DAGENS NYHETER
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."
Norway’s Bow-And-Arrow Attack: Muslim Terrorism Or Mental Health?
Terror in Europe
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Norway’s Bow-And-Arrow Attack: Muslim Terrorism Or Mental Health?

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

Photo of policy cars and security personnel outside Malmö's synagogue before a visit by Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven for the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism, on Oct. 12, 2021
Society
Carl-Johan Karlsson

Why Sweden Has An Antisemitism Problem

In October 1943, nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark made a perilous crossing from their Nazi-occupied country to neighboring Sweden. Setting out from ports and beaches along the coast, some 7,000 people arrived in rowboats and canoes to the safe shores of the port city of Malmö.

Now, 78 years later, in the same city, Jewish books in a storefront have to be covered up due to fears of vandalism.
It was the Malmö City Archives that last week was preparing a display of Jewish literature to be open to the public on Friday. But at the end of the day, the books and posters were covered with a blanket — with the archivist fearing damage to the windows over the weekend, Swedish daily Expressen reports.

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Photo of people dressed in white standing in a circle with arms interlocked
Coronavirus
Carl Karlsson

​Swedish Tantra Festival Becomes Touchpoint For Organic Anti-Vaxxers

"Conspirituality" is what some are calling the movement of those spirituality seekers and organic food devotees who don't trust the vaccine. It's highlighted in the fallout from a summer peace-and-love festival of Tantra followers that became a COVID cluster.

In rural Sweden, what was supposed to be six days of summer love turned into a COVID-19 superspreader event as more than 100 people became infected during a tantra festival. At the time, the June gathering in the town of Ängsbacka for enthusiasts of the peace-and-love eastern rites created a minor (and brief) storm in Sweden, and beyond.

But even though they have mostly faded from view (and recovered from COVID), the attendees are now being mocked as everything from filthy hippies to sex-obsessed anti-vaxxers, according to a recent interview with event organizer Lin Holmquist in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

Conspirituality: When new age ideas blend with conspiracy theories


"This whole event has triggered people's desire to judge others," Holmqvist said. "Of course many people think this is great — tantric getting infected with Covid."

In late June, some 500 people from around the world descended on Ängsbacka in the central Värmland region. After the first infection was discovered on the third day of the event, the number of guests testing positive eventually reached 107 — with the majority of those being unvaccinated or having just received their first jab.

The outbreak caused such a spike in regional COVID-19 rates that neighboring Norway announced it would once again classify Värmland as a "red region" and tighten travel restrictions along the border.

Holmquist said in the Oct. 2 interview that the majority of people attending her events are, in fact, vaccinated. Nonetheless, she understands why the public might draw such conclusions. As The Australian daily reported, the blend of new-age philosophy and conspiracy theory has grown at an extraordinary rate since the beginning of the pandemic — an unlikely collision of realms increasingly referred to as "conspirituality."

photo of two women touching each other's heart

Tantra conscious Camping in Sweden

Angsbacka via Instagram

QAnon on wellness forums 

Indeed, in countries around the world, both misinformation and general anti-vaccine messages are spread by social media influencers who focus on natural remedies, holistic health and new-age spirituality.

In the US, where the term "misinformation" typically conjures up images of right-wing online chat rooms, reports of various forums of wellness influencers spreading conspiracy theories like QAnon have multiplied throughout the year.

New-age spiritually was a response to the challenge science posed to Christianity.

This pandemic-fueled turn from alternative religion and medicine to alternative facts is in a sense counterintuitive, especially as new-age spiritually emerged in the 19th century as a response to the challenge science posed to Christianity.

Without making any direct comparison to the current phenomenon, some have noted that overlaps between new-age ideas and far-right ideology predates the pandemic: Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and many other prominent members of the Nazi Party embraced organic farming, vegetarian diets, forest conservation, as well as natural healing — many of them also tended to be anti-vaxxers. Other musings included paganism, Indo-Aryan mythology and astrology (Himmler even hired a team of astrologers to locate the missing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after his arrest in 1943).


Still, the broader proliferation of "conspirituality" remains a recent phenomenon. One yoga instructor and social media influencer said in a recent interview with CBS News that conspiracy theories flourish because certain followers of yoga and wellness communities were "already inclined to question and diverge from mainstream authorities on health and science."

Swedish police officers walk towards a cordoned-off scene in Gothenburg, after the Sept. 28 explosion at a multi-family complex
Society
Carl Karlsson

Nordic Mob? Why Organized Crime Is Exploding In Sweden

While remaining a remarkably safe country, Sweden is facing a recent surge of gang crimes that worries authorities, including a bombing in Gothenburg on Sep. 28th that injured more than 20. The fact that these family-based networks often have roots in North Africa and the Middle East is fueling criticism about the country's immigration policies.


