Dagens Nyheter (DN) is a Swedish daily founded in 1864. The newspaper is owned by the Bonnier Group — a Swedish media group of 175 companies operating in 16 countries. Opinion leaders often choose Dagens Nyheter as the venue for publishing major opinion editorials. The stated position of the editorial page is "independently liberal."
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Even Scandinavia Can’t Get Along: On COVID's Cold Diplomacy


What does it say at the bottom of a Norwegian ketchup bottle?

Opens at the other end.

As a Swede, I know about a hundred jokes like that, and it wasn't until I moved to Norway in my early twenties I realized Norwegians tell the exact same ones about Swedes.

This fraternal rivalry between Scandinavian neighbors came to mind this morning as I read a headline in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter about "corona bullying." But the article wasn't about some schoolyard taunts or national chest-thumping, but rather a burgeoning erosion of longstanding cooperation on crucial matters of state between neighboring countries.

If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

This last year has been fraught with sharp criticism between Northern experts and politicians, especially as Sweden has stuck to its light-touch containment strategy despite the region's highest COVID-19 death and case numbers. At the pandemic's deadly peak in May, Frode Forland, Norwegian Director of Infectious Diseases at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said that his Swedish counterpart Anders Tegnell needed to be more humble in his approach; Tegnell snapped back saying it wasn't his job to review the Norwegian strategy.

Sweden's outspoken top epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in Stockholm in October — Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT/ZUMA

A recent poll now shows that 44% of Swedes believe Nordic cooperation has been harmed. The study was published days after the Swedish government announced that the armed forces would be assisting the police at the Norwegian and Finish border to enforce demands on COVID-19 tests before entry.

Many of the measures meant to curb the spread risk amplifying nationalism.

This deterioration of Nordic comity and limits on trade beg the question: If such free and friendly countries can't make it work, what does it mean for international cooperation at large?

Our tendency to search for scapegoats has been evident during pandemics of the past: As syphilis spread during the early 16th century, the illness was dubbed the French disease, the Spanish disease, or the Neapolitan disease, depending on where you were. Indeed, In the absence of adequate international collaboration, many of the measures meant to curb the spread (border controls, vaccine passports) risk amplifying the nationalism that was on the rise around the world before the pandemic struck.

As such, it should worry us that not only has a certain former American president chosen to refer to the Chinese virus, but that some of our Norwegian and Finnish neighbors have come to see COVID as the Swedish virus.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

Sweden, The Final Proof That People Must Be Told What To Do

PARIS — Like much of the rest of the world, Sweden is now facing a second wave of coronavirus infections. But while other countries are debating which mix of restrictions to reinstate, the Swedish government has finally decided to announce its very first ban: closing bars and restaurants after 10:30 pm starting tomorrow.

As a Swede living in a strictly locked-down France, I've watched with a mix of perplexity and pride at my native country's "light touch" approach that relies on people taking responsibility for their choices. I also feel a pang of envy each day I'm forced to fill out a government form just to go down the street to buy a baguette.

But now, it seems like Swedish authorities are losing control: As the death toll passed 6,000 in early November and ICU beds started to fill up, my countrymen were still huddling together in malls, sitting knee-to-knee in bars and visiting grandparents in nursing homes.

Seven months into the pandemic, the Rules v. Recommendations debate rages on. When asking my mother, who's in self-imposed quarantine in one of the country's hardest-hit regions: Skane, she didn't understand why health authorities "have abandoned their own strategy."

Bracing for the first outbreak back in February, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell made global headlines for resisting calls for lockdowns. But he also emphasized the importance of giving clear instructions to the public: This would allow Swedes to responsibly navigate their own freedom, and the public health agency to apply a more surgical response to the crisis.

A sign reminding customers about social distancing in central Stockholm — Photo: Amir Nabizadeh/ZUMA

And yet, more and more, a lack of clarity has become the norm in Sweden as well.

While the health authorities still enjoy high trust among Swedes (around 70% as of October 30 according to Dagens Nyheter), what has been labeled a "fact-based" approach has paradoxically become a source of confusion. For example, the question of mask-wearing has been a constant back-and-forth between "individual risk assessment" and wider government recommendations — with the public health agency pointing to the lack of evidence for its efficiency.

