If S. Korean president speaks like Swedish prime minister

[COVID-19 Responses in Northern Europe ①] A Tit-for-tat between a Swedish Wife and a Korean Husband

등록 2020.04.08 20:34수정 2020.04.09 13:48
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Northern European countries are always at the top of the UN's annual 'World Happiness Report.' One of the reasons is the 'thick trust' toward their governments and the communities. How are the Nordic countries responding to the unprecedented crisis of COVID-19? We report the cases of Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.[편집자말]

March 26, people are sitting at an outdoor cafe in the square in central Stockholm, Sweden. ⓒ Yonhap News Agency/EPA

I live in Sweden now. As a Korean living here, I am quite nervous these days. It is because Sweden's COVID-19 measures are quite different from almost every country in the world. It has no regional or border blockade, no active diagnosis of infected people and risk groups for infection, nor is it grasping the moving lines of infected people.

However, Swedish citizens are cooperating with the government's policies without much dissatisfaction. The citizens who show suspected symptoms of COVID-19 voluntarily take part in the self-quarantining and go to the hospital depending on their symptoms. Some are in the self-quarantining state, not knowing whether they have been infected by COVID-19 or not. It is worrisome that the experiment may be a life-threatening one by the so-called 'Herd Immunity.'

My Swedish wife is one of those citizens. She has been taking care of herself at home for more than 2 weeks without contacting her doctor even though she has been suffering from the suspected symptoms of COVID-19 such as a slight fever and mild pain.

From the perspective of a Korean husband, it is very frustrating. The population of Sweden is just one-fifth of that of Korea, but the death toll from COVID-19 in Sweden has already exceeded 370 people, right? Concerned about my wife's health condition, I argued with her about the responses of COVID- 19.

A field hospital is being built on March 24 (local time) to accommodate patients with COVID-19 on the grounds of Ostra Sjukhuset Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden. ⓒ Yonhap News Agency/EPA

Korean Husband: "Why does the Swedish government let many people die instead of doing it like Korea?"
Swedish wife: "What did Korea do?"

Korean Husband: "To prevent infection, they even search for the people at risk of being infected in advance and isolate and treat them."
Swedish wife: "There are a lot of patients without symptoms or with only mild symptoms. Do we have that kind of medical competence to treat all of them? Isn't that an over-medical response? I've been in self-quarantining with minor symptoms for two weeks now, and you're probably doing it without symptoms."

Korean Husband: "Aren't the United States or European countries taking the COVID-19 situation too lightly and handling it easefully? Also, I don't think they have equipped with the ability to respond to crises."
Swedish wife: "Analysis of Trump's story suggests that the U.S. has handled it loosely, but Sweden is not the case. We have prepared hard. Treatments or surgeries for regular patients have been delayed for later days to treat the patients with COVID-19 first, and the retired doctors have been summoned again. Also, we have provided emergency nursing training for the prospective nurse to prepare for the intensive care unit and created the intensive care units with oxygen masks in public places. We are even mobilizing the military to build field hospitals in each city. And you're looking at all of the measures. I think it's good for Korea to prepare for the situation perfectly, taking a lesson from the past MERS outbreak, but Sweden is also preparing thoroughly."

Korean Husband: "Sweden doesn't conduct the COVID-19 test. So, you don't even know how many people actually have been infected, right?"
Swedish wife: "That's right. The official number now shows only the number of confirmed patients who have been hospitalized with obvious symptoms. In that sense, there are probably more confirmed cases because neither you nor I have been included in the statistics."

Korean Husband: "In our case, even if we want to do the test, you are self-quarantining without knowing if it is the COVID-19 infection or not, saying that you shouldn't burden the hospital with such minor symptoms."
Swedish Wife: "I understand why you worry, but in a universal welfare country like Sweden, we can't maintain the excessive medical conditions. Don't you think everybody should participate in making voluntary decisions so that we can give the priority of the hospital treatment to the people who need it urgently?"

Korean Husband: "I understand, but the death toll is increasing! The hospitals have to do a better job!"
Swedish Wife: "The deaths occurring now are mostly elderly people with very old and other chronic diseases. They probably got infected two or three weeks before through their children. But, this is the children's fault. They should have met their parents at home or in nursing hospitals in a different way without contacting them, but they failed to do it. Even the patient without symptoms shouldn't have visited their parents because they are said to carry the virus. But nobody knows who the patient without symptoms or normal is. Recently, the Swedish government strongly recommended that we refrain from visiting homes with senior citizens."

Korean Husband: "Do you think such a recommendation is enough? Why don't they ban it?"
Swedish wife: "Why do you think we don't visit them only when the visiting is banned? Can't we judge by ourselves? There's a lot of information and guidance from the National Health Service about COVID-19. Shouldn't we all read these and decide on our own? And in fact, there is no cure for COVID-19 at the moment. The patients can be helped with breathing by oxygen masks, and probably the doctors use nutritional supplements, painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. It's said we have to wait at least for a year for a cure or vaccine to come out. I also heard that AIDS drugs are being used somewhere related to immunity."

Korean Husband: "I know what you're saying, but in the newspaper this morning, the Swedish prime minister said we have to prepare for thousands of death. He also said we have to prepare for the death of our close family. How can he say such things as the prime minister? Shouldn't he put everything on the line and save at least one citizen?"
Swedish wife: "As I told you before, the government is doing that now. They're devoting all their might. They also promised to pay more than twice the salaries of medical workers who work more than ten hours a day struggling. The government just lets us prepare by telling honestly that we could lose our close family."

Korean Husband: "How cool-headed! If the Korean president had said so, the citizens would have already made a big fuss to make him step down."
Swedish wife: "Isn't it all wrong to believe the state (government) should and will do everything well, or to criticize that everything the state does is wrong? Every country has its limits."

Why does my wife trust the government so much? Since the Swedish government has accumulated the trust so far, is it shone in this crisis? Anyway, maybe that's why there's no panic in Sweden yet. No hoarding or panic-buying, either. A 'peaceful tension' is flowing here.

On the other hand, however, domestic and foreign attention and pressure are mounting over whether the Swedish method is too reckless to gamble. How will the choices Sweden made be evaluated in a month or two?

I hope my wife will get out of the COVID-19 symptoms as soon as possible.

Dr. Hwang Sun-joon and His Wife Hwang Rena living in Sweden. ⓒ Hwang Sun-joon

Written by Dr. Hwang Sun-Joon.
Translated by Youngae Joanna Kim.
* This report is the English version of OhmyNews Korean article. If you want to read the original article in Korean, click here!
덧붙이는 글 Additional Info: Hwang Sun-Joon, who wrote this article, is a Ph.D. in Political Science at Stockholm University in Sweden, and served as the head of the Education Research and Information Institute in Seoul and Gyeongsangnam-do Province in Korea.
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