'People seem to rationalise the situation instead of giving in to mass panic,' Helena Bachmann, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
'Swedes and international residents can see that other countries are making other decisions,' Emma Löfgren, Stockholm, Sweden
Last week, I wrote in this column that Sweden was becoming an outlier in how it is dealing with the new coronavirus. Now it seems the rest of the world has noticed. I think I have to go back to the refugee crisis of 2015 to find as many international hot takes about Sweden as this week.
Is Sweden not implementing stricter restrictions on its people because they are horribly naive and complacent? Is it because decisions are generally made by expert authorities, rather than political ministers? Is it because they place a high premium on individual responsibility and trust? Are tougher rules not needed because people follow them anyway? Or are people still going out to restaurants, ski trips to the mountains, and hanging out with friends as usual?
The honest answer is that there’s a grain of truth in almost everything.
It’s also the slightly more boring answer, because it makes it harder to talk about Sweden as this peculiar country in the north where everything is either perfect paradise or a collapsing hellhole.
There are now stricter rules in place for bars and restaurants, and on Friday the government at the request of health authorities banned public gatherings of more than 50 people. But not much else has changed.
Compare the Swedish guidelines to what the Danes were told by their government on Monday: “Cancel Easter lunch. Postpone family visits. Don't go sightseeing around the country.” The Swedish Public Health Agency's corresponding recommendation is: “Ahead of the breaks and Easter, it is important to consider whether planned travel in Sweden is necessary to carry out.”
Morning traffic towards Stockholm is pictured on March 27, 2020 in Solna, near Stockholm, as many activities slowed down or came to a halt due to measures taken in order to combat the new coronavirus pandemic. AFP
Even the official recommendations leave a lot of room for interpretation. Should you think of them as typically bureaucratic Swedish understatements and assume that you are in fact expected to fall in line, or should you think that as long as there are no rules it’s a free-for-all?
Swedes and international residents can see that other countries are making other decisions. The mixed messages seem to make people want to pick sides, dig their heels in, argue that in Sweden we have a system and it works; or no, Swedes think they know best but they don’t.
I wish this crisis could bring us closer instead. Don’t talk down to people who are afraid that the wrong decisions are being made; they know just as much as you do. And don’t assume that people who trust the authorities to make these decisions are not just as afraid as you are.
This is unknown territory for most of us. We need each other more than ever.
'You’d be hard pushed to see another human in public after 9pm,' Rachel Loxton, Berlin, Germany
Partygoers in Berlin used to queue for Berghain. Now the biggest queues are outside supermarkets where bouncers man the doors, letting in 10 or 15 people at a time, many desperate for their fix of toilet paper.
It’s all part of Germany’s ban on social contact, which came into force at the start of the week.
It means we are not allowed to form gatherings of more than two people in public and we shouldn't leave our homes unless it’s essential.
Of course, it varies from state to state. I have friends in Bavaria where there’s a harsher lockdown, and in Berlin we have to carry proof of our address in case police question us.
Since Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s in self-isolation after coming into contact with a doctor with coronavirus (although she’s tested negative twice), spelled out exactly what we have to do to slow down the pandemic, the atmosphere seems slightly calmer.
People are definitely keeping their distance, the streets are quieter and you’d be hard pushed to see another human in public after 9pm.
A woman, wearing a face mask, worn by many people during the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, cycles in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on March 26 2020, amidst the new coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. AFP
And yet when I see people flying kites or relaxing on the grass with a beer on Tempelhof airfield, I wonder if more restrictions will be imposed upon us.
Compared to other countries, the death rate here is lower, although it’s growing.
As of Friday there were more than 44,400 confirmed cases and 270 deaths. A week ago 68 people had died.
Authorities are carrying out mass testing and they say that’s one of the reasons why Germany has had so few deaths compared to the number of confirmed cases.
But as Merkel said in her powerful televised speech last week, these are not just numbers, they are people’s grandparents, parents, sisters, brothers.
So what is Berlin without its party buzz?