At the same time, guidelines for the country's 21 regions have been rolled out and rolled back reactively and interspersed with nation-wide recommendations for public gathering (first 500 people and then 250 to 50 and most recently 8 people).

In Stockholm, where buses have been full due to reduced public transport (and drivers calling in sick), people commuting to work are nonetheless not required to wear a mask, but encouraged to "avoid crowded places." There's a constant evaluation and reevaluation of everything: How and when to sit in a restaurant, how to shop, how much distance to keep and where…

It's true that the jury is still out on the usefulness of mask-wearing, and we still have much to learn about this virus. But the Swedish public still could have benefited from fewer but firmer government policies. No doubt, the double lockdowns in France have been a very real blow to people's freedom, but the strict measures ultimately amount to the government taking its responsibility. Swedes instead may still have their freedom, but perhaps it has come with too much responsibility.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

Herd Immunity And A Deepening Generational Divide

Sweden's youth see caring for the old and sick as the business of the public sector. But as the welfare state gets weaker, the elderly can rely on neither the system nor the family.

My home country, Sweden, has had the world's attention since the outset of the pandemic. Its COVID-19 strategy included flirting with the so-called "herd immunity" approach that chose lighter government restrictions and broader acceptance that the virus can't really be stopped. But back at home, the deaths of thousands in nursing homes during last spring's initial peak put a spotlight on a more longstanding public neglect of the country's elderly population. In the months since, and as Swedish politicians have kept busy trying to explain away this failure to protect the most vulnerable, an uncomfortable question has hovered over the rest of us: Could it be that our society doesn't actually care all that much about old people?

The ethical debate over how to value the lives of old people is of course not a province of Sweden alone. Yet, it is particularly in such countries in the West considered socio-economically advanced where respect for the elderly has been called into question. In a recent article in Paris-based daily Les Echos, French political scientist Dominique Moïsi puts the blame at the feet of Western individualism, pointing out that this generational rift is far less pronounced in Asia:

"The fight against COVID-19 does not translate as the success of Eastern despotism over Western-style democracy," Moisi writes. "If there is victory in Asia, it is not Mao's, but Confucius'. Conversely, the defeat of the West, if it can be confirmed, is not that of democracy, but of frenzied individualism."

Indeed, the retreat of collectivism in most Western countries has been a blow for our grandparents. In Sweden, as well as in other European social democracies, this shifting attitude paradoxically has its roots in the expansion of collective ideals; it was the ballooning of the welfare system in the ‘60s and ‘70s that unloaded the responsibility for the elderly onto the state.

Could it be that our society doesn't actually care all that much about old people? — Photo: Amir Nabizadeh

Swedish millennials have consequently been raised with the idea that caring for the old and sick is the business of the public sector. Today, as the Swedish welfare state is growing weaker and poorer, the elderly can rely on neither the system nor the family.

This is not news per se. Already in 2015, Stockholm-based daily Dagens Nyheter reported on a study where Sweden scored the second-lowest in the world by perceived social standing of its elderly. A mere 0.7% of Swedes believed old people having an "extremely high" social standing — only the Netherlands ranked lower with 0.3%. Mostly, the study laid bare the enormous discrepancy in respect for the elderly between the West and the countries in the Middle East which ranked the highest.

No problem is more crucial than finding hope for the future without viewing old people as nothing but a cost.

Still, differences in national policies don't tell the full picture. The accelerating digitalization of our lives that is tearing at our social fabrics has a particularly insidious impact on those born before 1960. While technological advances like television certainly created a cultural divide between the young and old, it can't be compared to the depth of the rift caused by the information revolution in the last few decades. Today, young people learn, often before entering their teens, to navigate technology that older generations barely can understand.

The result is, on the one hand, a generation of young people who are left very much without parental guidance and don't perceive their grandparents as they could — should — be seen, namely as a source of experience and knowledge; and on the other hand, an older generation becoming increasingly isolated in a virtual culture of decreasing physical contacts.

By now it's become a trope to say that the pandemic is simply revealing problems that were simmering just under the surface. No problem is more crucial, and harder to solve, than finding the means to provide hope for the future without viewing old people as nothing but a cost.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

COVID: The Second Wave Looks Just (And Nothing) Like The First

From Brazil to Canada, Finland to Israel, and well beyond, the impact of the new uptick in coronavirus is being measured across virtually every aspect of society.

