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Your thoughts: What Sweden’s foreign residents think about Covid-19 re-opening plans



When asked if they agreed with the statement “The Swedish government and Public Health Agency are doing a good job in their response to the pandemic”, 44 said they either slightly or strongly disagreed, while 25 said they slightly or strongly agreed.

Exactly half of the 80 respondents to The Local’s survey, which was not scientific, said Sweden’s re-opening plan was not cautious enough, and that restrictions should instead be relaxed later or to a lesser extent. A further 17 said the plan was “too cautious” and 23 said it was “proportionate”.

Sweden took its first step on a five-stage re-opening plan at the start of June, increasing the number of people allowed at public events and extending the opening time at restaurants and bars to 10.30pm, among other measures.

“So few follow the restrictions now that it will make very little difference,” said one reader who asked to remain anonymous.

Of our respondents, 45 disagreed with the statement “Recommendations from Swedish authorities are clearly communicated”, while 27 agreed. Only 22 people agreed with the statement “On the whole, I trust people in Sweden to act responsibly regarding the pandemic”.

We asked readers which specific measures they disagreed with, and two common themes were timing and mask-wearing.

Several respondents said that looser restrictions should have been more closely tied to benchmarks in incidence rate or ICU capacity rather than dates, or that the re-opening should have been delayed until more people were vaccinated, as well as multiple responses that recommendations to wear face masks should have been introduced earlier and more widely enforced.

The plan laid out by Sweden’s government is tied to dates rather than other benchmarks, but the government has said it takes into account the Public Health Agency’s expertise and the burden of the pandemic on the healthcare system when deciding which measures to take. This means that if the situation worsens, measures could be delayed beyond the planned date, as has happened previously.

“I think some of the ‘recommendations’ could have been enforced especially in cases of widespread disregard for certain recommendations such as the wearing of masks on transport in Stockholm – if they were going to advise this and had evidence for this then why not enforce it,” said one reader.

A reader from Australia said they had spent two weeks in hospital including six days in intensive care after catching Covid-19, and planned to continue wearing a mask in public places. He believed he contracted the virus after an outbreak at his partner’s place of work, where he said around 50 employees tested positive for Covid-19 as well as “a large number of family and friends”, several requiring hospitalisation. 

“After this incident, the company brought in mandatory mask wearing for all its staff; this has been relaxed since June 1st. My partner is continuing to wear a mask!” he added.

The re-opening plan from the government did not include any relaxations for workplaces, so people should still work from home if possible and where that is not possible, employers are responsible for taking measures to limit the risk of the virus spreading. But despite that, several people reported that the re-opening plan had led their workplace to relax measures even beyond those set out in the plan.

One reader, a Swede who has also lived in other countries, said they would work from home to a lesser extent due to the re-opening plan, even though the recommendation to work from home applies until at least the end of September.

Andrea, a Canadian in her 30s, said she would remain in isolation until fully vaccinated due to a genetic condition. Like the Australian reader, her partner’s work, which cannot be done from home, was where she saw the biggest risk, and she was concerned about the impact the re-opening plan could have.

“Where I live, I have not seen people following the guidelines anyway, but they seem to have a lot of trust in the authorities so relaxing restrictions will most likely result in people not taking any precautions. I have not felt safe throughout the entire pandemic. We have had constant scares of my husband being exposed because of his workmates’ risky behaviour,” she said.

Dining out and events

Exactly half of our respondents said they would be changing their behaviour as a result of the re-opening plan.

The most common areas mentioned were plans to dine out more or to attend events such as concerts, films or sports matches.

“It took courage to go against the common pandemic response across the world. I have been disappointed lately by the change of strategy and the tightening of restrictions which feels like succumbing to the pressure of critics, in and outside of Sweden. The drop in cases did not really coincide with a change in measures so it is still unclear what their effectiveness is,” commented Jeremie, a French researcher.

He was one of several readers who praised the fact they had been able to live in relative normality compared to many other countries.

“It will allow me to go to music events, protests, and Pride in July and August,” said one reader, a data scientist. “These public events serve a great purpose, and I feel positive about allowing outdoor unseated events with larger numbers since the timing is just right. That being said, I don’t feel incredibly confident about partaking, especially regarding the safety of others.”

One reader said they would change their behaviour, but not by socialising more, explaining that as a result of relaxed restrictions, “I will be even more cautious because Swedes are going to be even more careless”.

But many said they were frustrated that the relaxations did not make travel from non-EU countries any more of a possibility. 

At the moment, fully vaccinated travellers to Sweden are exempt from requirements to test and isolate on arrival, but can still only come to the country if they fall into one of the groups exempt from an entry ban. 