As we’re finding out, it’s still Berlin. Like other countries people have been cheering on their balconies for frontline workers, and every night at 7pm a saxophone player belts out Careless Whisper on my street.
And even though we have to queue at the door, the city’s beloved late shops (known as Spätis) are still open for emergency beer.
The message is getting through: stay in and have no social contact. But is all we’re doing enough? All we can do is wait and see.
'As I walk around the block to get my toddler to sleep, people step off the pavement to keep their distance', Emma Firth, Copenhagen, Denmark
It was one month ago today that the first Dane tested positive for the coronavirus. It was thought then that the risk of widespread infection was low. How different things are now; 41 deaths linked to the coronavirus in Denmark and 1,851 people who have tested positive.
Now Denmark is heading into week three of lockdown. As we overtake the initial two-week bar that was set, we know this will be the way of life until at least April 13th– the new date the government set this week. But there is no sign of any let-up.
Over the weekend the Danish National Police started to text every mobile user in the country to remind them to keep to social distancing.
The government announced plans to double or even quadruple the punishment for coronavirus-related crimes.
And an Easter message came in the warning of not to visit any family or friends during the long weekend of påske.
But there is a fine line to tread in cranking up restrictions. Earlier this week the Danish Patient Safety Authority set up a secure email for people to report anyone suspected of being infected with the coronavirus. It was soon taken down after backlash that it was an infringement of human rights.
A picture taken on March 24, 2020 shows a view of the empty terminal 3 at Copenhagen Airport Kastrup, where activities are limited due to the novel coronavirus. Ida Guldbaek Arentsen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP
After two weeks, lockdown life is no longer new, yet it is still not normal and it is certainly not easy.
The sun has shone every day this week in Copenhagen, yet we have to be careful how we enjoy it.
In my courtyard, people take a break from work and sit drinking coffee in the sun but no one is near each other. As I walk around the block to get my toddler to sleep, people step off the pavement to keep their distance.
But there are smiles, as everyone acknowledges what we are doing in these very strange times. I have probably got to recognise my neighbours more than I ever have, through a ‘god dag’ at a distance. People are all doing their bit, knowing it will make a difference.
Already this week, Denmark's Statens Serum Institut said it estimated that the tough lockdown could cut the rate the coronavirus spreads in the country by as much as half. Welcome news as we enter the next phase of lockdown of no doubt groundhog day.
'One Norwegian was fined €1,700 for going to a party', Stine G. Bergo, freelance journalist, Oslo, Norway
I visited my mum last night. We’d both been in quarantine and hadn’t seen each other for over two weeks. We didn’t hug. And, after weeks with nearly no physical contact (except for the occasional hug with my roommates), it didn’t seem that strange.
The streets of Oslo are emptier now than just a few days ago. It might be the grey weather, but people seem to be taking social distancing more seriously. Perhaps the news story about a 23-year-old man being fined 20.000 NOK (€1.700) for going to a party when he was supposed to be in quarantine had something to do with it.
Norwegian people have been inventing new words reflecting our current coronavirus dominated reality.
“Quarantine body” (karantenekropp) is the dreaded shape Norwegians fear will be theirs after all the gyms were closed to contain the spread of the virus. However we’re told to stay fit and healthy, so joggers are jogging like never before and PT’s are whipping people’s butts online.
There’s also “wine chat” and “virtual Friday beer” (pretty self-explanatory). There is “loo roll shame” (dorullskam) as well as “cabin shame” hytteskam – to be used on those who fled the cities to their countryside holiday cabins, an offence now punishable by prison. The loo roll and cabin shamed can now call the “anger telephone” created for corona-frustration only to take some of the pressure off emergency lines and national helplines.
Anna Nohr invited neighbors to take part in a fun backyard quiz in Oslo, Norway on March 23, 2020 as all have to stay home due to the new coronavirus COVID-19. AFP
Fifteen people have so far died of COVID-19 in Norway and 269 are in hospital. A total of 3,158 cases have been confirmed, but the number is arguably much higher as Norway doesn’t test everyone with symptoms.
