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In Sweden, A Different Approach To Coronavirus Control


From Berlin to Paris to Rome and beyond, most of Europe's big cities are under lockdown. Streets are nearly empty. Go to Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, though, and you will find cafes and restaurants open. Kids' sports practices mostly go on ahead. Parks are full. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Sweden seems open for business. The government there has chosen a very different approach to the virus than most of the rest of Europe. Why? And how's it working out? - questions we are going to put now to Sanna Bjorling, a reporter at the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. And Sanna is on the line now from Stockholm.

Hi, there. Welcome.

SANNA BJORLING: Thank you. Hi.

KELLY: So did I just describe that accurately? It's hard even to imagine a city now where cafes are open and bustling, and kids - at least younger kids - are going to school. But that's all true.

BJORLING: Yeah, that's all true. Most places are open. Some places have reduced hours. Few places have closed. There's no bars serving. It's all served at the table. High schools and universities all are closed or working on remotely. But normal, like, elementary schools and middle schools are all open.

KELLY: And what about things like concerts, professional sporting events?

BJORLING: No. Almost all games are closed or played without an audience. And there are no gatherings without - with a number more than 50 people. So concerts and all - most social activities are closed. And of course, there's a big - like, there is social distancing practices here as well. So people generally stay away from each other.

KELLY: And are the - the social distancing - is that government guidelines, government-mandated or people just deciding, hey, we should keep a meter apart from each other?

BJORLING: It's basically recommendations from the Swedish CDC, so the Swedish authorities' recommendations.

KELLY: OK. So some measures in place to slow the spread, but again, dramatically different from what we're seeing in much of the rest of Europe. How is it working? Can you give us the current number of cases and number of deaths from COVID-19?

BJORLING: Yes. So as of today, Sweden has 919 deaths and close to 11,000 confirmed cases - that number is, of course, in reality much bigger - and 859 in intensive care right now, around 500 in ICU with a population of about 10 million. And in the other - in Norway, Finland, Denmark, with about half that population, the cases and all of the deaths in all those countries is about half of Sweden.

So - but the Swedish authorities claim that they are doing exactly the same thing as all that - most other countries are. But it's all about flattening the curve. It's all about getting - well-protect the risk groups and wash your hands. And stay home if you're sick, and work at home if you can, et cetera. It's just the way they do it, it's a bit different. And they also stress very often that you have to make - put restrictions in place that can keep for an extended period of time.

KELLY: And in the minute or so we have left, I wonder, where do ordinary Swedes fall on this? Do they support the government approach, or are they worried that this could lead to catastrophe?

BJORLING: I think most people that I know and talk to - they support the recommendations that we have, and they support the guidelines. But they all - but they - we don't really know yet what the outcome will be. It's really too early to say. But so far, it seems to be working.

KELLY: All right. A portrait of how one country is handling it very differently from some of the rest of us. That's Sanna Bjorling, a reporter at the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, speaking to us from Stockholm.

Thanks so much.

BJORLING: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.