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living in sweden during corona times


I moved to Sweden last August to start a Master’s in Applied Ethics. At the time, Italy had pulled back the restrictions and life was slowly going back to how it was before the first outbreak of COVID-19. Although we had to wear masks in closed spaces and respect distancing, people were travelling, social events were back in place, and it felt as if things were normal again. Contrary to Italy, Sweden never went into lockdown and when I arrived, life seemed unbothered by the ongoing pandemic. Besides some recommendations and a few occasional reminders, everyday activities did not appear to be affected. Universities were open, bars and restaurants were open, libraries were open. This was due to the fact that in order to combat the pandemic, Sweden has opted for a herd immunity strategy; hoping that by allowing members of the population who have a low risk of dying from COVID-19 to develop immunity, the rate of transmission would be reduced. However, this was later proven unsuccessful -- currently, there have been 396,048 confirmed cases and 8,279 confirmed deaths within a population of 10 million inhabitants. (Case numbers from December 29th)


Since my sister has been living in Sweden for a few years, I already knew about the lack of measures. We had talked about it countless times before and I knew what to expect before moving. It felt weird at first, especially not having to wear a mask and not seeing people wearing one, but I slowly got used to the lack of restrictions. However, now that the second wave of COVID-19 has begun in Europe, I’ve started to think more about the virus. A new feeling of uneasiness has taken over me, as I watch other European countries hurrying towards a new lockdown. Just as I was starting to get accustomed to not having to think about the pandemic constantly, I was reminded again that things aren’t normal -- that I’m still living in 2020. Living in Sweden sometimes feels like I’m in a parallel universe where COVID-19 never happened.


I am aware that I’m privileged because my life in the past months has not been significantly impacted by the virus. I can go to class, study at the library, go out and hang out with people, go to restaurants, bars and more. I feel guilty especially when I talk to my friends home in Italy where a new lockdown seems impending. Maybe I should feel lucky because I’m still able to do so many things, but I don’t. I feel powerless, I feel like I cannot protect myself, and that I cannot protect others. Obviously, I could avoid going out altogether, but what’s the point if others are not doing the same? For instance, I avoided going to welcoming student parties, but it seems like most people my age are careless, and there were many cases of COVID-19 linked to a party that was attended by over 150 students. I still have to go to class and the library, but it makes me uncomfortable being surrounded by so many students who are not even trying to be careful.


It seems crazy that only a few months ago I couldn’t even leave my house and now I’m living in a country where the attitude towards COVID-19 is entirely different. I feel like my moral compass is unable to guide me now that I’m in Sweden which is ironic considering that I moved here to study ethics in the first place. I’m wondering who is going to bear the cost of our freedom to act as if COVID doesn’t exist. Maybe the patients and the doctors in the hospitals, those recovering in intensive care, people in the retirement homes, essential workers or those who simply cannot work from home. Just because we are unaware of other people’s suffering doesn’t mean that we are not complicit. If on one hand, I understand the importance of being social and hanging out with others, I also think that people who don’t have to leave their homes, such as students who aren’t working or don’t have to take care of other family members, should strive to limit their contact with other people.


What is the price of our freedom? Is it even freedom, or is it an illusion of freedom? Most importantly, what is the value of our health, the health of others? Are we risking our health for an illusion? In my opinion, by pretending that everything is ok we belittle the gravity of the situation and in turn, we engage in risky behaviours that endanger others. I can’t cope with the fact that here nothing is happening to fight the pandemic. Although I did at the beginning, I can’t pretend that life must simply go on. That things are different here. I really hope that it would be possible to find a middle ground between living in fear and pretending that the virus is gone. A middle state where people could still be careful and respect restrictions without having to be terrified of the virus. I’m trying to find this middle ground but it’s hard. What about you? How are you dealing with the pandemic?


Images by Elisa

Japanese Translated by Mia

Edited by Kiara and Hikari

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