Sweden has famously taken a third way in its approach to coronavirus. Where some countries shut up shop before the virus reached them and most others imposed strict lockdowns to prevent healthcare systems becoming overwhelmed, in Sweden, life has carried on, not quite as normal, but with the emphasis very much on common sense.
While it’s not quite as reckless as Boris Johnson’s “take it on the chin” herd immunity idea, whether Sweden’s gamble will pay off remains to be seen. The country already has much higher death rates than its Scandinavian neighbours, including a tragically high proportion in care homes, but deaths per million remain well below the UK.
And, while we have been entertaining ourselves with live-streamed performances and #TimsTwitterListeningParty, in Sweden bars, restaurants and even live music venues such as Plan B in Malmö have remained open, albeit for vastly reduced crowds of just 40.
We spoke to Mattis Andersson of Echo Ladies – who are based in Malmö – to get an idea of what life is like in Sweden right now, and how the pandemic has affected the band.
How is life in Sweden without a lockdown?
“Everything is pretty much the same, but with the difference that people are more reclusive than usual. Shops are open, but they have made some security precautions that weren’t there before. There are less people on the streets, people are washing their hands more and everyone tries to keep a safe distance.”
Have you been able to carry on going to pubs and restaurants?
“Pubs and restaurants are open, but they have restrictions they need to work with. It must be table service and they have to make sure that people don’t sit too close to each other. But here also a lot of people have stepped in to keep local businesses alive, like ordering take away to a higher extent to help out.”
Have you been to any of the gigs at Plan B?
“That NME article spread like wildfire around Sweden, but we haven’t been to any of the shows. Plan B had just invested so much money into building an amazing new venue when corona came and almost bankrupted them. This was an attempt to keep music alive without breaking the restrictions that our government has set out. People can say whatever they want, but we believe that they’re doing something good.”
How does it feel when you look at other countries and how they have dealt with things? Do you trust what has happened, or wish it was different?
“Some countries have made politics out of the pandemic. They acted in a way that the majority of the people wanted to keep everyone happy and hopefully be re-elected. Sweden has decided that we know nothing about this and we will listen to what the experts are saying. But in fairness no-one knows what’s right or wrong and we won’t have any answers until this all blows over. But until then we would rather listen to the experts, than a self-proclaimed know-it-all.”
Do you think the policy has worked in comparison to, say, the UK where we seem to have messed it up really badly?
“Impossible to say: Sweden chose a strategy and stuck with it during all doubts. If it was the best choice or not will reveal itself in time. Sure, more people have been affected in the UK, but in Sweden we have less people living further apart. Every country has different characteristics and it’s near impossible to say that our strategy would have worked everywhere.”
How has the pandemic affected your day-to-day lives?
“In some ways not at all, in some ways a lot. We’ve been lucky as no one has lost their job, but Joar [Andersén, bass] lost an internship at Gula Studion, a great studio in Malmö. He was quickly able to find a new internship through contacts, but a lot of people in Sweden haven’t been as lucky, people are losing their jobs, their businesses etc. But at the same time, you see a lot of people willing to help those who really need it. Banks are waiving mortgages for people in need during the crisis and people are helping their at-risk neighbours with grocery shopping. But, for the most part, people are all more careful than we used to be. You always have it in the back of your mind.”
Have you been able to rehearse or record during this time, or do any normal band stuff?
“We tried our best to keep up with rehearsals, but it’s been a strain on us. We were quiet for quite a while before the pandemic and we had just started booking some new shows when everything just collapsed. So now we’re in a playing the waiting game again. But we have some things in the works. Until then we’ll just re-watch Tiger King.”