I've been self-isolating in Sweden for 5 weeks—here's what it's like

People enjoying lunch outdoors at a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden on on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

It's been nearly five weeks since I first flew to Stockholm, Sweden, from New York City to visit my husband, who is a Swedish citizen and lives in his home country while we navigate the visa process in the U.S. 

What was initially supposed to be an eight-day trip quickly turned into a much longer one due to the coronavirus pandemic. When I left for Sweden, I was aware of Trump's travel ban on travel from Europe to the U.S. and understood the risk involved, but I felt strongly that I wanted to be with my husband during the pandemic.

On Sunday, March 22, I was supposed to fly back to New York City, but I made the decision not to return home and instead stay in Stockholm for safety reasons. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared New York City the "epicenter" of the pandemic in the U.S. just two days before my flight home to Brooklyn, and it seemed unwise to risk traveling internationally.

Since then, my friends, family and coworkers back home have told me that life in self-isolation currently looks very different in the U.S. than it does in Sweden. That's likely because the Swedish government has not yet imposed strict social distancing measures. Many of Sweden's public establishments, including bars, restaurants and elementary schools, remain open.

People enjoying lunch outdoors at a burger restaurant on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Everyone I know in Sweden, including my husband and I, have been adhering to a strict self-imposed quarantine, where trips outside are limited to "distance walks" and grocery runs.

However, from what I've personally seen on my daily walks outside, it doesn't appear that all Swedes are doing the same. 

Although it is safer here in Stockholm, where there have only been around 5,300 confirmed coronavirus cases so far, compared to NYC where there are now more than 222,000 cases, it has been surprising to step outside and see the number of people who are still going about their daily lives in what appears to be a normal fashion.

Here's a look at Östermalm, a centrally located neighborhood in Stockholm, Sweden, as of Friday, April 17, 2020.

The streets

People walking and riding bikes in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

On this particularly busy street, Valhallavägen, people still walk, run and ride their bikes throughout the day. There's a constant stream of traffic from cars and buses. Valhallavägen is lined with restaurants and cafes with outdoor seating and now that it's warm out, there are almost always people sitting alone or together enjoying their lunch or a late afternoon beverage in the sun. 

The bus stop

People waiting at a bus stop in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Swedes often travel around Stockholm by bus, and Friday was no exception. Multiple people, including several children and elderly people, stand (and sit) waiting for the bus to arrive at the Jungfrugatan stop.

The grocery store

People checking out at grocery store in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Swedes love to cook. In fact, many rarely eat out because it's so expensive. While it's no change of pace for the grocery store to be packed, it is surprising to see how busy the supermarket stays during most hours of the day. There's a constant stream of folks checking out and bagging up their food.

The mall

People shop in a mall in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Down the street from our apartment is a mall called Fältöversten. Inside, there are several shops, including a toy store, athletic gear store and clothing boutiques, still open for business. This is also where we go to buy groceries, and there's rarely a time when people aren't shopping.

Woman and her dog stand outside a Joe and the Juice coffee shop for their order on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Swedes often bring their dogs with them shopping, which has made it much easier for this dog lover to endure the crowds.

The pharmacy

Customers standing in line at the pharmacy in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

Apoteket, which is similar to CVS and Walgreens in the U.S., is a pharmacy where Swedes shop for cosmetics and medicine. On this particular day, there were multiple people waiting in the checkout line. Customers stood about a meter apart as they waited to be helped and several of them also wore protective face masks.

The liquor store

Man walking through liquor store in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

The liquor store is another popular spot in Sweden, whether its during a pandemic or not. Overall, for the month of March, when compared to the same time period last year, alcohol sales at Systembolaget, Sweden's one and only liquor store chain, went up by just under 10%.

What Swedish establishments are doing to help

Photo of Fosch Artisan Pâtisserie, a café in Stockholm, Sweden on April 17, 2020.
Björn Rudling

To encourage social distancing, some Stockholm establishments have changed up their queuing system for customers. Many have marked the ground with tape or paint so that people know where to stand and can be far enough from others in line. Other businesses, such as Fosch Artisan Pâtisserie, a café in Stockholm, has asked that no more than three customers stand inside while waiting to order.

Many of Sweden's bars and restaurants have implemented a "table service only" rule so that they can still operate while asking guests to adhere to some form of social distancing.

As for me, my April 14 flight via Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) was canceled, and the next available flight via SAS isn't until May 3. This week, Cuomo also extended the shelter-in-place order in New York to May 15. Whether I return to New York City in early May will depend on conditions there and in Stockholm. In the meantime, I'm grateful to be safe and healthy with my husband.

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