Sweden and Denmark, the neighbours at opposite ends of the coronavirus fight

FILE PHOTO: A man fishes near the Oresund bridge in Malmo

MALMO/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Only an 8-kilometre bridge separates neighbours Sweden and Denmark, but while the streets of the Danish capital Copenhagen lie deserted, life in Swedish city Malmo rumbles on as the countries adopt starkly different approaches in fighting the coronavirus outbreak.

Denmark has restricted public assembly to 10 or fewer people and ordered the closure of schools, universities, day care centres, restaurants, cafes, libraries, gyms and hair salons. But Sweden is largely still open for business.

"I don't think it's that noticeable here," Michaela Jonsson said of the measures to fight the virus. Her hair salon in Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city of 317,000 people, remains full of people.

"Most of my customers, if they don't work in their work places, they work at home... We hope they won't do the same as Denmark, and close the salons completely."

Sweden has banned gatherings of over 500 people and told restaurants they can only serve seated customers. Other than that, authorities have asked people to use common sense and to stay home if feeling ill. Restaurants and schools for most kids remain open and the streets are still filled with people.

A 35-minute drive away across the Oresund strait in Copenhagen, Jorgen Skjodt, who owns a chain of salons across Denmark, sits in one of his now empty hair studios.

"It was a little bit shocking to discover that you had to close your business and the centres," he said. "For the past week it has been empty, no customers, no employees, no hair dressers, nothing at all."

Skjodt said he thinks his chain will survive, it is still selling products from its own line of hair products and offering styling advice over the phone to customers.

"It's little bit like a nightmare where there's actually no one anywhere. People are inside their houses and no one in the streets," he said, adding he trusted the government and supported the measures taken.

Denmark has closed its borders, and is only allowing in people delivering goods and those who live or work in the country.

Sweden has taken a softer approach than most countries, based on recommendations from Sweden's Public Health Agency. It has argued that shutting schools is an ineffective measure and that any restrictions should be imposed at the right time and for as short a duration as possible.

Sweden, with nearly twice the population of Denmark, has around 2,806 confirmed cases and 66 deaths while Denmark recorded 1,851 infected and 34 deaths.

Still, Sweden's health agency has conceded more measures are likely as the virus continues to spread.

"But it must be measures that are sustainable, we can't just say everything needs to be closed for several months," Sweden's Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said.


(Reporting by Mikael Nilsson in Malmo and Copenhagen, Johan Ahlander and Ilze Filks in Stockholm; editing by Niklas Pollard and Alexandra Hudson)