I Asked a Stockholm Tour Guide About Sweden’s Unconventional COVID Measures

I call them unconventional to avoid calling them “non-existent.”

Since the very beginning of the pandemic, the Scandinavian nation has decided not to impose a generalized lockdown as it’s happened in many other Western countries.

Some foreign nations condemned the Swedish government for doing such a thing, but are Swedes actually satisfied with this decision?

I spent a few days in Stockholm to find out.

During my first 24 hours there, I joined one of those pay-what-you-wish walking tours that are offered in many cities and seem to be very popular among budget travelers.

I asked the Croatia-born guide by the name of Zenid what he thought of these non-measures among the general panic caused by COVID.

“Amazing,” he immediately responded. “I don’t know how I would breathe with a mask on.”

(I’m obviously paraphrasing here.)

I also asked him to describe the toughest restrictions the government ever took.

“It was right before they rolled out the vaccine and you couldn’t have more than four people sitting at one table.”

“Dark times,” he added.

Then, I wanted to know whether the Swedish government received any backlash from the E.U. or other foreign nations for not aligning on the common measures to be taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

He said a lot of old people in nursery homes died (around 10,000, if I remember correctly) because of the few restrictions. The government justified it by stating that those people already had a foot in the grave, and that COVID just accelerated the inevitable process.

After the end of the tour, I had the chance to further ask Zenid about the COVID measures in Sweden, and he very kindly accepted to answer via e-mail.

ART KILLS: Did you perceive the situation as an “emergency” or a “crisis,” as it was perceived in the rest of the world? Or did everyday life continue as usual?

ZENID: In the start, there was a sense of an emergency since a lot of people were dying and the alfa variant was spreading rapidly amongst elderly people’s homes causing havoc in the process. But everyday life continued without any lockdowns. 

ART KILLS: Despite Sweden taking fewer measures than other countries, did the economy suffer? Was WFH reinforced?

ZENID: The economy did way better than the rest of the world but unemployment did rise as shorter working hours were implemented at the majority of the service jobs to stop the risk of the spread. Working from home was introduced and people who could do their job from home did not come to the city/office.

ART KILLS: Since you’re a tour guide, did you notice fewer tourists during the peak months of the pandemic? Did Sweden close its borders or have they been open throughout?

ZENID: We still ran the tours with a maximum of 7 guests as that was a recommendation. Other companies blatantly ignored that and were warned about this so Sweden did try to control the crowds and avoided huge gatherings. They never closed the borders completely but most of non-EU visitors couldn’t enter up until recently. 

ART KILLS: Did Swedes have a sense of personal and social responsibility that transcended the restrictions? Did you take any extra precautions although they were not required by the government?

ZENID: As you wrote, that is a personal approach so what I’ve noticed is that most of the younger people, students especially did not seem to bother with any restrictions. I personally would just stick to the guidelines but didn’t do anything extraordinary. 

ART KILLS: You told me a lot of elderly people died as a result of the Swedish approach to the pandemic. How were these deaths justified?

ZENID: Lack of knowledge of how to handle such a crisis/pandemic. They admitted it was a mistake and could have been handled better.  

ART KILLS: Do you think Swede did the right thing by imposing no lockdown? Or do you wish they acted differently?

ZENID: On a personal note, I was pretty happy with how Sweden responded since that meant we still had the right to act responsibly as individuals and as a society as a whole as well. None of our freedoms were taken except possibly partying after certain hours and at some point movie theaters and similar activities but, compared to the rest of the world, it was light-years of a difference. 

Zenid works as a guide for Free Tour Stockholm which currently offers two tours per day: one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. As mentioned before, the tours are tip-based or pay-what-you-wish, which makes them affordable to everyone.

If you plan on visiting Stockholm now that it’s relatively easier to move around the world, I warmly recommend joining one of Zenid’s tours.


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