- “These figures do not show the whole picture”: Umeå University researcher
- Self-isolating King’s rare speech to be made from countryside palace
- Umeå’s Left, Liberal parties applaud withdrawal of bill to expand Government’s crisis powers
- “30 people sharing 8 beds”: Pentecostal Church helps Umeå’s homeless to stay safe
ÅLIDHEM – 117 people in Västerbotten are now confirmed infected with the coronavirus, regional officials said this morning, with 22 in hospital. Nine are in intensive care, with six of them in Umeå, according to national statistics. This is the second straight day when the infection count has increased by 17, which is also a record for the most in a 24-hour period in Västerbotten.
However, “these figures do not show the whole picture,” Umeå University microbiologist Therese Thunberg told Västerbottens-Kuriren today, because there is now community transmission across the entire region. This means that doctors can no longer determine the precise origins of all individual infections.
In a rare televised address to the nation, King Carl XVI Gustaf is due to speak tonight about the pandemic. He and his wife, Queen Silvia have been self-isolating in Stenhammar Palace in Södermanland, from where the broadcast will be made, because they are both in the high-risk category, due to their age. The King is 73 and his wife, 76.
This is not the first time he has spoken out about the coronavirus outbreak, although not yet directly to the nation. In a statement made by the palace in March, he sought to encourage the public, saying that “[we have] the opportunity to bring out the best in ourselves. As a country, and as fellow human beings.”
In an interview with Dagens Nyheter, he explained that he was following advice to work from home and not meet with younger family members.
“It’s a global tragedy, a drama without equal,” He said. “A moving target. It’s moving all the time. We don’t know how it ends.”
When asked about his response about Sweden’s unique approach to tackling the pandemic — unlike many other European nations, Sweden has not enforced lockdowns or closed businesses — he said, “We’ll see what comes out of it all. But we hope that the authorities and experts, with their knowledge and experience, will lead us to the best decisions.”
His address is to come a week after the Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, gave his own televised speech about the coronavirus. The King’s speech will coincidentally be airing around the same time that Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain will address her nation.
The speech is planned to be broadcast live on SVT1 tonight at 7.20 pm, and afterwards on SVT Play. Umeå Today will have full coverage of the speech in tomorrow evening’s post.
Meanwhile, some Umeå political parties told Umeå Today that they are celebrating the withdrawal of a draft of a proposal by the national government to give itself supplementary powers to battle the coronavirus crisis.
The proposal would have given the government the ability to make decisions about the coronavirus, without needing to ask Parliament (Riksdag) beforehand, for a period of three months. The government would have been able to take actions such as closing businesses such as gyms, shopping malls or bars, and limiting transport by closing ports or airports quickly, without needing to hold votes on such actions. The government amended the proposal, so the original draft will not go ahead.
Umeå’s Left and Liberal politicians argue that the legislation would have given the government too much power.
“We’ve seen reactionary governments all over the world taking the opportunity to benefit from fear, war and crises in order to restrict and overturn democracy and its institutions,” Ulrika Edman, the group leader of the Umeå branch of the Left Party (Vänsterpartiet) told Umeå Today.
“Even if we are not afraid that this will happen in Sweden with this specific government, it is always a risk considering that we might very well have a conservative and racist leadership after the next election with a totally different agenda.”
She added that “We must keep peoples’ best interests in mind and keep our democracy intact in these difficult times.”
Peder Westerberg, the group leader of the Umeå branch of the Liberal Party (Liberalerna) told Umeå Today, “It is important that we follow the democratic foundations of society and we have a parliament elected by the people.”
The proposal was drafted after allegations that the Swedish Government was not doing enough to contain the outbreak and save lives by limiting the spread of the disease.
Fredrik Elgh, a professor in the Virology Department at Umeå University told SVT last month,“We are almost the only country in the world that does is not doing everything we can to quell the infection. This is bloody serious (blödigt seriös)”.
Another Umeå University faculty member, Joacim Rocklöv, a professor of epidemiology and public health science, has also criticised the Swedish response to containing the coronavirus outbreak.
“[Is this] a calculated consequence that the government and the Public Health Authority think is okay? How many lives are they prepared to sacrifice so as not to shut down and risk greater impacts on the economy?” he asked.
The crisis is hitting Umeå’s poorest increasingly harder. Umeå’s Pentecostal Church (pingst kyrkan) has been providing extra services to immigrants during the crisis, particularly those who find themselves homeless and rely on emergency housing, Sveriges Radio reported last night. In such tight conditions, it is easy for coronavirus to spread. Ulf Sundkvist, the church’s lead pastor, said that “30 people are sharing eight beds. So they sleep there for two or three days,” and then let other people use the beds. People asking for money on the street, he says, are finding little in their cup because of reduced pedestrian traffic.
The church’s soup kitchen is closed right now, but, he said, “we hope to open it soon again.” He added that volunteers are working hard, and also have to be concerned about catching the virus. “We are also people.”
One type of Umeå business which has had a special role during the coronavirus crisis has been health food stores. At Gymgrossisten Butik in the city centre, which sells supplements and equipment for exercise and weight training, owner Stig Ingebrigsten explained to Umeå Today that his shop is important during a health crisis. “I pride myself on helping people to get what they need, so they can manage through the pandemic,” he said.
Ingebrigsten acknowledged that his shop has seen a “drop off in our customer base, although we do have quite a few regulars who support our store.” He explained that he has been in extraordinary personal contact with customers over Facebook, email, and telephone. In some cases, they contact him about what they need, and he delivers it out on the kerb, so they do not have to enter the physical shop.
Some customers have changed their habits, now purchasing exercise and weight training products from other online retailers, said Ingebrigsten. However, it is “hard for people to know what they need. I like to make a difference in people’s lives, helping them to choose exactly [the right health foods]” during the crisis.