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While Europe Locks Down, Sweden Keeps Schools, Restaurants Open
People walk in Drottninggatan in Stockholm, Sweden, where primary schools, restaurants and bars are open and people encouraged to go outside for a nip of air, while the rest of Europe is in lockdown in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19, on March 24, 2020. - The country's milder tone and measures are in stark contrast to the increasingly alarmist cries from many other countries and international agencies, and have sparked a heated debate in the country about whether Sweden is doing the right thing. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

With many governments across the globe opting for draconian measures, including shutting down most schools and “non-essential” businesses and issuing “shelter-in-place” orders — measures that have brought economies to a screeching halt — Sweden’s government has thus far chosen to take a far more hands-off approach.

Unlike in most of Europe, Sweden’s primary schools and restaurants and bars remain open, and “take responsibility” is the phrase of the day from officials. And, so far, as reported by AFP on Tuesday, Sweden’s less stringent approach appears to be working well enough, with the country reporting fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita (2,272) than its smaller “locked down” neighbors, Norway (2,566) and Denmark (1,577).

“Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, in a televised speech on Sunday, urged people to ‘take responsibility’ and follow the government’s recommendations,” AFP reports in its look at Sweden’s “softer line” in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Those include working from home if you can, staying home if you feel sick, practice social distancing, and stay home if you belong to a risk group or are over the age of 70.”

Like other European countries, Sweden has banned gatherings, but only gatherings of 500 or more — as opposed to the more drastic directives, like in Germany, which is now banning “gatherings” of more than just two. Sweden’s government is also advising that universities and secondary schools shift to fully online classes, but is so far keeping primary schools open, though lawmakers have fast-tracked a bill allowing closures, if deemed necessary.

Also remaining open are restaurants and bars, which other governments, including those of many U.S. states, have fully shut down except for take-out orders. Sweden, on the other hand, still allows some table service.

Like other European countries, travel across Sweden’s border is barred except for essential travel, but travel within the country is fully open, the government merely advising residents to avoid non-essential holiday trips.

So what’s life like? AFP says that for many in Sweden things are pretty normal, with eating establishments and bars in Stockholm “full” over the weekend and public transportation “jam-packed” at rush hour.

The far more lax approach by the government has drawn criticism from many, but officials say they are simply following the guidance of Sweden’s Public Health Agency, which so far has not deemed it necessary to take more drastic action, and contend that “draconian measures are not effective enough to justify their impact on society,” AFP reports.

“Right or wrong, Sweden does not seem to have a worse virus problem than its neighbours, according to the numbers of declared cases,” AFP concludes, though the agency notes that in Sweden and its neighboring countries there are likely more cases than have been confirmed due to lack of more widespread testing.

Meanwhile, more and more states in the U.S. are imposing stricter measures. So far at least 16 states have issued “stay at home” or “shelter in place” orders, and many cities and counties have implemented similar mandates. Restaurants and bars are being shuttered all over the country, about a third of the population now living in areas in which take-out orders are the only real option for eating prepared meals, according to Business Insider.

The current list of states that have imposed “stay at home” orders include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

President Trump, who has been pushing the mantra of “15 days to slow the spread,” has increasingly signaled over the last few days that he is leaning toward lifting the “lockdown” mandates more quickly than some health officials say is necessary due to the massive impact that they are having on people’s jobs and the economy.

“Our people want to return to work,” Trump tweeted Tuesday. “They will practice Social Distancing and all else, and Seniors will be watched over protectively & lovingly. We can do two things together. THE CURE CANNOT BE WORSE (by far) THAN THE PROBLEM! Congress MUST ACT NOW. We will come back strong!”

Related: Trump Admin Announces Largest Stimulus Proposal In U.S. History

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