My life (not) in lockdown: Sweden


Former Queenstown bar manager Julia Lonnerheden is now flying planes in her native Sweden – a country that’s attracted curiosity – and criticism – by not going into lockdown to try to stop the spread of Covid-19. But, as she reports, a number of restrictions have still been imposed, including one on domestic travel. As a result, she hasn’t flown for four weeks, and is on standby only – and watching a lot of Netflix

This morning I woke up at 5.20am and had a hard time going back to sleep.

The birds were singing and the sun was on its way up.

On a normal day, this would have been the time that I get up for work, but since Covid-19 came to town, nothing is quite normal any more.

It started to change about five weeks ago when Sweden had its first few cases of the virus [caused by community transmission].

Our neighbouring countries, Denmark and Norway, were quick to shut their borders and go into lockdown.

In Sweden, we have had a different approach, and even though the recommendations keep changing, it’s not looking like a lockdown will be happening here. 

At first I was going to work, like most other Swedes, though the ones who are able to work from home are advised to do so.

Anyone who felt any symptoms of a cold or flu was told to stay at home and self-quarantine.

Apparently I’ve washed my hands the wrong way my whole life – 20 seconds is a long time!

We were told to not visit older relatives and others who are in the risk groups, so I have not seen my parents or grandmother for over a month.

My sister does my parents’ food shopping, even though they still go for daily walks.

The schools have remained open over the country, but when Sweden reached a certain number of infected people, the universities and high schools were told to close and swap to online studies.

Groups of 500 or more were prohibited, so sports events and concerts were cancelled.

We have not shut the borders but are advised to not leave the country if it’s not important.

Next we were asked not to travel within the country, so that the local hospitals would be able to cope.

This is where my job as a commercial pilot was affected – flying mainly domestic routes, my company saw the numbers of passengers drop by the day.

On my last flight we had four passengers – that was four weeks ago and I have been on standby since.

The limit of 500 people has gone down to 50, but it does not apply to schools, gyms or restaurants.

Spring is in the air and lots of people are enjoying the sunny weather at restaurants’ outside areas, and even though they might keep a bit of space between the tables, I doubt that everyone is aware of the recommended distance of at least an arm’s length between guests.

On the other hand, most people do follow the advice from the public health authority.

I walked past the gym the other day at a time it would normally be packed, and it was pretty much empty.

At the supermarkets there is plenty of toilet paper, and even though there was a shortage of pasta at some point, I have so far found all the groceries I’ve needed.

Nobody wears face masks, a handful of people wear gloves – neither is recommended for the time being.

Restaurants, shops and hotels are struggling and cannot afford to keep all their staff, and my friend who works as a teacher told me not many kids come to school even though there is compulsory school attendance.

The hospitals have been filling up, and many people need intensive care, but so far the numbers are nowhere near as bad as in Italy, Spain or New York.

Life goes on, even if we have to adjust a bit. 

I might not sit down for a meal at a restaurant, but I buy takeaways to support them. 

I still meet up with friends, as long as it’s outside and we keep our distance.

Two weeks ago I had planned to celebrate my nephew’s first birthday with a visit, but instead the whole family congratulated him over video chat, and the party will just have to wait.

I have never before watched this much Netflix, and I have a new appreciation for online yoga classes.

We are coping, and even though some are better than others when it comes to social distancing, the overall spirit is good and we are convinced we will get through this.

Hopefully, with an immunity and lots of knowledge, we’ll be better prepared next time a pandemic comes around.