Since the first round of lockdowns ended and people around the world were let back into the open, governments have been forced to constantly assess and reassess choices of how much freedom to grant their respective populations. No doubt, we know more about the virus than during the pandemics deadly peak in April and May, but the most important questions (What containment measures are the most efficient? When will we have a vaccine? Masks!?) are still cloaked in uncertainty. Authorities are still grappling with the same life-and-death policy choices as six months ago, though updated the second time around. Here are five key things governments must weigh as a possible second wave looms:

THE ECONOMY With international organizations and individual countries still assessing the economic impact of the pandemic, most governments have ruled out the possibility of a second round of full lockdowns. But national leaders are still walking the tightrope between economic recovery and limiting loss of life, while also having to manage popular opposition and unrest.

  • In France, where President Emmanuel Macron has said that the French economy could not withstand another strict nationwide quarantine after the March-to-May lockdown, partial restrictions have been rolled out instead. Bars and restaurants were closed in southern cities Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, while in other big cities such as Paris, Lille, Bordeaux and Lyon, a partial closure has been imposed between 10 pm and 6 am. Le Figaro reports that the closures have prompted protests in Marseilles, with 100 workers blocking a tunnel on Monday and other bar and restaurant owners threatening to defy the ban.
  • Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing a three-week quarantine in mid-September. The move prompted the resignation of ultra-Orthodox Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman, who said the measures would prevent Jews from attending synagogue over the upcoming Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur holiday, The Times of Israel reports.
  • In Manaou, the largest city in Brazil's Amazon region, bars and river beaches have been closed to contain a new virus outbreak. Manaou is one of the cities hardest-hit by the pandemic, with so many residents dying in April and May that hospitals collapsed and cemeteries ran out of grave slots. As nearly half the city's population tested positive in June, many hoped that Manaou would have reached herd immunity. But Mayor Arthur Virgílio Neto recently proposed a new two-week lockdown, as new infections reached 1,627 between September 24 and 28 — a 30% increase compared to the same period in August.

FACE MASKS The first months of the pandemic were a constant alternation between mask on and mask off, partly because of scientific uncertainty and partly because of supply shortages. Today, most governments view strong pro-mask policies as a viable way to limit the spread, but are choosing different approaches.

  • In Finland, where deaths have remained low throughout the pandemic, 800 people have been infected in the last two weeks. As the national health authorities predict a continued spread in the near future, mask-wearing has been made mandatory in most parts of the country.
  • In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has picked the more surgical approach of making masks compulsory in certain locations, including shops, supermarkets, takeaway restaurants, places of worship, cinemas and museums. This week, as cases continued to surge, the government added taxis to the list. "Your harmless cough can be someone else's death knell," Johnson declared on Tuesday.
  • A third approach has been taken in Italy, where Corriere Della Sera reports that masks are now obligatory in certain regions. Last week, the region of Campania was added to the list, which includes Italy's third-largest city, Naples.

In the UK, masks compulsory in certain locations — Photo: Alex Lentati/London News Pictures/ZUMA

NURSING HOMES Nowhere is infection control more of a life-or-death matter than in elderly care centers. In Sweden, nearly half of COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes; while in the U.S., The New York Times reported in June that nearly 40% of total deaths were linked to nursing homes. But with no end to the pandemic in sight, governments and local authorities are forced to balance the risk of letting people visit elderly family and loved ones in the face of the prospect of isolating them again.

  • In Sweden, where nursing homes have been opened to visitors October 1, no major breakouts have occurred. State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has assessed the risk of spread as very low, granted that sanitary guidelines are followed — adding that infections have shifted to occur mostly among young people, reports Dagens Nyheter.
  • In Italy, authorities have chosen to open common areas to visitors while still holding that the best way to protect the elderly is for visitors to not enter. Yet, opening the doors was deemed a necessity, partly because residents won't be able to enjoy the gardens and outdoor spaces when winter arrives, Il Post reports. The visits still have to be organized beforehand, and extra precautions like frequent testing and rigorous safety protocols are kept in place.

