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.
“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.
Travel agents experiencing increase in bookings since Covid-19 restrictions eased
Travel agents are experiencing an increase in inquires and bookings since the government announced the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday.
Pat Dawson, CEO of the Irish Travel Agents Association, says there has been a “phenomenal” turn around in bookings, and travel agents are busy getting back to inquiries.
“We are looking at a healthy summer season, it’s the first time I’ve been positive in two years.”
He advised people to book their holidays early to avoid disappointment. “The longer you leave it, the dearer it will get. Mid-term break in February and Easter are almost full.”
Mr Dawson believes there is a pent-up demand. “There are some people who have money they haven’t spent, a big chunk of that will be spent on foreign holidays.”
John Spollen, director of Cassidy Travel in Dublin, says he has seen an increase in bookings over the weekend.
Popular destinations include Spain and Portugal, which have been Irish favourites for many years now, says Mr Spollen. There are also some bookings for the US, Jersey, Madeira and the Greek islands.
People should avoid peak travel times from mid June to the end of August and consider booking mid-week, early or late flights to get the best value, according to Mr Spollen.
“In May, September and October, the weather will be similar to summer weather.”
Mr Spollen added people should take out travel insurance and ensure their passport and driver’s licence are in date.
Michael Doorley of Shandon Travel in Cork said they have seen a huge increase in inquiries.
“We are not back to 2019 levels yet… the EU is a big destination. We have had a lot of inquires about mobile home holiday parks. Italy would be the most popular destination for this type of holiday, but Croatia is becoming almost as popular.”
There are also bookings for America coming in, as well as some couples celebrating their honeymoons belatedly, according to Mr Doorley.
It is important that people understand the restrictions in the country they are travelling to, he added, and they should check the Department of Foreign Affairs website regularly.
Aoife O’Donoghue is just one of the many Irish people who have not been on a holiday abroad in two years, and she is excited to be going to Barcelona at the end of March.
“A friend is moving over there in February, so myself and two other girls are going to visit her. It’s actually all our birthdays that weekend too,” she says.
The friends used to live together in Galway, and Ms O’Donoghue says it’s fantastic to have something to look forward to again.
The last time she went abroad was to Switzerland in January 2020. “Just as we were coming back there was news of the big Covid outbreak in Italy, so felt lucky to have gotten a holiday in before it all kicked off.”
Property group clashes with council over Dundrum residential development
The owners of Dundrum Town Centre have clashed with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council over demands for more large apartments as they advance fast-track plans for a major residential development in the south Dublin village.
Property group Hammerson and insurer Allianz, which operate the new shopping complex in the area, have been in talks with An Bord Pleanála to build up to 889 apartments on the site of the old Dundrum shopping centre.
Their company, Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership, has told the council it should scrap new requirements for “a minimum of three-plus bedroom units” in large apartment blocks that are included among proposed amendments to its draft county development plan.
In a submission last week to the council, the company said the new guidelines were in conflict with official rules that said there should be no minimum requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms.
According to the company, the justification for the guidelines was based on fast-track strategic housing development permissions in the council area and “evidence” from certain boroughs in London.
“[Dundrum Retail Ltd Partnership] submit that the logic underpinning the policy is flawed and is not a basis for imposing prescriptive unit mix ratios on a countywide basis,” it said.
“The draft development plan needs to be amended to remove the very prescriptive requirement for apartments with three or more bedrooms and to allow applicants to make the case for a particular unit mix based on the particular attributes of local areas where a different mix might be appropriate.”
The company also told the council that proposed amendments to the development plan presented “contradictory or ambiguous objectives” in relation to proposals for a community, cultural and civic centre in the area.
Such objections were included among 106 submissions on the draft plan in a public consultation which closed last week. Numerous other developers and the Irish Home Builders Association lobby group also opposed the measures, some saying they would delay or prevent the delivery of new homes.
Asked about the submissions, the council said the response to any issues raised would be set out in a report by its chief executive to elected members which would be published. “It will be a decision of the elected members to adopt the plan and it is anticipated that this will take place in early March 2022. The plan will then come into effect six weeks later,” the council said.
In its submission, the Irish Home Builders Association said its members were concerned that the introduction of “further onerous standards” would increase the cost of delivering new homes and their price.
“This at a time when construction costs are already under huge inflationary pressure and affordability is a major issues for most home buyers,” said James Benson, director of the association.
“A key concern of the home-building sector in respect of the new plan is a lack of consistency with national planning guidelines/standards, which may be considered to be contrary to recent Government policy which sought to bring a greater extent of standardisation to national planning standards.”
The submission added: “The key concerns relate to the locational restriction and unit mix requirements for [build-to-rent] schemes, other standards for apartment developments which are more onerous/restrictive than the Government’s… guidelines, and the requirement for early delivery of childcare facilities in residential developments, all of which have the potential to impact adversely on the viability and affordability of housing in the county.”
