STOCKHOLM – The streets of Stockholm are quiet but not deserted. People still sit at outdoor cafes in the center of Sweden's capital. Vendors still sell flowers. Teenagers still chat in groups in parks. Some still greet each other with hugs and handshakes.
After a long, dark Scandinavian winter, the coronavirus pandemic is not keeping Swedes at home even while citizens in many parts of the world are sheltering in place and won't find shops or restaurants open on the few occasions they are permitted to venture out.
Swedish authorities have advised the public to practice social distancing and to work from home, if possible, and urged those over age 70 to self-isolate as a precaution. Yet compared to the lockdowns imposed elsewhere in the world, the government's response to the virus allows a liberal amount of personal freedom.
Standing at bars has been banned in Sweden, but restaurant customers can still be served at tables instead of having to take food to go. High schools and universities are closed, but preschools and primary schools are still running classes in person.
“Sweden is an outlier on the European scene, at least,” said Johan Giesecke, the country's former chief epidemiologist and now adviser to the Swedish Health Agency, a government body. “And I think that's good.”
Other European nations “have taken political, unconsidered actions" instead of ones dictated by science, Giesecke asserted.
It remains unclear how long Sweden's exceptional state will last.
Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, warning of “many tough weeks and months ahead,” announced Friday that as of Sunday, gatherings would be limited to 50 people instead of 500. The government noted that weddings, funerals and Easter celebrations would be affected.