Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Sweden’s No Lockdown Policy: How That Changed The Outcome

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Anders Tegnell during the daily press conference outside the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden  |  Source: Frankie Fouganthin   via Wikimedia

Sweden has gone against conventional wisdom in its response to the COVID-19 situation. While the neighbouring countries like Denmark, Finland and Norway imposed strict lockdown on the places and services frequented by the public, Sweden has chosen to not do so at all during the initial phases when COVID-19 started taking the shape of a worldwide pandemic. The public places like Cafes, restaurants, gyms, malls, playgrounds, ski slopes and some of the schools were kept open all across Sweden.

The country’s fight against the threat of pandemic was handled exclusively by the Public Health Authority, with no political interference. They believed that a lockdown only serves to delay the virus, which is not necessary since the health services are equipped to deal with the cases. They also made it clear that achieving herd immunity is also not their aim. The public authorities in Sweden instead relied on the public's sense of responsibility, and appealed to them to do frequent hand washing, observe social distancing and keep people over 70 years old from going out.

The state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, made multiple statements about the state’s unusual approach, such as 1) “Once you get into a lockdown, it’s difficult to get out of it,”, “How do you reopen?  When?” 2) “There is no evidence whatsoever that doing more at this stage would make

any difference. It’s far better to introduce stringent measures at very specific intervals, and keep them running for as little time as possible” , 3) " As long as the healthcare system reasonably can cope with and give good care to the ones that need care, it's not clear that having the cases later in time is better”.

The assumption of public responsibility did not work for Sweden and there were people out on the streets, in cafes, restaurants and playgrounds. Not wearing a mask was the social norm instead of the reverse. The models for charting the virus spread given by the concerned authorities also turned out to be faulty forcing them to rescind it. Over 2000 Swedish researchers and doctors signed a petition which claimed that there was not enough testing,tracking or isolation in the country. They believed that the authority has clearly not planned their response and that the authority’s claim for herd immunity has very little scientific basis, even though the government has repeatedly claimed that herd immunity is not what they were aiming for.

Sweden’s lax approach to the combating of coronavirus forced its neighbouring Scandinavian countries to close the border for the Swedish citizens. Some of the Swedish officials were worried for the possible harm to the long term relations between Sweden and its neighbours.  Also, the plan of letting life go on as usual to avoid the economic recession occurring due to a lockdown also failed as it didn’t shield  the country from economic slowdown.

Here comes the question; was the lockdown successful or not? There are some comparisons that have been drawn which indicate more deaths per 100,000 people than in nearby countries with homogenous population, even though it is significantly lesser than some of the European countries. While the infections rates are double that of Denmark, the death rates in comparison are much higher. This difference has been attributed to the fact that approximately half of these deaths have occurred in old care homes despite the stated priority of the officials to protect the elderly. This has been in part to the volunteer program, which replaced symptomatic old age home cares with new volunteers, hence increasing exposure. Another factor is the lack of protective equipment in such homes, along with laws preventing administration of medical procedures without the presence of doctors. There were reports of people threatened with lawsuits for banning visitors.

All of this led to Mr.Tegnell claiming that the ideal policy would have been something between what Sweden adopted and what the other countries did, in the light of what they know now. However this claim of Mr.Tegnell will be put to test when the second wave comes, later in time.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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