Dealing with the corona crisis: How Sweden, Denmark and Co. do it

Antony McAulay via shutterstock

Finland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland: In addition to the cross on the flag, the Scandinavian countries have many other things in common. This also means that the corona pandemic is currently also spreading more rapidly there.

The Nordic countries also share some cultural characteristics. This probably also includes a certain skepticism about wearing a mask. In some countries there is now a mask requirement in public transport, but outside of these there are recommendations – and even in shops many do not wear masks.

In a survey by the polling institute YouGov, five to ten percent of Scandinavians said they regularly wear a mask in public places. This percentage has been relatively stable since the beginning of the pandemic, while in many other countries it has increased from around zero to 70 to 80 percent.

According to Søren Riis Paludan, Professor of Biomedicine at Aarhus University, this is due to the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Scandinavians. “The decisive factor in the Nordic countries was and is the public acceptance of the behavioral recommendations. Forcing people to wear masks on the street wouldn’t work. ”Danes and other Scandinavians would need the recommendations to make sense to follow them, he said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“It is very dangerous to believe that masks are a game changer”

The conviction that wearing masks is necessary in a pandemic has not yet caught on even among experts in Scandinavia as it does in other European countries: “It is very dangerous to believe that masks are a game changer when it comes to Covid-19” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, told the Financial Times.

The use of the mask is an example of how Scandinavian countries are dealing with the Corona crisis. In general, the Nordic countries rely more on personal responsibility and less on state rules. This is probably also due to the fact that prohibitions and commands are less necessary than in other countries – because trust in the government is traditionally high in Scandinavia. Recommendations are therefore more likely to be followed than anywhere else.

Jonas Ludvigsson, professor of epidemiology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, told the Financial Times: “When the Swedish health authority says that there is no reason to wear masks, people don’t wear masks either.” In other countries they do there is less trust in the government and where the wearing of masks is not recommended, people sometimes do it anyway.

Sweden is more radical than its Nordic neighbors

The Scandinavian-liberal crisis management is most pronounced in Sweden. No other country has been reported as much. Public life in the country of ten million people is still relatively unrestricted.

However, there are concerns about the increased spread in old people’s and nursing homes, which is why the government has issued a visit ban. The Swedish special route is hailed as a model for Europe by making, while others consider it a fatal error.

Masks are still the exception rather than the rule in Stockholm.

Masks are still the exception rather than the rule in Stockholm.

JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / Contributor via getty images

The truth is likely to be somewhere in between. Measured by the average new infections per 100,000 (as of November 13th) in the past seven days, Sweden is in the European midfield with 286. In France, despite the most drastic restrictions, the figure is 443, in Austria 511 and in Luxembourg even 650. In Spain the value is just below the Swedish figure, in Germany with 158 it is significantly below.

“Denmark could become a new Wuhan”

The other Scandinavian countries also have significantly fewer new infections. Denmark is the second hardest hit country in the north. Here the value is 123 (as of 11/13) and thus still below that of the Germans. In the country – as in neighboring Sweden – cafes, restaurants, cultural institutions and sports facilities with reduced capacities are still open.

A mutation of the virus, which was discovered in minks in farms in the north of the country and which has now been transmitted to humans in at least 214 cases, is of concern, however. There are fears that a mutated version of the virus could affect the effectiveness of a vaccine. Therefore, in the Jutland region, where most of these cases occurred, far stricter rules apply.

Denmark is the world’s largest producer of mink fur. In order to stop the mutated virus from spreading further, all 17 million minks are to be slaughtered. The legal basis for this seems to be shaky, which is why the measure may have to be stopped.

Transmission from humans to animals and back to humans is of particular concern because it has not been observed since the outbreak on the Wuhan animal market – and the consequences of the mutation cannot be foreseen. Therefore, in an interview with the Danish local newspaper “Jydske Vestkysten”, the microbiologist Hans Jörn Kolmos chose the drastic comparison for the situation: “Denmark could become a new Wuhan”.

Norway is stricter against the virus than Denmark

The measures in Norway are somewhat stricter than in Sweden and Denmark: travelers have to go into quarantine, cinemas, theaters and swimming pools are closed in the capital Oslo. However, restaurants and cafés can remain open as long as they do not serve alcohol.

With 71 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (as of November 13), Norway is already one of the countries with the slowest rate of spread in Europe – and the number of infections is continuing to decline.

A metal concert in Oslo on November 5th - observing the rules of distance.

A metal concert in Oslo on November 5th – observing the rules of distance.

Per Ole Hagen / contributor via getty images

Finland and Iceland are going different ways – and are both among the least affected countries

So far, Finland has come through the crisis best in Europe. With 27 infections per 100,000 (as of November 13), the country has the lowest transmission rate. There are entry restrictions and restrictions for bars and restaurants, but in general public life is still not very restricted. In the spring, however, the country had shown that it can do otherwise and had imposed a two-week lockdown on the capital Helsinki.

The island nation of Iceland had only ten new infections in one day on November 12. Due to the small number of inhabitants, the country is still a risk area. In contrast to the Nordic neighbors, public life and entry are severely restricted. The government’s tough reaction is likely to be due to the situation in the spring. At that time, the country had the highest infection rate in the world.

Otherwise, too, the country is moving a little. In contrast to the other Nordic countries, confidence in the government’s crisis management has fallen sharply there: from 70 percent in the spring to 25 percent, as reported by ZDF. In a European comparison, the infection rate of 39 per 100,000 (as of November 13) is very low.

In a European comparison, Scandinavia is getting through the crisis relatively well

With the exception of Iceland, the countries of Scandinavia tend to pursue a liberal crisis management that relies on personal responsibility instead of bans. Although the situation there, as everywhere else, has worsened in the past few weeks, it has never been dramatic anywhere – and in a European comparison it is even relatively relaxed.

This is all the more surprising as public life across Scandinavia has so far been less restricted than in the rest of Europe – and wearing masks is less common than in other countries. Nevertheless, the rules are likely to be tightened rather than weakened in many places in the coming weeks.

But the Nordic countries also have in common that they all have a low population density: from 18 inhabitants per square kilometer in Finland to 138 in Denmark. For comparison: 367 people live in the same area in Belgium. Together with well-developed health systems and a high standard of living as well as the high proportion of single households in all Scandinavian countries, all of this also brings some advantages in combating the virus.


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