Today marks nearly five weeks since I first flew over to Stockholm, Sweden, from New York City to visit my husband and celebrate my birthday.
What was initially supposed to be an eight-day trip quickly turned into a much longer one due to Covid-19.
On Sunday, March 22, 2020 — the day I was supposed to fly back to New York City — I was forced to make the difficult decision to not return home and instead stay in Stockholm for safety reasons.
This decision was prompted by the fact that Mayor Bill de Blasio declared New York City the “epicenter” of the pandemic in the U.S. on March 20, 2020, just two days before my flight home to Brooklyn.
Since then, from what I’ve gathered by reading the news and talking to my friends, family and co-workers back home is that life in self-quarantine currently looks very different in Sweden than it does in the U.S. — especially given that the Swedish government has not yet imposed a strict lockdown.
Although many of Sweden’s public establishments, such as bars, restaurants and elementary schools remain open, everyone that I know within Sweden has been adhering to a strict self-imposed quarantine, where trips outside are limited to “distance walks” and grocery runs.
But, from what I’ve personally seen on my daily walks outside, it doesn’t appear that all Swedes have committed to self-quarantine.
Although it is safer here in Stockholm, where there have only been around 5,300 confirmed coronavirus cases so far — compared to New York City where there are now more than 222,000 cases — it is admittedly a bit surprising to step outside and see the number of people who are still going about their daily lives in what appears to be a normal fashion.
Here’s a look at Östermalm, a centrally located neighborhood in Stockholm, Sweden, as of today, Friday, April 17, 2020.
On this particularly busy street, Valhallavägen, people still walk, run, and ride their bikes throughout the day. There’s a constant stream of traffic from cars and buses. Along Valhallavägen are restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating. Now that it’s warm out, there is almost always one or more people sitting alone or together enjoying their lunch or a late-afternoon beverage in the sun.
The bus stop
Swedes commonly travel around Stockholm by bus. Today was no exception. Multiple people, including several women, children and elderly people, stand (and sit) waiting for the bus to arrive at the Jungfrugatan stop in Stockholm, Sweden.
Swedes love to cook. In fact, they rarely eat out because it’s “so expensive.” So, while it’s no change of pace for the grocery to be packed, it is surprising to see how busy the supermarket is during most hours of the day. There’s a constant stream of folks checking out and bagging up their food.
(Pro tip: Make sure to wash your groceries, including produce, thoroughly once you arrive home with them — no matter where you are in the world!)
Down the street from our apartment is a mall, called Fältöversten. Inside, there are several stores, including a children’s’ toy store, athletic gear store, and many clothing boutiques, which are still open for business. This is also where we go to buy groceries, and there’s rarely a time when people aren’t strolling around shopping.
(Side note: Swedes often bring their dogs with them shopping, which has admittedly made it much easier for this dog-lover to endure the crowds.)
Apoteket, which functions similarly to CVS and Walgreen’s in the U.S., is a pharmacy slash store where Swedes can shop for cosmetics and medicinal products. On this particular day, there were multiple people waiting in the checkout line. Customers practiced respectful social distancing as they waited to be helped and stood about a meter apart. Several of them were also wearing protective face masks.
The liquor store
What Swedish establishments are doing to help
To encourage social distancing, some Stockholm establishments have changed up their queuing system for customers. Either, they’ve marked the ground with tape or paint so that people know where to stand and can be far enough from others in the cue. Or other businesses, such as Fosch Artisan Pâtisserie, a café in Stockholm, has asked that no more than three customers stand inside while waiting to order. For the fourth, fifth and sixth customers, they’ll have to wait outside until the line moves.
Also, many of Sweden’s bars and restaurants have implemented a “table service only” rule so that they can still operate while asking guests to adhere to some form of social distancing.
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