#Covid19 – Diaries from the world – Daniela Cundrò from Stockholm

“CasiQuotidiani (DailyCases)” is not just the name of this blog, but also two words that we have heard always more often for several weeks. But not only in Italy. On April 2nd, the Swedish Public Health Agency announced a “new level of coronavirus infection due to the increase of daily cases”. Our days are marked by the numbers of “daily cases”: number of infections, number of people in intensive care, number of deaths, increases in cases compared to the previous day. How much the extent of these cases corresponds to the reality and to which reality is still not very clear. On April 3rd in Sweden we had 363 cases in intensive care. April 2nd, 400. Are these people healed? No. But some coronavirus test were made and 37 people tested negative. Right now, I’m not just an “Italian abroad”. I am an “Italian abroad during the coronavirus in Sweden and Italy”. But I was also an “Italian abroad during the coronavirus in Italy”.

I am not ashamed to say that these situations are not easy to manage, especially on an emotional level. And they push towards irrational reactions, but maybe not so much irrational. Like the one that pushed me to isolate myself in my home in Stockholm from the date of March 6, which is the period when the virus was spreading in all regions of Italy. The fear of the coronavirus had taken the plane from Rome and had come to visit me. And it paralyzed me. In my head, I started organizing work from home. I am a PhD student in the “Internationalization of Communication Processes” doctorate course of the University for Foreigners of Perugia, and being isolated at home was almost a privilege because I could work with confidence on the information I had collected up to that moment.

When I felt ready, I said to myself that I would go back to my research work to the Swedish Council for Higher Education UHR, in the ENIC-NARIC department, which deals with the recognition of foreign qualifications. I said to some colleagues that I felt a little worried and sad about what was happening in Italy and I refused an aperitif after work, which they call AW (After Work) apologizing, but in a decisive way. Because, in the meantime, Stockholm was also heard of growing cases and my fear was doubling. Fear of the coronavirus in Italy, where I have the most important people of my life. Fear of the coronavirus in Sweden, where I was living. And where I felt I had to protect myself even more because I couldn’t risk to take the coronavirus and give further worries to my family.

In mid-March, the Swedish authorities strongly recommended that people in Stockholm work as much as possible from home. And I was really happy because I felt less alone in my growing fear that made me no longer sleep. I was no longer the Italian who was experiencing the coronavirus “on distance”. I was the Italian who lived in Stockholm when the coronavirus was beginning to claim victims in Sweden as well. At that time, changed also my way to search for information, and I started reading the Swedish press and looking for first-hand news on local institutional websites. Previously, every day I only got information from Italy: Ministry of Health, Department for Civil Protection, news agencies, online newspapers.

As a journalist I sometimes got very angry, especially when I knew that some very serious things were happening in Sicily and in Villa San Giovanni (South Italy, where I was born) that nobody talked about. No one there was searching for “the truth”. If I had been there, I would undoubtedly have set up a camping tend at Villa San Giovanni to understand how many people were really going – and, incidentally, it seems they keep going – every day from many parts of Italy and the world to Sicily, where the health system does not have adequate structures and resources to manage an emergency of this type. But unfortunately I’m in Stockholm and I can’t do it.

Having said that, the interesting part of Sweden is that I have the opportunity to update myself with a local radio in English, which is called Radio Sweden. The radio format is intercultural and is also well suited to my PhD research project which aims, in fact, to create an intercultural communication model designed for international students of universities. I can say that I am analyzing it with great pleasure. One of the first news I read about coronavirus in Sweden was related to the fact that the first deaths had been registered among the Somali community residing in Sweden and that the President of the Somali medical association in Sweden had stated that these deaths were due to an initial lack of information on coronavirus in Somali language.
I immediately realized that I was in a reality, even informative, totally different from the Italian one. Here they have a website called “krisinformation.se” which supports Swedish citizens on how to handle a crisis. It is a government page that provides information from all competent authorities on disasters of any nature: weather conditions, risks related to lack of food and drinking water, people and infections, chemical accidents, events abroad. My curiosity pushed me to translate the part of the website from the Swedish language, even if there is an English version, but I wanted to be sure to read the full and authentic information provided to Swedish citizens (although, for the coronavirus, such information are translated into most of the languages ​​spoken in the world and also into local minority languages ​​such as Finnish, Romani, Sami).