“Travel from non-EU countries should be re-opened sooner than August 31st so we can reunite with family living outside of EU,” said reader Charmaine, originally from the Philippines, referring to the date to which the entry ban on non-EU countries has been extended.

“After a year of self-isolation, while also being pregnant and on maternity leave, I am exhausted and all I want is to see my family abroad,” responded one woman who moved for work seven years ago and said she was now planning to leave as a result.

‘Personal lockdown’

“I will still be in personal lockdown, but with a more loose approach I might go out to meet friends a bit more often,” said Gus, a Brazilian living in Stockholm.

“I have been more careful than the general restrictions [required] since the beginning of the pandemic. A concern now is that relaxed restrictions in combination with mutant strains may lead to a rise in cases which could make it harder to finally travel and see family again,” one German researcher told The Local. “Since the government has decided that universities should return to on-campus teaching, I am also concerned about the next months at work. Many colleagues seem to assume that the pandemic will be over after summer and they begin to plan bigger meetings. If remote attendance is not an option, the chances of getting infected myself will increase substantially.”

“I can’t believe how unwilling so many people have been to follow even the basic, light restrictions we have had. People, in general, have not been keeping distance. Restaurants and cafes have had tables too close all year and people sit at them. People have been throwing private parties throughout the pandemic,” said Rachel, a reader from the US.

“In the past, I have always loved to heap praise on my adopted home. Before this pandemic, if I was asked to predict how Sweden would fare in one, I would have said that we would be leaders for the world in how to keep people safe and healthy. The failures of the government and the people to keep each other safe has hit me hard and I have felt sad and shocked all year. I hope that we as a country use this as an opportunity to take a good, hard look at ourselves, from our government and its policies to our values and cultural expectations.” 

Thanks to everyone who responded to our survey. We read all the comments you gave carefully, and will keep them in mind as we continue to report on the coronavirus and other issues that affect your lives in Sweden. 

The survey was not scientific, as the purpose was to give a snapshot of how our audience of international residents feel about the response to the pandemic. We closed it after receiving 80 responses, and removed answers that did not include a full name for verification purposes. Some readers asked to remain anonymous.

Tune in to The Local’s new podcast, Sweden in Focus, on Saturday, as we discuss this article in more detail.

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Shocking news, Irish people may be sanest in Europe



Ireland is running low on loopers. If we don’t watch out, we could emerge from the pandemic with our reputation for wildness completely shredded. We are in danger of being exposed as the sanest people in Europe.

Vaccines go into the arm, but also into the brain. They are a kind of probe sent into the national consciousness. In Ireland’s case, the probe has discovered exciting evidence of intelligent life.

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Vienna school under fire for sex ed class using doll for children as young as six



According to Austria’s Kronen Zeitung newspaper, a teacher used a doll to explain “how sex works” to the children, while also encouraging them to use their hands and fingers on the doll. 

She said she wanted to “enlighten” the children about aspects of sex education. The children in the class were between the ages of six and ten. 

The teacher also explained to the children that “condoms should be used if you don’t want to have babies”, the newspaper reports. 

One boy was told to remove the clothes of the doll but refused before being told that he had to do so. 

The boys parents removed him from the school, saying that he was “overwhelmed” after the class and had started touching his sister inappropriately. 

“We have never seen our son like this before, he was completely overwhelmed” the parents said anonymously, “we are taking him out of the school.”

“We can already see the consequences. 

“A few days after these disturbing lessons, a classmate came to us to play. Like many times before, the boy also played with our ten-year-old daughter. This time he suddenly wanted to pull her pants down.

Peter Stippl, President of the Association for Psychotherapy, said that while sex education was crucially important, it needed to be age appropriate in order to be effective. 

“(This type of sexual education) scares the children! They get a wrong approach to the topic and their natural limit of shame is violated,” he said. 

“Sex education must always be age-appropriate and development-appropriate. Many children are six, seven or eight years old – or even older – not interested in sexual intercourse.

“We should never explain sexuality in schools in isolation from love and relationships. It makes you feel insecure and afraid. It harms the development of children.”

The Austrian Ministry of Education will now set up a commission to determine who will be allowed to teach sex ed in schools. 

The city of Vienna is also investigating the specific incident. 

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Madrid’s Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado granted World Heritage status | Culture



Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.

Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”

Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.

For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.
Statue of Apollo in Paseo del Prado.Víctor Sainz

Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.

This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.

Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado.
Pedestrians on Paseo del Prado. Víctor Sainz

The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.

The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.

“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.

Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).
Etching of Paseo del Prado from Cibeles fountain, by Isidro González Velázquez (1788).Biblioteca Nacional de España

The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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