Despite Staying Open, Sweden’s Economy Takes a Big Hit Too

At the end of May 2020 I worked with Dutch Nieuwsuur TV reporter Saskia Dekkers, camera man Pieter Nijdeken and editor Luuk Mulder on two reports on Sweden in Corona times. While Sweden kept much of its society running, to save businesses many said, our report showed that the Swedish economy will not be better of than the country’s with lock-down.

Featured image: Stockholm Old Town’s main square
on a regular May night. Normally the place is crowded with tourists.

The utopian images of Swedes drinking at outside seating areas of cafes, eating at restaurants, having a busy nightlife while preparing for them at the local hairdresser. The footage has gone all over the world and now that more European countries have opened up, Sweden says it has proved the other’s right: a lock-down is never a good idea.

But as Sweden tried to keep as many companies open – including the hairdressers, gyms and swimming pools – many Swedes said it was to keep the economy going. Support your local entrepreneur was what many did and it is a patriotism that already was adopted by many Swedes even before COVID19 became a problem.

Press conference at Folkhälsomyndigheten, with chief epidemiologist
Anders Tegnell second from right on stage.

However, the relatively liberal Corona restrictions were never done out of economic reasons, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said during an interview. His job was only to command the spreading of the virus. But his straight forward statements, often not based on scientific research and often not part of his official area of expertise, have made him a cult figure in Sweden. Up to recently, about 90 percent of the Swedes trusted Tegnell. Even if the trust in his Public Health Organisation (Folkhälsomyndigheten) has diminished under 70 percent in the first week of June, Swedes seem to like his approach and the way he makes them feel everything will be okay and that Sweden does things better than other countries. Although Tegnell will be the first to deny it is a game, he also have said several times that others were wrong.

This dry cleaner and clothing repair shop at Östermalm Square in Stockholm lost 60 percent
of its income in Spring 2020, despite staying open as much as possible.

While Tegnells being in the footlights, the Swedish government has been boasting on the sidelines to take any measures necessary with additional recommendations. Prohibitions are not the thing in Sweden, as the country’s leadership trusts the citizens to follow the advices without having to force them upon the people. In a controversial move prime minister Löfven announced that as of 13 June domestic travel restriction advise of no more than 2 hours from home will be lifted, less than a week after Tegnell said local holidays would be best.

Sweden kept its outdoor seating areas and its cafes and restaurants open during
the Corona crisis, like her in Stockholm-Södermalm.

Many entrepreneurs in the tourism and gastronomy industry were quoted by Swedish media to be happy with the governments lift of travel restriction recommendations. Sweden may never have closed the borders for travellers from inside the EU, the EU countries have closed for Sweden. The Netherlands, Greece, Cyprus and even Sweden’s neighbours Norway, Denmark, Finland, Latvia an Lithuania are not happy to have Swedes coming over this Summer, and advice their citizens against travelling to Scandinavia’s biggest country. COVID19 is out of control in Sweden, they say, looking at a death rate closing in on 5,000 and soon 20 times higher than the Corona fatalities in Norway.

Östermalm Square, centre of the more “posh” part of Stockholm, last week of May 2020.

Missing out on foreign tourists will certainly hit the travel industry inside Sweden. Hotels are already looking for alternative options for months, even offering their rooms long-term competitive to apartment monthly rental prices in the cities they are located.

Whether the incentive will help remains to be seen. Two of Scandinavia’s biggest banks have calculated that the Swedish economy will take an equally big hit as its neighbours.

Anders Tegnell Idol T-shirts at the T-shirt Bar on Skånegatan in Stockholm-Södermalm.

The Swedish government meanwhile expects a decreased national income (GDP) of 4.2% this year, going further down to minus 10% in 2021. The country’s big corporations have laid of thousands, something the responsible ministry calls “unexpectedly” high. Unemployment will end at 9 to 10% in 2020, possibly growing to 15% next year.

Saving business has not been proven easy in any of the COVID19 approaches. The Swedish one, seen as one mostly focused on the economy, has in that respect equally failed as the countries with lock-down. Sweden will be seriously hit too, but with the difference of a seriously high loss of lives compared to its neighbouring countries. A double strike. | Marcel Burger / nordicreporter.com (text and photos)

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