How Scandinavia is Handling the Pandemic

The whole world is coping with COVID-19. What does it look like in Scandinavia? This past spring, Denmark and Sweden flattened the curve, ensuring that the healthcare systems were not overcapacity.

Now, it’s about navigating a new normal. To give you a glimpse into daily life here, we gathered personal perspectives on the pandemic from DIS staff.

How do you embrace social distancing?

“For me, the situation has really made me appreciate outdoor life a lot more. During the lockdown back in the spring, my family and I would often go to a nearby forest and bake snobrød (bread baked on a stick) over the campfire. Now that we are slowly returning to (the new) normal, I find that I enjoy biking even more than before. It’s such a privilege to live in a city that has one of the most elaborate bike infrastructures in the world. I’m still new to wearing masks, but I do always carry one so that if my bike has a flat tire, I can always jump on the S-train and still feel safe.” – Esben

“Institutions put up signs and stickers, constantly as a reminder for people to keep distance from one another. To me, these small initiatives make a difference within the city. Even some of the places where people love to walk, they painted arrows on the ground so that we all walk in the same direction. Super smart!” – Sara

As an American living abroad, what is your perception of the cultural differences in handling the pandemic?

“When I FaceTime with friends living in the U.S., they are surprised to hear that many people in Denmark have returned to the office, schools are open, and masks in public spaces are not as common as they are in the States.

I think the main difference comes down to the idea of personal responsibility. The U.S. is a fairly individualistic society, paired with discrepancies in how local governments are handling the pandemic, it seems like people see it as their personal responsibility to keep themselves, and others, safe.

In contrast, in Scandinavia, there is less of a focus on personal responsibility, and a high level of trust in the government. When the Danish Prime Minister announced lockdown in March, as far as I saw, there was not really any pushback. Masks were not common because they were not mandated; now that they are required on public transport, there has been a high level of compliance.” – Ashley

What is your new normal?

“It’s my first year living here, so there are still so many places I want to explore. When I go to a museum or try out a new café, I watch out for myself by bringing hand sanitizer with me and making sure I am distancing myself from others. It is awkward when I find that others are not following the local guidance, but I know what works for me and what I’m comfortable with.” – Korbin

What’s it like to get tested?

“Although getting the test done is a bit uncomfortable, it makes me feel really safe to see just how fast and efficient the process is. Both me, my husband, and our daughter have been tested for COVID-19 (all negative, fortunately!), and we all got the results back in a very short time. There is even a testing station especially for children here, with pictures from Frozen and Spiderman on the walls. I am so grateful for the strong healthcare system and the way testing has been made readily available to everyone.” – Elin

What are the key Danish and Swedish words and phrases?


Samfundssind: Literally translated, samfund means ‘society’ and sind means ‘mind.’ The word describes a collective responsibility Danes have taken on since the onset of COVID-19. By looking at the virus as something that affects the society and not just the individual, Danes chip in for the greater good, whether that means helping a neighbor in need or simply keeping distance in the grocery store. This way, vulnerable populations have been protected and the spread of the virus has slowed.

Read about this unique word in the BBC’s article, How a long-forgotten word rallied a nation


“We are encouraged to do the basics: hålla avstånd (maintain distance), use handsprit (hand sanitizer) and tvätta händerna (wash hands). Everyone speaks regularly about updates from Folkhälsomyndigheten (FHM), the public health authority, and parses the words of state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, who’s become a cult-like figure, in/famous inside and outside Sweden. We speak of antikroppar (antibodies) and provtagning (tests) and who has taken korttidspermittering, the government short-time work allowance in which employees of companies affected by COVID-19 have their salaries paid by the government.” – Tina

Scandinavia in International News

Forbes described Denmark’s lockdown in March, including the historic moment when the Queen addressed the nation. Read the article, How Denmark is Navigating the Coronavirus Crisis

The BBC wrote about how the Swedes’ strong foundation of “trust, technology, and teamwork,” is to their advantage. Read the article, Could the Swedish lifestyle help fight the coronavirus?

More Perspectives on the DIS Blog

DIS faculty shared their viewpoint based on their area of expertise: