SEATTLE, Washington — Although countries worldwide have created COVID-19 policies that enforce national lockdowns and quarantines, Sweden took a different approach at the start of the pandemic. Sweden’s policies appeared much more relaxed than others in the world, and soon the number of COVID-19 cases began to increase. Currently, various points in Sweden’s COVID-19 protocol are negatively impacting their impoverished and immigrant populations.
5 Things To Know About Sweden’s COVID-19 policies
- Policies negatively impacted cities — As part of Sweden’s COVID-19 policies, the government allowed businesses to choose whether they closed down or not amid the early stages of the pandemic. This resulted in many stores and restaurants choosing to remain open in Sweden’s cities to minimize the economic impact of shutting down. Soon after, the number of cases began to rise drastically. Currently, cases remain the highest in Sweden’s largest cities. In Stockholm, for instance, there are 23,101 current cases of COVID-19—the highest number of patients in all of Sweden. As a result of the government’s relaxed policies, the virus has hit the cities much harder than anticipated.
- Low socioeconomic populations at risk — In Sweden, citizens living in cities tend to live further apart from each other compared to other countries. For example, New York City has a population density of 38,242 people per square km, as opposed to Stokholm’s 4,800 people per square km. While low-density cities typically result in lower transmission rates, only the wealthy in Sweden can afford to live far apart from others. Therefore, low socioeconomic citizens tend to live in high-density neighborhoods and suburbs, where COVID-19 transmission is much higher. In high-density areas that tend to have more impoverished or immigrant populations such as Rinkeby-Kista, a borough in Stockholm, the case rate of COVID-19 can be as high as 48 per 10,000. On the other hand, privileged areas with lower densities, such as Kungsholmen, an island in Lake Malaren, Stockholm, only have up to nine cases per 10,000.
- Policies neglected Sweden’s immigrant population — Of the current hospitalizations in Sweden for COVID-19, a disproportionate number come from Sweden’s immigrant population. For example, Somali Swedes, who make up less than 1% of Sweden’s population, make up nearly 5% of hospitalizations related to COVID-19. One reason for this disproportionate amount of immigrant COVID-19 cases is the locations where immigrant populations live. Immigrants in Sweden typically live in low-income communities where people live closer together. However, Sweden’s COVID-19 policies work better when people live further apart. As seen in the data above regarding Rinkeby-Kista, these lower-income communities accelerate the spread of the virus. As a result, more people from immigrant communities end up contracting COVID-19 compared to higher-income neighborhoods with a more extensive European population.
- Immigrant communities received useful information later — Although approximately 20% of the county’s population are immigrants, Sweden’s COVID-19 policies initially favored the Swedish majority. When the pandemic first began, the government released COVID-19 information to all communities. However, the report was in Swedish, a language that not all communities could read. In cities where a majority of the residents could read and understand Swedish, people began social distancing on their own. On the other hand, in immigrant communities, many people could not understand the information they received. The Swedish government did eventually translate their instructions for Sweden’s immigrant population, but this meant immigrant communities received delayed information on COVID-19. Moreover, this lost time led to those residents taking fewer precautions to prevent infection, and, as a result, COVID-19 cases increased in immigrant-focused areas.
- Organizations are offering aid — Swedish volunteer organizations are assisting the country’s efforts to lessen the number of cases. One group in Uppsala, Sweden, called the Cooperative Organization for Immigrant Unions in Uppsala (SIU), has been continuing to translate Sweden’s information on COVID-19 into 15 different languages. They distribute the translations through several WhatsApp group chats, each dedicated to a different language. The SIU, a group of over 40 smaller unions across Sweden, is dedicated to making sure all people in Sweden get the same information at the same time. This process has allowed Sweden’s immigrant population to receive updates on the virus at a faster rate than before, which the SIU hopes will slow the spread of COVID-19. Although they do not offer donations such as medical supplies or equipment, the SUI’s work ensures that everyone in Sweden is up to date with the status of COVID-19.
Although Sweden may continue to need assistance in the future to decrease COVID-19 cases, support from organizations such as the SUI is making a significant difference in Sweden’s fight against COVID-19. While Sweden’s initial COVID-19 policies may have initially neglected those in low-income and immigrant communities, national and international organizations are ensuring that people get equal assistance and are not left behind.
– Sarah Licht