SCHOOLS Denmark was the first country in Europe to reopen its primary schools in mid-April after containing the virus, with only 650 deaths to date. The Nordic country's successful strategy of split classes, outdoor lessons, and strict rules for hand-washing and distancing has become a global model. But there is no accepted model right now as the threat of a second wave coincides with the back-to-school season and the virus increasingly spreading disproportionately among younger people.

  • In the South Korean capital Seoul and nearby areas, schools resumed in-person classes on September 21 following a month-long closure. While daily COVID-19 cases have dropped to the lowest levels since mid-August, students are still under a hybrid regimen of in-person and online classes, with in-person classes limited to once or twice a week, Channel News Asia reports.
  • France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy even as cases have shot above 10,000 per day. Indeed, the highest proportion of so-called "clusters' of COVID concentrations, approximately one-third, are in schools and universities, reports Le Monde.
  • In South Africa — the country with most deaths on the continent — schools were reopened Aug. 1 following delays as teachers' unions claimed schools lacked sufficient health and hygiene measures to keep educators and pupils safe. While students have now returned to the classroom, many public schools are in poor shape and analysts say that a quarter of them have no running water, making adequate hand-washing impossible, according to Africa News.

France has stuck with a nationwide everyone-back-to-class policy — Photo: Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua/ZUMA

BORDERS Beyond the choices about what to do nationally is another key question: opening up international borders. dilemma as other countries pondering the reopening of their borders.

  • Morocco implemented one of the world's strictest border lockdowns, but the country's economy has been dealt a serious blow, especially its tourism industry, which accounts for 7% of its GDP. Tourism professionals have been urging the government to allow travelers back into the country, as the industry experienced enormous losses during the lockdown, with a drop of $1.2 billion in revenue in the first half of 2020. The city of Marrakech, empty of tourists, looks like a "ghost town," Le Monde reports.
  • On Sept.19, Finland finally eased the tightest travel restrictions in Europe and now allows low-risk countries as well as important trade partners to enter the country, Finish site Yle reports. The loosened restrictions now allow travelers arriving from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland, Germany and Cyprus, as well as residents of Australia, Canada and Japan traveling from their home country to Finland.
  • Despite economic pressure, others are not so keen to reopen their borders. This is the case for Canada, as its neighbor, the U.S. is registering the highest number of cases in the world with over 7.4 million infections and highest number of deaths with over 210,000 fatalities. In mid-September the six-months-long closure of the world's longest land border, between the two countries, to "discretionary" travel was extended to at least until Oct. 21.

EU Recovery Plan, A Turning Point Or Same Old Deal?

Today, the European Commission will unveil plans for an unprecedented EU economy recovery package in the face of the coronavirus crisis. The proposed EU rescue fund comes on the heels of last week's surprise announcement that French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed to a 500-billion-euro recovery package set out to help the worst affected countries, locking European member countries together on the fiscal plane for the first time in history. Still, the plan will have to unite all 28 member states, which is far from certain.

Southern European countries, such as badly-hit Italy and Spain, are on board with Macron and Merkel. Yet opposition is brewing from many sides. First, the most visible holdouts are the "Frugal Four" — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — who have come up with a counterproposal, pushing for loans instead of grants, and requiring strict controls over spending and time limits on repayment.

But resistance is also coming from Central and Eastern Europe, where countries are generally less affected by the coronavirus crisis than elsewhere, and could even become net contributors to the fund. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš quipped that the Franco-German approach would effectively "penalize countries for successfully handling the pandemic."

While some have called the recovery plan a defining moment in EU integration, others say its importance is hugely exaggerated, both by its critics and supporters. Columnist Annika Ström Melin argues in the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter that although the new recovery fund might change the character of the Union, it still falls far short of transforming the EU into a federation of nations. Given that the fund is not so large in relation to national budgets, and the loans would not be distributed as candy but allocated towards investments focusing on green business and digital transformation, "it is more reasonable to regard the new fund as yet another stone in the pragmatic, ever-changing and problem-solving structure that is the EU."

Pragmatism or revolution? With the world turned upside-down by COVID-19, it's a question that goes far beyond European Union politics.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

Sweden And Herd Immunity: Simple Math Or Plain Madness?

