Has Sweden got it right?

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2020 16:23

Has Sweden got it right?

Journalist Lutfi Dervishi talks in an exclusive interview to the Ambassador of Sweden to Albania, Elsa Håstad, on how Sweden is coping with the coronavirus pandemic and what Albania can learn from its experience.

Q: Why did Sweden choose a different path from other European countries in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic ?

A: I think that the most important answer and the first answer is that Sweden wanted to have a sustainable strategy, something that we could keep over time and then of course we wanted to have something that did not make such a bid damage to the economy and people's life.

Q: But all other Nordic countries opted for stricter measures?

A: That is very true. Yes and Sweden is actually the only country who have decided to choose this open way of living and to go in another direction, and it also quite brave I would say, but yes the other Nordic countries they decided to have a step by step approach, but Sweden decided to have something that we could not apply this step by step approach and then I think it is because, it is a high trust in society and it’s high trust in regards to institutions. Sweden did not want to introduce any force or to forbid citizens to go outside. And then, I think one very important aspect is that we did not have prove that this harsh model was more effective- and I think that was the most important aspect.

Q: All governments across the continent rely on the advice of experts and scientists. Are Swedish experts and scientists somehow special?

A: I don’t think that they are very special. They are monitoring what is happening around the world every day, but I think perhaps the government and the people put very high trust in the independence of the institutions and rely very much on that. When our experts say that we don’t have evidence for doing the harsh methods would be better - we decided not to.

Q: WHO is praised and criticized all over the world for their advice and policies- how much does the Swedish government listen to the WHO”advice?

A: Yes, of course we are listening to all advice and to all expertise and also we find our method unique, but I think our method is very much based on the figures and what works and also “damage control” to mitigate the negative impact, because if we would close down the schools, you know in Sweden we have the schools open, we have the child care open we have all work place open, restaurants and bars, but I think, ..I was listening to one doctor who said: “every morning i pray that we will not close down kindergartens and schools, because then i will lose all my medical staff”. We also need people to have child care, otherwise our society will stop functioning and that also would affect the hospitals in a negative way.

Q: But that is the case for any EU country, and yet Sweden has chosen the different path. My question is: was the herd immunity the goal?

A: No. Herd immunity was not the goal. It was not the strategy, but eventually we will get the herd immunity, but that was definitely not the goal. The goal was to keep as many people safe as possible. 

Q: You mentioned that people trust institutions. One of the advice that we hear from morning till night nowadays is to keep “social distance”. I am referring to a poll which shows that 9 out of 10 people keep at least 1 meter distance from each - other. Is social behavior the key to success?

A: I think it’s a combination of things that are perhaps key to success; we also live in our own, in Sweden we have one people who have a household that is also I guess one of the answers to our success, but yes we are keeping social distance and that has been also a joke going around: “woww this is not news to Swedish people. We keep distance anyway. But then when we look at those in Stockholm, the capital, where I am from and springtime is coming the cafes are open, we see people who are perhaps too close, but you know that they actually have to close down 5 restaurants because people were too close to each- other.

A: You are mentioning that spring has arrived, long dark nights are gone, is a little bit now more difficult to keep strict measures in place because there are some strict measures in place right now aren’t they?

Q: That is true. We have some rules and regulations; the restaurants can stay open but they are obliged to have distance between chairs and tables and if they don’t follow they will be closed down. And Swedish people long for sun and spring, as you said, after long dark nights of winter, so yes its a temptation for people living in bigger cities to sit together, but they have to keep  the social distance. On the other hand people can go out and can walk around and that is also good that people can go around.

Q: Can we talk about consequences (although minimal restriction in Swedish case) for people's life and the economy? As I was checking the latest figures there are 90 thousands jobs already lost.

A: Yes, the economy is also suffering. I just went through the recent figures from March, i will share with you- 42 000 people have lost their job because of “Corona” , Sweden is a small exporting country we were expecting loses, huge loses, but if we look to March everybody was surprised because production has increased, everyday commodities has increased by 9% and export has also increased. But of course we don’t have April’s figures. We have not been hit so hard as we thought we would be. Some areas have been very hard, that is also tourism, hotels, entertainment but some businesses have not been hit as hard as we thought and all shops are open and factories have been producing.

Q: Referring to figures you just mentioned is there a sense that now  the worst of the crisis is over?

A: No. I was just listening to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and deputy minister of Economy and with the figures we have we expect 4% of downfall of the economy, it might be as much as 10%, but than of course if we compare to US- they are expecting 30%, of course it is less, but we don’t know yet actually. I think the figures for April will be a little bit worse, I don't think there will be as good figures as we had for March. In March we had unexpected good figures, we have no “lost” yet, but we are planning for “lost”

Q: Is there a sense of national pride for being different from other europeans?

A: It’s actually both, some are very proud, because we have been brave, we are evidence based, expert’s based, but some people are also very critical, they say; this is crazy they say we should do like all other countries, we should lock everyone in and just stay put. But the honest answer is No, no one knows. We will see. We have to wait and see.

Q: Now the cafes, bars and restaurants in Stockholm are all open and people are enjoying the nice weather of the spring. Are you somehow regretting the fact that you are locked down in Tirana?

A: I really miss the bars, restaurants of Tirana and travelling around Albania, but it’s lovely, because you have lovely mountains and I can look at them and I am really fine and I am doing my job and that is important.

Q: What can Albania learn from Swedish example in coping with Covid-19?

A: I think Albania can learn, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to let people be a little bit more free and to keep the economy open, because of course it will be difficult if you close down your economy to open it up as Albania certainly can not afford a big fall of the economy. I think perhaps not only Albania but other countries could learn. On the other hand every country has to decide for themselves which way to take.

Q: A lot of countries are envying your path and approach but they are reluctant to follow your model?

A: Yes, but if we look into the cases we are somewhere in the middle. Some of the nordic countries are doing better than us. Norway has 1.3 cases per million. 1300 cases. Sweden has 1.8, but we are doing better than Germany, France, obviously Italy and Spain, the figures show that we are not so bad. Of course we hope our strategy will turn out to be fairly good that’s what we hope

A: When will be the time that you can say: yes, we had the right call?

Q: I think we have to wait at least one year, perhaps a year and a half because it has to do with the economy, unemployment, export and import and to see how hard we have been hit and compared to other countries, i think we have to wait minimum a year.

Q: The last question, personal experience: working from home, more time for family and friends was that time needed for reflection on personal, family and social level?

A: I think all of us have been reflecting a lot about the world. Perhaps we were running a bit too fast, before the “corona” perhaps it is actually good to slow down not to be able to catch the first plane that you just wanted to and i was in the middle of the crazy schedule and I think many of us were, I had flight tickets, bookings, meetings and suddenly you realize that you can stop and that is also OK. I miss my children. They were supposed to come to Tirana, but they will come next year. But on the other hand I am more digitized than ever. I have never been so digitized than now, and we have meetings on a day to day basis with the embassy two meetings per day and I think we will change our behaviour after this.  I think we will use the digital tools much more and perhaps that can save the environment and that would be fantastic. That is my biggest wish:after corona we will save the environment and after corona no one can say; that this is not possible to do.  Because we have shown that we closed down Europe! Everything will be possible after this!

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times April 30, 2020 16:23