COVID-19: Sweden and the first step to battling coronavirus

It was time for us to copy Sweden, right?

SWEDES ENJOY themselves at an outdoor restaurant amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm on April 20 (photo credit: REUTERS)
SWEDES ENJOY themselves at an outdoor restaurant amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Stockholm on April 20
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When the COVID protocols first came at us, I was on board. Hand washing, social distancing, coughing into your sleeve seemed a small price to pay to save lives. Like everyone else, I sheltered at home: writing, exercising, cooking and keeping house – more or less the same routine as in pre-COVID times, but at night the fears bubbled up. With scientists saying that COVID particles lingered on door knobs, shopping cart handles, plastic bags or even within the air I breathed could we really avoid this disease? 
I fought back with soap, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and social distancing, which I practiced with fervor. When my newly married son and his wife asked to join us for the Seder, I said “No” and I was proud of myself. But then days dragged into weeks and my frustration and boredom started to outpace my fear.
The statistics confused me. Why shut down the economy making us all poor and crazy to beat a disease which mostly preyed on the elderly and immunocompromised? Some of my favorite people were old and immunocompromised. I didn’t want to lose them, but wasn’t there an alternative to lockdown?
Then I learned about Sweden. In Sweden, the old and other high-risk people were quarantined, which makes sense. Everyone else – the young and the healthy – can work, attend school, go outside for non-essential reasons, even dine out, although restaurants use only half of their tables to allow for social distancing, which in Sweden is voluntary. While the mainstream media portray the non-conforming Swedes as the rogue nation of Europe, I began to wonder. 
Like the Swedish meatball, the monkey wrench, the walker, the three-point seatbelt and IKEA, wasn’t this unorthodox approach to COVID-19 yet another example of Swedish brilliance? 
From my virtual soapbox, at home I became a self-appointed PR agent for my new favorite country, telling everyone I could about it.
“But the Swedish death rate is soaring. Their method isn’t working,” my nephew called me out on a family Zoom call. 
Oops. Back to Google. He was right. Swedish death tolls were high, but that was largely because of several outbreaks in nursing homes. Sadly, those occur in quarantining countries too. But the Swedes still had jobs, school, haircuts, massages, manicures, an economy and mental health. 
Why couldn’t we do that? Okay, we in Israel aren’t Swedes. We’re not blonde – at least most of us aren’t and many of us who are, get their blondeness from a bottle. We are family people; the Swedes aren't – In Sweden, half of all households consist of one person. And we’re touchy. We hug, kiss and hold hands, whereas among Swedes, especially older ones, social distancing is the default setting. Most important, the Swedes trust their government. That’s because there’s almost no corruption. Well maybe we could learn…
Then demonstrations flared up in the US in Lebanon and in Eilat, thousands of people taking to the roads to vent their frustration about being unable to work And who could forget the heart-wrenching video plea of the bankrupt falafel store owner? No matter how you sliced it COVID hurt. 
It was time for us to copy Sweden, right? 
NOT SO simple. COVID-19 is a wily enemy. The herd immunity theory that the Swedes are banking on may not be correct, with new World Health Organization data revealing that the virus can attack the same person twice. Scary right? 
And what about us? 
This week we’re having it both ways. Four days of lockdown for the holidays bookended by a Swedish-style relaxation, with a bit of work, a bit of school, and if you have money, a bit of non-essential shopping. I should be thrilled. Instead, I’m confused and frightened that we’re opening ourselves up to more cases. 
So what to do? Getting angry or worrying myself sick will only suppress my immune system, making me less fit to fight the disease if it gets to me, God forbid. The better and healthier choice is to accept. 
Like the stock market or the weather or the moods of my fellow quarantiners, this new COVID-19 world is a reality over which I have no control. A religious person would call it God’s will. Do I understand it? No, not in the least. But as the Kotzker Rebbe famously said, “I wouldn’t worship a God I could understand.” 
Acceptance isn’t just holding your breath. For Jews it goes along with a firm belief that everything is somehow mysteriously for the best – even strange viruses that come from bats in Wuhan. 
These mantras have taken the Jewish people through the past 2,000 years and they certainly beat, anxiety, anger and alcohol. So I’m holding onto them to take me through quarantine and beyond. 
Gam Zu LeTovah.
The writer is an award-winning writer sheltering at home in the Jerusalem Hills and dreaming of Stockholm.


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