Sweden's lax regulation during the coronavirus crisis continues to perplex the outside world.

From Italy, one of the hardest hit countries and the first in Europe to impose strick lockdown measures, this is how the contrast with Sweden looks: "We're inside our homes and they're not. Our schools are closed and theirs stayed open. We can't go out and exercise, they can," begins an article in Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera. "Are these Swedes crazy? No, say the Swedes, you're the crazy ones."

Even reporters from its Nordic neighbors — where heavy restrictions were imposed last month — are perplexed, with a Danish journalist describing the Swedish strategy like "watching a horror movie," as the death toll in Sweden is four times higher than in Denmark, surpassing 1,300 on Friday. Meanwhile Norwegian and Finnish newspapers have reported on their respective populations' fears of being infected by Swedes crossing the border.

Domestically too, the health authorities are under fire, with 22 scientists from research institutes and universities urging the government, in an Op-Ed published by daily Dagens Nyheter, to shut all cafes and schools. Sweden is now the last holdout for what has been labeled the "herd-immunity" approach, but Swedish health authorities insist their strategy is not strictly herd immunity, reports daily Svenska Dagbladet, but to simply slow down the spread — just like everyone else. So what's the real difference?

Empty bar in Rome, Italy — Photo: Matteo Trevisan/ZUMA

In a nutshell, herd immunity is when a full population is protected from infection before all are immune. This occurs when those infected are surrounded by people who have achieved immunity either through vaccination or recovering from the virus. While the occasional contact is still susceptible and the odd transmission happens, it's not enough to sustain the disease.

Sweden would reach 60,000 deaths before herd immunity is achieved.

A pure herd-immunity approach would therefore be to let COVID-19 burn through the population until enough people have recovered and become immune. But the issue is the death toll. The "R0" of a disease is equal to the number of additional infections a typical case will cause before they recover — if R0 is greater than 1, the epidemic grows; if it's smaller than 1, it shrinks. Let's assume that RO is 3 (COVID-19 is estimated at R2-3) then the infection initially grows until two-thirds of the population become immune, meaning that two out of three infectious contacts will lead to no spread. However, if forecasting the lowest estimated fatality rate of COVID-19 — about 1% — then a country like Sweden, with 10 million inhabitants, would reach 60,000 deaths before herd immunity is achieved.

Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell reasons every country will eventually have to achieve herd-immunity to beat the virus, but the spread needs to be controlled so hospitals don't become overburdened and the most vulnerable don't get infected; and in that way herd-immunity can be achieved without massive loss of life. Tegnell says that Swedes are practicing social distancing measures just like every other population — the difference being that they come as recommendations rather than rules.

While there are encouraging signs of many countries now turning the corner on the most acute phase of the crisis, it's still to early to decide whether Sweden's will be a model for the future or the example to avoid. A key to determining that are two basic questions every government should be looking at: Will Sweden prove better equipped for a second wave of the virus? How will the socioeconomic impacts compare to those in the locked-down countries in the months and years to come?


Coronavirus — Global Brief: A Modern Plague Tests Modern Religions

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus pandemic from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus Global Brief in your inbox, sign up here.​


"As we gather here today …"

Taken from the Christian liturgy, the line rings true for believers around the world of nearly every religion. Some form of gathering, communing, sharing are a central part of the worshippers' relation to the divine, a materialization and anchoring of their faith within a congregation, in good and bad times alike.

What to do then, when COVID-19 and its quarantine restrictions make finding solace together impossible? How will the faith of solitary congregants hold up in the face of an almost biblical plague?

We've seen how coronavirus-led bans on large gatherings have derailed religious rites across creeds: from an eerily deserted Kaaba in Mecca to the Pope conducting his Easter mass in a near empty St. Peter's Basilica, closed synagogues and Hindu temples refusing entry to devotees. And though some stubborn Catholic priests in France and American evangelical pastors defied restrictions this past weekend for Easter, for the time being religion is something that must take place at home, away from fellow devotees.

Some might see the current confinement measures as an opportunity to focus on their personal relationship to the divine. Some may even, as French Protestant weekly Réforme suggests, try their hand at their own, homemade version of rites. Others will simply lose faith.