Is this Sweden … or Sicily?

An explosion in a multi-family complex in the western Swedish city of Gothenburg on Tuesday has sparked a national debate over harsher punishment for organized crime.

The blast that left four people seriously injured and more than 20 hospitalized is still under police investigation. It is the latest in a series of explosions around Sweden linked to gang and mob violence; bombings in particular have increased dramatically in the last years, recalling the Mafia's campaign of violence on the Italian island of Sicily in the 1980s and 1990s.

From 2014, such targeted explosions in Sweden have risen from a handful to 107 in 2020 — the sharpest increase in any European country. Meanwhile, gun-related violence is on the rise too, with 366 confirmed shootings in 2020, claiming 47 lives, as daily Svenska Dagbladet reports. Today, lethal gun-violence in Sweden is almost three times higher than the per-capita European average, while the country's year-by-year increase is by far the continent's highest.

A wave of crime that sparked anti-terror debate

While overall crime levels in Sweden remain low, and homicide rates have fallen since the 1990s, it is particularly gang-related violence that worries authorities. A police report last year mapped out 36 different "clans" in major Swedish cities, tracking these family-based networks that often have roots in North Africa and the Middle East. These organizations engage in extortion and drug trafficking, fight each other over turf, and often have ties to other criminal outfits such as motorcycle clubs.

The crime wave has sparked a debate over extending the current anti-terrorism laws to also cover organized crime, which would grant courts the right to convict members of criminal groups even if no crime has yet been committed. Such a move in heavily unionized Sweden is particularly controversial as the country's welfare state was built on the right to association and organization.

In 2019, a government proposal for an extended anti-terror law was quashed after it was deemed incompatible with Sweden's constitutional freedom of association.

Criminal groupings represent a very small fraction of Swedish migrants.

Still, the Swedish government has recently proposed the largest-ever reform of the country's criminal code, including expanded surveillance rights, harsher sentences for organized crime and threatening witnesses, as well as a plan to add 10,000 police officers by 2024.

While some of the legal changes have already been implemented, Sweden's center-right opposition expresses doubts as to whether the measures proposed will be enough to curb the spread of violence, suggesting harsher action like deportation of non-Swedish citizens found guilty of committing crimes.

Photo of people looking at candles and flowers at a vigil in memory memorial of victims of a gang shootout in Norsborg, Sweden, in August 2020

A memorial for victims of a gang shootout in Norsborg, Sweden, in August 2020

Ali Lorestani / Tt/TT/ ZUMA

Tougher new laws in Germany and France

The rise in violence has also given ammunition to those opposed to the government's decision in 2015 to accept more refugees per capita than any other country — with 163,000 people applying for asylum that year. However, evidence points to the fact that these clan networks have been present in Sweden for decades, while some members have arrived more recently to give support to their respective clans in local conflicts or to expand the criminal network. It's also worth noting that criminal groupings represent a very small fraction of Swedish migrants. Between 2015 and 2018, only 8% of migrants born abroad were suspected of crime; and for second-generation migrants — with parents born in Sweden — the number was 3%, according to a government report cited in Dagens Nyheter.

The opposition has also pointed to other European countries that have introduced tougher anti-terror legislation in the last decade. Germany passed a law in 2015 that made it a crime to travel outside the country with the intent to receive terrorist training. More recently, France adopted new legislation in July that reinforces anti-terrorism and intelligence-gathering legislation by incorporating emergency regulations into regular law.

It remains to be seen if Sweden follows suit. And while the country's recent wave of violence resembles gang warfare more than ideological or religious terrorism, experts note that the criminal networks often operate in similar ways — and eventually can be dismantled in the same way too.

Even Scandinavia Can’t Get Along: On COVID's Cold Diplomacy
Coronavirus
Carl-Johan Karlsson

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

-Essay-

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.

Not a sign of a face mask in Stockholm
Coronavirus
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.

Divided in Stockholm
Coronavirus
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.

Israel remains the only country to have reimposed a country-wide lockdown
The Times of Israel
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.
Which way?
Geopolitics

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.

Outside in Stockholm
SVENSKA DAGBLADET
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?

In Gaza, an imam's virtually broadcast call to prayer
ABC

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.​

SPOTLIGHT: A MODERN PLAGUE TESTS MODERN RELIGIONS

"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


THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW​

• 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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Malmö, Sweden/March 30, 2020
SVENSKA DAGBLADET
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.