Lots of businesses, big and small, are feeling the negative financial impact of the crisis. The government has vowed to financially support the businesses worst affected. The extreme measures taken have been extended to outlast Easter. It seems unlikely that things will go back to normal (or more normal) before that.
'At least things don't seem to be getting worse', Clare Speak, Bari, southern Italy
Week three under quarantine in Italy promised to be a weird one from the start. I opened my shutters on Tuesday morning to see thick flakes of snow falling here in Bari, after weeks of sunshine. I went shivering onto the balcony to make sure it wasn't a quarantine-induced hallucination.
Since then we've had hail, rain, wind, sunshine, and more snow. I can't decide if it makes being stuck indoors better or worse, but the weather at least fits the mood. We're all uneasy, and we get collectively more anxious every day at the same time, just before the announcement of the latest death toll and confirmed case numbers at 6pm. Everyone's looking for a break in the clouds, some evidence that things might get better soon and that quarantine measures have worked as they should.
The number of infections had steadily dropped for four days earlier this week, giving a bit of hope until it rose again on Thursday. No one expects improvements to run in a perfectly straight line, and the fluctuations are getting less dramatic. But it's still hard to know what to think.
Medical staff and Antonio Tonarelli (C), logistic director of the construction of a 6500sqm field hospital in the premises of the Bergamo Fair, talk on March 27, 2020. AFP
There have been more deaths in southern cities this week, and authorities themselves say the real number of infections in Italy could be ten times higher than their own official figure, which is now over 80,000.
We don't know how long quarantine will go on for, either. Despite saying over a week ago that the measures “will be extended” past April 3rd, the Italian prime minister has yet to give us our new expected release date.
Everyday life remains tedious. Stretching out your food supply to avoid the supermarket run for one more day, printing out yet another new, more complicated version of the self-declaration form, washing your hands again, standing on the balcony, staring at weather. We no longer really care about not being able to go for a coffee or a run, but we're very uneasy about the bigger picture.
Are things getting better here, or aren't they? The best I can say for now is that they no longer seem to be getting much worse.
Emma Pearson, Paris, France
'One scientist told me the outbreak will only reach its peak in three weeks in Spain. Chilling,' Graham Keeley, Barcelona, Spain
We are nearly two weeks into the lockdown in Spain and yesterday I started to feel awful.
The dread fear that I might be coming down with the virus was at the back of my mind.
So I checked the symptoms for Covid-19 – fever, difficulty breathing, coughing. Thankfully, it seemed more like a chill coming on as well as a blinding headache.
How many people, I wondered, had had the same experience – only to find out later that they tested positive for coronavirus.
Worse still, if I was coming down with the virus, it would probably mean the whole household would suffer the same fate too. Imagine. It must be happening to tens of thousands of people. So far I don't know any friends or relatives with the virus, but it will not be long.
As I write, more than 4,300 people have lost their lives and 56,786 have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Spain.
This was the week when figures showed more people died from the illness here than in China. It is a shocking fact when you think that less than a month ago, the pathogen was something which seemed to be isolated in the Far East. Perhaps that was naïve.
Healthcare workers dealing with the new coronavirus crisis applaud in return as they are cheered on by local police, Civil Guard and other security forces outside the University Hospital in Coruna, northwestern Spain, on March 26, 2020.AFP
A political row has blown up over whether the Spanish government acted fast enough. Should they have acted earlier to ban huge marches for international women's day and political rallies?
Arancha González Laya, the foreign minister, insisted the government acted on scientific advice in an interview with The Guardian.
Reading this I could not help wonder whether scientific advice is one thing and common sense is another. The virus was ravaging northern Italy by this stage.
Anyway, perhaps what is important is what Spain should do now.
Doctors I have spoken to this week have said the government must enforce a total lockdown.
They are working on the front line in intensive care units and are aghast that some people seem to be going about their normal work as if nothing was happening.
One told me the outbreak will only reach its peak in three weeks in Spain. Chilling.
I hope they are wrong.