But the twist to this current historical moment is that many men and women of faith will in fact let reason and scientific facts lead the way. It reverses a time-honored dichotomy between science and religion, where contrary to previous comparable catastrophes — like say, the Plague in 14th-century Europe —we don't see the outbreak as some sort of divine retribution for our sins. Thus obeying government restrictions, be they an obstacle to the due practice of our rites and rituals, is not blasphemy. Scientific proof is no longer irreconcilable with the tenets of one's faith and the population's health is a bonafide case of force majeure.

Better, still — there may be something in it for both science and religion, notes a recent Foreign Policy article entitled "Thou Shalt Practice Social Distancing." Religious leaders opting for an enlightened approach to the pandemic can extol the virtues of "following all the rational requirements of science, while offering faith as a source of hope and inspiration — not as a substitute, but a supplement to reason." And let us say: Amen — and go wash our hands.

— Bertrand Hauger


• Toll: Global cases of coronavirus nears the milestone of 2 million.​​​

• Lockdowns extended: French president Emmanuel Macron announces lockdown extension until 11 May. India extends its strict lockdown measures until May 3.​​​

• Race for vaccine: World Health Organisation says there are 70 vaccines in development, with three set to launch trials on humans.​​​

• Trump power play: U.S. president Donald Trump claimed "total" authority on reopening the economy. Governors from both parties were quick to note they have primary responsibility for ensuring public safety in their states.​​​

• Markets rise: Asian shares hit one-month high on better-than-expected Chinese trade numbers and the first signs of European countries opening up after lockdowns.​​​

• Time to vote: South Korea votes in first national election of coronavirus era, with President Moon Jae-in's party expected to get a boost for his handling of crisis.​​​

• Scare tactic: Indonesian village hires a team of spooky "shroud ghosts' to scare people into staying at home.

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Carl-Johan Karlsson

A Swedish Exception? Why Sweden Is Ignoring Calls For Quarantine

STOCKHOLM — As COVID-19 shuts down vast swathes of the world, Sweden has become Europe's last "open" holdout. In the 10-million strong Nordic country, borders, elementary schools, offices, gyms and even restaurants remain open. So far, some 5,500 have tested positive for the virus and more than 300 people have died, but the government stands firm: No lockdown is the order of the day. So, what's the rationale?

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell argues the virus will inevitably pass through a large chunk of the population, and that China-style containment will only cause it to flare up again. Rather, the better way is to manage the pace of the spread — for which a lockdown is superfluous.

Similarly, Public Health Agency general director Johan Carlson says locking people up for months at a time is a far worse "experiment," than controlling the spread over time. He says citizens will question rigid measures that make no sense: "Why can only one person walk the dog if there are two owners who live together?" Carlson asked in a recent interview with Public Service Television (SVT).

Sweden seems to have successfully implemented the approach Boris Johnson initially espoused.

It's worth noting that Swedish health authorities enjoy unusually high independence. For comparison, in neighboring Norway and Denmark the government ignored health authorities' recommendation to keep schools open. Tegnell, who gives daily briefs to the Swedish people, has been more successful in selling his strategy, which is supported by 52% of the population, according to a survey by Svenska Dagbladet.

So far, in fact, Sweden seems to be implementing the controversial approach Boris Johnson initially espoused in the UK. Tegnell is banking against a scenario predicted in the much talked-about study from Imperial College London that warned attempts to let the virus spread to eventually immunize the population would bring one million British deaths. Tegnell dismissed that study, which pushed Johnson to opt for a lockdown, as "not peer reviewed," and said he was surprised it had stirred up such as fuzz in the UK.

But some form of Swedish lockdown may be on its way. The death toll is considerably higher than in the other Scandinavian countries, and Sweden finally banned gatherings of more than 50 people earlier this week, reports Dagens Nyheter. Look for authorities to incrementally roll out more restrictions as the death toll climbs.


Coronavirus — Global Brief: Information, The Poison And The Cure

The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.


When considering the risks of misinformation circulating about COVID-19, the virus analogy is too useful to pass up. Self-serving broadcast propaganda, "fake news' targeted for social media clicks, bad medical advice passed on to a friend ... or a nation: all of it can spread rapidly — with the symptoms in plain view, or all but impossible to detect.