It is interesting to note that how the coronavirus is categorized on this website, which is in the section: “This can happen – Crisis and events, 2020”. This can happen, the Swedish tell us. And this happened. And it’s happening all over the world. But Sweden is pursuing a model that causes discussion and discussions are also heated between the Scandinavian countries themselves. Also because, from certain sources I have known, a few days ago the deaths in Sweden were more than double that of all the Scandinavian countries put together. Sweden’s strategy and the missed lockdown aim to save the country’s economy and get as many healthy people as possible to get the coronavirus among the citizens, to develop immunity in the event of waves of return. So far, this strategy takes its shape in two main prohibitions: the ban on public gatherings with more than 50 people, introduced since 29 March; the ban on visits to all nursing homes, introduced on April 1, aimed to protect what is called the “risk group”, so the people aged 70 and over. In addition, schools for students over 16 and universities have been closed. Finally, there are many other measures defined, however, “recommendations”.

In my opinion, the question is not whether Swedish people follow them or not. Because if there is a country in which citizens’ trust in their authorities is strong, that country is Sweden. And if a person I trust suggests me not to do something, I don’t do it. Here the recommendations are followed, which may seem strange or crazy in countries where even bans are not followed. I don’t want to dwell on this point, but we know well that in Italy, especially in this period, it is also struggling to enforce the prohibitions. This strategy, however, clearly frightens those who are not Swedish, first of all the Italian community living in Stockholm, who is afraid of sending their children to school and who is afraid of the gymnastics activities that are done outdoors in quite large groups, that is 20 or 30 people. I understand and share these fears, especially as an Italian in Sweden during the coronavirus in Italy. Listening to Italian TV, reading newspapers, talking with our family members who live in Italy amplifies our fears in an important way, especially when it comes to children. But if I have come to know, even if a little bit, this country where I currently live, I believe that, if the daily cases continue to increase to the point that the Swedish health system, ready for an emergency of medium level, could manage not to dispose of them, the lockdown will also begin here, perhaps gradually.

This opinion of mine is dictated by the awareness that Sweden is not an unprepared country. Quite the contrary. With the total digitalisation they have, they can afford to close everything in a really fast way, saving the efficiency of the work processes. The Swedish model is based on what is called Samförståndpolitik (consensus policy), which consists, as explained a few days ago by the Italian ambassador to Sweden Mario Cospito in a message to the Italian community residing in Sweden, “in a sort of involvement in the crucial decisions of all members of society. A model that is probably unique in the world and which is also being tested today in this exceptional and dramatic situation”.

Going back to the “daily cases”, even in Stockholm in some supermarkets I did not find meat, bread and toilet paper, especially in the initial moments of the outbreak of the emergency. And I have not found disinfectants. Fortunately, a dear colleague gave me a small pack of Alcogel, which is invaluable to me. By the way, the Swedish people I met at work are wonderful people, who have welcomed me and helped me from the beginning. They always did it with the utmost availability, trust and smile. Now they continue to do it remotely, supporting me with messages, emails and words of comfort. This human solidarity is not part of any social model, but only of our humanity. And for this I thank them.
Now I have just one big problem left: finding the masks to go back to my country, when I will be able to do it. A Chinese colleague recommended the N95 type or the FFP3 or FFP2 models. But here there is no kind of mask model, not even online. You may not believe it, but I asked my Chinese students for help. Maybe they can find them from where they stay, and send the masks to me more easily than my Italian family who, for the moment, cannot go to the post office to send them to me. We will see what will happen. In the meanwhile, here there is a short video I prepared, called: “In search of the mask”, shot on April 2 just for you readers of CasiQuotidiani: I hope you like it (I am sorry, but the video is in Italian. Please, put the subtitles on English if you like!).
Best Regards,

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Autore dell'articolo: Simona Merlo