Too soon to decide on Sweden’s virus response

ABBA superstar Björn Ulvaeus told CNBC that the Swedish capital of Stockholm seems to be back to normal, despite the country reportedly seeing the highest number of coronavirus deaths per capita in the world this week. 

The Swedish songwriter and musician who was part of the much-loved global pop band — which once reportedly came only second to Volvo as one of Sweden’s biggest exports — said the government had put trust in its people to manage the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What they said was that they trust in us, the citizens, to do what’s right and they said that this would be the right thing to do and they thought we’d, you know, act accordingly, which most of us did, I think,” Ulvaeus told CNBC.

“To begin with it sounded a very civilized way of quarantining, but then we’ve had so many deaths, so I think it’s early days yet. We have to see, I mean, it’s going to take at least half a year or so before we can decide whether our route was a good one or a bad one.”

Sweden’s controversial response to the health crisis has been watched around the world and viewed by some as an “experiment” in how to handle the crisis.

Stopping short of introducing the strict lockdown measures adopted by many countries to prevent the spread of the virus, it instead encouraged its citizens to take responsibility and follow social distancing and hand hygiene advice.

Some schools remained open and the majority of the population continued to work, shop and visit bars and restaurants. Over-70s were urged to stay at home and limit close contact with others.

While deaths from Covid-19 in the country are on the decline, between May 12 and May 19, figures from Our World in Data reported 6.25 deaths per million inhabitants per day, over a rolling seven-day average, making it the highest death rate in the world. It was just ahead of the U.K.’s 5.75 deaths per million, although Britain’s rate has since surpassed Sweden’s again. Sweden has 32,172 confirmed infections with 3,871 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Ulvaeus said the global crisis had been a period where he has contemplated and thought about the future. Asked how he thinks the pandemic will change the world, the pop icon who celebrated his 75th birthday in April under quarantine in his summerhouse in Stockholm, said we haven’t seen anything yet.

“We haven’t seen what the economy will do. That’s not gonna bite I think until maybe the end of the summer or so, and that’s really scary. And then there might be a second and a third wave of the infection, so we go into a different world.”

(L-R) Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

Getty Image | Gamma-Rapho

Along with his ABBA writing partner, Benny Andersson, Ulvaeus is also behind the hugely successful smash-hit musical “Mamma Mia!,” and he has created the “Mamma Mia! The Party” experiences in Stockholm and London, which are all currently closed due to the crisis.

The co-writer of classic hits including “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “The Winner Takes It All,” thinks the impact of Covid-19 means it will be a long time before people can sit together again in auditoriums. Potential socially-distanced audiences will “look like a half-full house” and will not be the same thing, he said.

ABBA launched onto the world stage after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with breakthrough hit “Waterloo” in 1974. The band has gone on to become one of the biggest-selling music groups of all time, selling over 385 million albums and singles worldwide.

Sadly for many fans, he ruled out ABBA ever performing together on stage again, but he did confirm when they can expect to hear two long-awaited brand new singles, originally announced and recorded in 2018: “I think sometime this year. Yes, I think so.”

Asked what it was like to be back in the studio together after 35 years, he replied: “Oh, that was so great.” “It took half a minute and somehow we were back in time like we had been there yesterday as well. It was so strange.”

“That feeling between us was extraordinary,” he added.

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