Of course the actual cure to the coronavirus ultimately rests in the hands of doctors and researchers. Yet until then (and beyond), the importance of a free press, of reliable and accurate information — especially in our digital age — cannot be overstated. Indeed, the plot line of what is perhaps the most far-reaching news story since World War II begins with Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor in the central city of Wuhan, who was silenced by Chinese government officials for sounding the alarm online about coronavirus back in December.

Since then, we have seen political leaders from Brazil and the U.S., to Hungary, India and elsewhere, either spread misinformation or impose restrictions on the press, or both. This week in India, professional journalist associations tried pushing back against the goverment's new controls on how to report on the pandemic.

We sit on a particular perch at Worldcrunch as a global source of information that discovers, interprets and connects other sources from different countries and languages. More than ever, we are only as good — and free — as our colleagues around the world.

—Jeff Israely


  • European glimmers of hope: The daily death toll in Spain has dropped for the fourth day in a row, down to 637 and Italy"s death toll dropped to its lowest in two weeks. France has 6,838 people in intensive care, some 105 of whom are under the age of 30, but the numbers are rising at a slower rate.
  • UK leaders: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted to hospital for persisting coronavirus symptoms, shortly after Queen Elizabeth gave a rare TV address to urge resolve in face of the pandemic.
  • Monday markets: Global stocks and U.S. futures on the rise as coronavirus cases slow in some European countries, but oil prices remain on edge with postponed Saudi Arabia-Russia talks.
  • Japanese emergency: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expected to declare state of emergency after surge of cases in Tokyo.
  • Abidjan fears: Locals destroy a coronavirus testing center that was under construction in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, fearing it was too close to their homes.
  • Feline cases: A tiger tested positive for the virus at Bronx zoo, after being reportedly contaminated by caretaker. Last week a cat was confirmed to be infected in Belgium.
  • Double duty: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who worked as a doctor for 7 years, has rejoined medical register to help fight against the pandemic.
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This Is How IKEA’s Tax Scheme Works

LEIDEN â€" Over the years, several journalists have dug into the corporate structure of Swedish furniture giant IKEA and the business dealings of founder and CEO Ingmar Kamprad. But the probes have turned up little dirt.

But now, the European Parliament's Green Party group say they have managed to map out IKEA's complex revenue scheme they believe has allowed the company to dodge some one billion euros in taxes, reports Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

It was at European Parliament hearing in November 2015 that the Norwegian-born former French magistrate and Green party leader Eva Joly became interested in IKEA.

When IKEA's director of corporate finance, Krister Mattsson, told the hearing that the multinational was often confused with the company Inter IKEA, Joly and other EU Green Party officials were curious to know more. Now in a report released over the weekend, Joly's party says it can trace how the Swedish company moves money around different parts of the IKEA Group between different countries to minimize its tax burden. This is how they say it works:

• IKEA stores pay 3% of their profit in royalties to Inter IKEA in the low-tax Netherlands (IKEA is the furniture company, while Inter IKEA owns the trademark and the concept of the brand). By doing this, the taxable profit in eight of IKEA's European subsidiaries is reduced by 35 to 64%.

• Inter IKEA then transfers the money in two directions: one amount goes to an unknown recipient â€" who may be the former secret Interogo Foundation in Liechtenstein â€" and a second amount as interest to Interogo Finance in Luxembourg. The interest is due to an internal loan from when Inter IKEA bought the IKEA brand from Interogo Finance for 86 billion Swedish kronor in 2012 (circa 9 billion euros) and borrowed more than half of the money from Interogo.

• This money is not taxed because the Netherlands does not tax royalties and interest money that is sent abroad.

• Interogo Luxembourg then pays the revenue to Interogo Foundation in Liechtenstein. Thanks to a tax treaty with Luxembourg, and because the money is sent out of the country to Liechtenstein, Interogo Finance paid only 0.06% in taxes between 2012 and 2014.

• The Interogo Foundation in Liechtenstein does not need to pay taxes on the revenues it receives because the country does not impose tax on money sent from abroad.

The Green party has now asked the European Commission to review the report and determine whether IKEA has breached any EU law.

