftist movement. They did this, without shame, while continuing to advocate for devastating shutdowns on everyone else.

This trend continued in September when health “experts” published a study showing Sturgis, an annual gathering of motorcycle riders in North Dakota, was a “super spreader” event. The researchers magically did not find the same results for massive Black Lives Matter protests, where tens-of-thousands of people packed in close to one another and screamed loudly.

And now, CDC Director Robert Redfield has put another nail in the trust coffin.

During testimony this week in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Redfield claimed masks are more effective than a vaccine in protecting Americans from Wuhan coronavirus.

“Face masks, these face masks, are the most important, powerful public health tool we have, and I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings,” Redfield said. “I might even go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

For months we’ve been told masks don’t protect the person wearing them, but instead catch droplets from a sick person wearing one and prevent them from spreading to others. Redfield now appears to be arguing masks protect the person wearing them, which is the opposite of what we’ve been lectured about while officials demand Americans wear them — even to walk their dogs alone.

Further, Redfield’s current statement is the opposite of his testimony in February when he said “no” after being asked by lawmakers whether healthy people should be wearing masks.

If face masks were as protective as the CDC director claims, the entire country would be open. The experts, who also happen to be longtime Washington, D.C., bureaucrats, are either lying or they don’t know what they’re talking about. Either way, they’ve lost significant trust among the American public.



For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated), A Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in). GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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