Why I've loved living in Sweden during coronavirus – with haircuts, bars and normal life still carrying on

AS I made my way to Heathrow Airport on March 25, I couldn’t help but feel that I was making a narrow escape.

Boris Johnson had two days earlier announced a UK lockdown, disrupting our lives in ways we’d previously never imagined.

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The number of coronavirus cases were spiralling, yet we now know we hadn’t hit the peak.

With all of my friends and my boyfriend planning to lock down with their families, I’d decided to travel to my hometown Stockholm to do the same.

Very quickly upon arriving it was clear that I’d become part of the “Swedish experiment”.

As the whole world went into lockdown, we didn’t.

Politicians around the world imposed strict rules on their citizens, but we were effectively told to use our common sense.

And Swedish people tend to do what the government tells them to.

In Sweden, restaurants, bars, hairdressers, gyms and all retailers are still open. If you want to go to the cinema, you can.

Hotels are also still welcoming guests, so holidaymakers with disrupted travel plans abroad have booked a staycation instead.

Alternatively, they’ve gone on road trips to other parts of the country or escaped to holiday homes. 

Of course, it’s not quite business as usual.

But compared to the rest of the world, Sweden has remained as close to everyday life as possible.

As my friends around the world have been forced into a 14-day quarantine, I’ve gone out for meals and drinks.

When my UK pals were unable to meet people outside of their household, I went to the cinema with my family.

I also visited my 90-year-old grandma, although I made sure to keep my distance.

Plus, I’ve been to the hairdresser and dentist, and taken public transport when I didn’t have any other choice.

But just because a majority of places are open doesn’t mean people have gone there in droves either.

“Never did I think Sweden would be the best country to live in”, a friend said one night.

We all watched in surprise as the rest of the world announced stricter measures, including the UK, while our own government refused.

In order to somewhat save the economy, we were still living free.

If you want to go to the cinema, you can

As I made my way home on a Saturday night at 11pm, the streets and bars were filling up with boozing Swedes.

Apart from the signage to keep your distance and the closed nightclubs, it was almost like any other Saturday night in Stockholm.

This freedom has been appreciated – yet I’ve wondered what price we pay for it.

I’ve felt safe, and so have my friends. We’ve been careful but haven’t taken it to the extreme.

Nobody has really worried that much, but I still worry about family members in risk groups.

How can Sweden take such a different approach to the rest of the world?

With over 4,000 deaths, it’s clear we have a higher death rate than neighbouring countries.

Whether they’ll catch up with us during a second wave remains to be seen.

But I’d happily give up my restaurant meal if the government told me my actions put the life of someone else’s parent, sibling or child at risk. 

After two months in Stockholm, I’m coming back to London with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I’m excited to see friends and my boyfriend again. But I’m also concerned about what’s to come.

With the UK having suffered the most coronavirus-related deaths after the US, I’m going back to Europe’s epicentre. Plus, I’m giving up my freedom too. 

As I’m on my way to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm one morning, it’s the first time in many years I’m actually nervous about a flight.

Scandinavian Airlines has just started doing direct flights to London again, but only once a day.

And at the airport, it’s clear what a devastating effect coronavirus has had on the travel industry.

On the departure board, there are only 19 flights listed, of which two are cancelled.

There are also only six international destinations, including London, Amsterdam, Oslo, Frankfurt, Helsinki and Doha, Qatar.

The four screens are usually filled with departures, but today the flights make up just half of one.

At the airport, many shops are also closed. And as we board the flight, all passengers put on the mandatory face masks.

Most of the middle seats are empty, the crew wear face masks and all service on board has been suspended.

We’re all encouraged to keep our distance from each other, but on arriving at Heathrow Airport, there’s the usual scramble for the exit. People are keen to get off, and I can’t wait to take my face mask off too.

I end up doing it too early and get told off at border control for not wearing one.

Two months since I was last at Heathrow Airport, I’ve come back to a changed country.

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