In a statement released to Swedish paper Dagens Industri, IKEA said they cannot comment because they have not been shown the report. The company also emphasized that it conducts its business in a responsible manner, stating that "IKEA Group pays taxes in accordance with the laws and regulations wherever we operate through retail, manufacturing, or in any other way.”


Aggressive Russia Makes Sweden Rethink Military, NATO

Gotland is Sweden’s largest island, home to some 57,000 people and a popular tourist destination during the short Swedish summers for its many beaches and hiking trails. During the Cold War, the island also served as a key military base in Sweden’s defense against the Soviet threat, which loomed just 80 miles away to the east along the Latvian coast.

Today, more than 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, soldiers are returning to Gotland.

Russia’s expansionist rhetoric and increasing number of military maneuvers has prompted Sweden to raise defense spending by 10.2 billion kronor ($1.18 billion) for the period 2016- 2020. And a part of the defense build-up will be the reinstallation of soldiers on Gotland.

Finland, which itself has grown wary of Moscow since the crisis in Ukraine, constitutes a buffer zone between Sweden and Russia to the north. But the Baltic Sea is an open crossway to Sweden, which makes the island crucial in any eventual threat coming from the East. The new Gotland battle group will initially consist of 300 men, a far cry from the 20,000 soldiers who were placed there during the height of the Cold War, but it is all part of “showcasing a heightened threshold,” Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist told Stockholm daily Dagens Nyheter.

City of Visby, Gotland â€" Photo: Jumilla

In its 2015 annual report, NATO states that Russia has conducted at least 18 large-scale snap exercises over the last three years, some of which have involved more than 100,000 troops â€" levels unseen since the height of the Cold War.

"What we can see is that there are more exercises, more military activities in the Baltic Sea," Hultqvist says. "We can also see more proactive activities, flying close to our aircraft.”

The 2015 NATO report claims that one of these exercises was a mock nuclear strike against Sweden during war games less than three years ago.

The Russian threat has also reignited the discussion over Swedish membership in NATO. Opinion polls conducted last year showed, that nearly almost half of all Swedes were in favor or joining NATO, a sharp increase since 2012 when fewer than one in five supported the idea.

Also writing in Dagens Nyheter, Jean-Pierre Olov Schori, a Swedish diplomat and former International Secretary in the Swedish Social Democratic Party, notes that NATO membership would risk changing the country’s nuclear policy. “Sweden has pursued a consistent anti-nuclear policy since 1960," he said. "This policy, which has given Sweden massive support and credibility for many years in the UN, would not possible if Sweden becomes a member of NATO.”

Indeed, despite the skittishness that comes with a newly emboldened Moscow, Sweden is a country that has not fought a war since 1814, and which prides itself on a tradition of neutrality and non-alliance. Major changes, like NATO membership, will not come lightly. Michael Byden, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, emphasizes the need to better analyze and understand the situation as the most pressing necessity.

"Did we understand, before it happened, the annexation of Crimea?," Byden wondered in a recent BBC interview. "Did we understand that they were very close to starting something in Eastern Ukraine? This is one of the great challenges right now: what are they up to and why do they do it?”


Stockholm Prostitutes Use Airbnb To Set Up Makeshift Brothels

STOCKHOLM â€" If you're not careful, the so-called "sharing economy" can turn your home into a temporary brothel.

Swedish police report a growing number of pimps and prostitutes in Stockholm using long-term rentals on the home-sharing website Airbnb without the owner's knowledge.“We estimate that there are currently about 200 apartments in Stockholm that are used for prostitution,” Simon Häggström, part of the recently formed Stockholm Police Prostitution Group, told Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

The encounters are arranged on websites where pimps publish hundreds of ads daily. “The servers are located abroad and the webpages pop up as fast as they disappear,” explains Häggström.

Airbnb warns its homeowner users against the risk of prostitution, showing examples of online requests to use a location until 2 a.m., signed "Destiny."

But in Stockholm, Dagens Nyheter reports that the apartments are often rented out for two or three weeks to guests claiming to be a couple on a “romantic vacation” or friends taking part in extended language courses.

Häggström says the people renting out their places through Airbnb are often naive, and wind up shocked when they find out their flats have been used for paid sex. “If we find out about prostitution activities, we always send a letter to the owner," says the investigator. "Sometimes they are so distraught, they want to sell both the bed and the entire apartment.”