- 192 confirmed cases in Västerbotten; 18 in the hospital
- Student from New Zealand told to go home now or stay out for perhaps two years
- Umeå University plans for many more students next year as people lose jobs
- Västerbotten’s culture sector suffers during the coronavirus crisis
- Comedienne Babben Larsson speaks to Umeå Today about cancelled Umeå performance and meaning of “tjolahopp”
- Swedish Transportation Authority extends deadline for changing winter tires
BERGHEM – Another coronavirus-related death was reported today by Västerbotten County, raising the total to eight. The person who died was in his or her 50s with an underlying condition, according to local authorities. There are now 192 confirmed cases in Västerbotten, 18 of whom are hospitalised and nine of whom require intensive care.
Today’s report of a coronavirus death is the first one since Sunday.
Meanwhile, international students and employees based in Umeå have faced difficult decisions due to coronavirus restrictions both in Sweden and abroad.
International exchange student Henry Finnis was first contacted by the New Zealand government about a month ago, which recalled him home. “At the time, I pleaded my case that I was safer here and happier here,” Finnis told Umeå Today about his initial decision to stay in the city. At that time, Umeå University was still open.
“I wanted to make the most of my time here. I worked for two years to get here, and I wasn’t ready to pack it all in,” he said. Finnis arrived in Umeå in late January and had intended to stay until June, followed by a month’s travel around Europe.
However, last week Finnis was told by the New Zealand government that if he did not return home soon, he might be stuck abroad for 12 to 24 months. New Zealand has instituted an elimination strategy; that is to say, given that the country is all islands, it hopes is to end transmission within its borders entirely, by restricting people entering at all. The prospect of not being able to return to New Zealand, and to Lincoln University there to finish his remaining courses in order to graduate in December, changed things for Finnis. “Risks outweighed the rewards,” he said.
If Finnis returns to New Zealand, he is expected to be placed in a New Zealand government hotel facility for two weeks of quarantine. The New Zealand navy will also supervise exercise excursions for those quarantined.
“I am very, very sad to leave,” Finnis said. “Umeå University is a vibrant university and a student city.” Whilst in Umeå, Finnis enjoyed taking nature photographs and having fika with friends.
“Once I get home, it will be a big sigh of relief. The last month has not been the easiest – living with the pressure of not knowing what was going on in the world, as well as the anxiety of not knowing whether I would get home.”
Finnis plans to leave tomorrow from Stockholm and arrive in New Zealand on Saturday. Flight options out of Europe right now are not so easily found. Finnis said before booking his current flight, he came across many that would have taken 70 hours just to get out of Europe.
Umeå international employees also risk being stuck away from work. Nuno Marques, a doctoral researcher at Umeå University, from Portugal, was planning to return to Umeå in early April, but decided to cancel his trip due to uncertainty. “I was afraid I couldn’t get back to Portugal,” Marques told Umeå Today. “At the time I was supposed to go, nothing was clear.” Marques had planned to return to Umeå for the final seminar on his doctoral thesis on ecopoetry. However, he would have been required to quarantine himself upon arrival.
“My department and the university have accommodated me very well,” Marques said, who will have his final seminar online instead. Unlike Sweden, Portugal has imposed a state of emergency which includes strict social distancing requirements. Portuguese people are only allowed to leave their homes for specific purposes, such as short walks or grocery runs.
“In the beginning it was hard to manage, now things are more settled and we have our routines,” Marques said. “I am used to working from home, but it is upsetting to stay home every day.”
The pandemic may lead to more opportunities at Umeå University. The government’s new proposed budget announced today includes increased funding for higher education: 513 million SEK in 2020 and 642 million SEK in 2021. The majority of this funding is directed toward summer courses and preparatory training to enter university.
Umeå University Vice Chancellor Hans Adolfsson said this afternoon that it was “both wise and expected that substantial investments be made in higher education” due to the prevailing epidemic and its economic consequences. With many people having lost their jobs, the university is preparing for more students.
The government also proposes a permanent expansion to the number of university places with priority given to certain areas. “There is already a great shortage of educated workers in several areas, including the healthcare sector, and Umeå University can really contribute there,” Adolfsson said.
While the university is expanding, the culture sector in Västerbotten is suffering, regional officials said today. One in every five artists in Västerbotten is out of work and 63% have been affected by cancelled performances, according to a survey answered by 100 people. Many artists are uninsured and are seeking work in other fields. While the government has announced support of one billion SEK, regional culture manager Joakim Sandberg worries that it might too late for some.
“We need to make the plight of creatives visible and create an understanding of their financial needs,” he said. “We should not withdraw grants and thus make life even more difficult for them.” Earlier this month, the regional government said that it would give 25 million SEK to help small businesses make it through the pandemic, which has caused many cultural events to be cancelled.
One event that has been cancelled is commedienne Babben Larsson’s performance originally scheduled for 12 November in Umeå. Larsson told Umeå Today this morning “I can only apologize,” about missing her Umeå gig. “I want to perform in as many places as possible,” she said. The grande dame of Swedish comedy will perform in Skellefteå and Luleå instead. “The main goal now is to survive the harsh winter (fimbulvinter) that has settled over Swedish entertainment.” Fimbulvinter refers to the great winter preceding the end of days (ragnarök) in Norse mythology. While she has no performances planned for Umeå’s immediate future, she said, “I would really like to come back again, either at a stand-up club or at Idun,” a venue in Umeå Folkets Hus.
Babben’s show, entitled Here Comes Babben Larsson – Tjolahopp!, references Pippi Longstocking’s opening song: “Here comes Pippi Longstocking, tjolahopp tjolahej tjolahoppsana-sa”. Umeå Today asked Babben what tjolahopp means to here. “Tjolahopp,” Babben replied, is “a happy expression meaning pride, mischief and joy. These are three maxims for me and what I want to convey to my audience whether I am lecturing, doing stand-up or singing.”
Finally, there is some relief for those who have not had the opportunity to change their winter tires yet. The Swedish Transportation Agency has extended the deadline for removing studded winter tires by another two weeks, until 30 April. This extension is due to the coronavirus. The agency cited its concern for infection for those in high-risk groups, as well as who might otherwise have to drive illegally due to limited mechanical staff. However, vehicle owners are urged to change their tires as soon as they can. “This is to avoid a rush at the tire centres at the end of the month,” said agency spokesperson Hans Norén.