Another builder, Park Developments, said in a submission the draft sought “more onerous policies, objectives and standards” that would have a direct effect on housing supply. “We are already seeing the impact of the chronic shortage in the supply of housing on the affordability of rental accommodation and homeownership.”
Castlethorn Construction said the blanket imposition of three-bedroom requirements “can only serve to militate against development of apartments” in the council area. It said the cost of delivering three-bed apartments was “very significant”, adding that demand was “not evident by reference to market sentiment, estate agents’ advice” and national policy imperatives.
Developer Hines, which has major interests in the Cherrywood strategic development zone, said in its submission that the logic underpinning requirements for more three-bedroom units was flawed.
“While making the case that recent development has been weighted towards one- and two-bed units, it fails to recognise that three-bed semi-detached and detached houses remain the predominant typology within [Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown] and that the [strategic housing development] permissions provide a much-needed mix of housing types within the county to redress this balance within the county.”
Laicisation of Catholic priest in Tipperary causes disappointment and anger in parish
Today, Geoghegan is no longer a priest, following the Vatican’s decision to issue a laicisation order, with the history of the story up to that point a subject of disagreement.
The former parish priest at Ballyneale and past curate at St Nicholas Parish in Carrick-On-Suir announced on Twitter last week that he had been officially “dismissed by Rome” on January 7th.
“My Bishop was happy to dispense me. I’m a good man. And he talks about the shortage of vocations,” said Geoghegan, who entered the seminary in 1987 aged just 19, and he was ordained six years later.
Geoghegan had petitioned Pope Francis for laicisation last March and it was granted on December 15th, said the bishop: “I wish to acknowledge and thank Richard for his pastoral ministry over the years and wish him well for the future.”
Geoghegan came under fire from conservative Catholics following an appearance on hotelier Francis Brennan’s RTÉ show Grand Tour of Vietnam in 2017, wherein he performed in drag as singer Shirley Bassey, wearing a blonde wig and lipstick.
The TV appearance might not have done him any favours, Hearn accepts. “He is only human at the end of the day. He is well loved here in town. We’d love to have him back. I’d have nothing but deep respect for him,” she says.
“He is a real people’s person. Some older priests could be aloof. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more down to earth man. I think he has been pretty hard done by the Pope and the bishop.”
Hearn is not alone in her feelings, with many members of the tight-knit Catholic churchgoing community in Carrick-On-Suir and surrounding districts still shocked and disappointed by the turn of events.
Despite the bishop’s declaration that Geoghegan had himself applied to be laicised, the Association of Catholic Priests’ Tim Hazelwood describes his treatment as “inappropriate, unreasonable and unacceptable”.
In 2020, Hazelwood accompanied Geoghegan to a meeting with Bishop Cullinan, and his secretary.
“It was obvious from the meeting that he wanted Richard to apply for laicisation,” Hazelwood says. “That’s when Richard said he would have liked to be a curate…Richard found it difficult being on his own in a parish. He needed support,” Hazelwood adds.
“Obviously, the bishop had made up his mind,” says Hazelwood, “I was shocked, really because the majority of bishops would be supportive, but what I was hearing was really a put down.”
Geoghegan declined to comment when contacted.
Former parishioner, John Nolan said, “The Church is crying out for priests and is leaving a good man go. He was friends with everyone, an absolute gentleman. Anyone having a wedding here would look for him. I think it is all down to Bishop Phonsie. ”
Describing him as “a fantastic priest”, Carrick-on-Suir butcher Morris Whelan says was a great man. “He knew everyone by name. You’d meet him once and he knew your name forever. He was involved in the parish in every part of it.”
Local Sinn Féin councillor David Dunne remembers Geoghegan’s kindnesses during his mother’s illness.
“Everyone recognised him for the programme he did with Francis Brennan…It was fairly flamboyant and wasn’t in keeping with the Church, but it was typical of Fr Richard,” said Cllr Dunne, “He was always friendly, outgoing and is well-regarded. It is a major loss.”
Describing the former priest’s ability to engage, Luke Foran says: “One of my favourite memories of him is my brother’s Communion where he had all the kids gathered around and Richard’s phone rang, and who was on the phone only ‘Jesus’.
“You should have seen the kids’ faces drop. It was brilliant and he enthralled and captivated the whole place. He was ahead of his time. Richard humanised the priesthood and was a breath of fresh air,” he said.
Besides the memories, there is anger, too. Ashling Ní Fháthaigh said: “When he was saying mass the church was a lot fuller with a younger congregation. (He) was liked by so many and was punished for that.”
Believing that the church’s hierarchy has questions to answers, Margaret Croke says: “A church without compassion and understanding who can so readily dismiss a person who was so dedicated for so many years to its flock and to God really needs to change.”
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