In an unorthodox move, local authorities on Sweden's Baltic island of Gotland have recruited equestrians posing as medieval knights on horseback to halt the coronavirus in its tracks amid the height of the summer tourist season.
The four horsemen, or so-called “COVID Knights” from the regional medieval reenactment group Torneamentum, Sweden's oldest, will visit some of Gotland's most popular tourist attractions this summer, such as its numerous beaches and the medieval town of Visby. To drive the point home, they will be carrying medieval font signs with messages such as “keep your distance”, “stay at home if you have symptoms” and “wash your hands often”.
"If you've got 700 kilos worth of horse coming towards you, you'll do as you're told,” Torneamentum project manager Lennart Borg jokingly told the newspaper Aftonbladet. “We are both happy and proud that we have been called for this important and honourable assignment. For us knights, it is a matter of course to stand up when duty calls and we really look forward to taking on the task,” he added.
Knights encouraging social distancing on the island of Gotland. The flags say "Wash your hands", "Keep your distance" and "Stay home if you are sick" pic.twitter.com/alnJQOaGlr— Vox Vulgaris (@vulgaris_vox) July 20, 2020
With merely 206 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and six deaths, Gotland is one of the least-affected regions in Sweden. However, there have been increasing concerns that its healthcare would be left paralysed by a potential spike, if tourists fail to follow health and safety guidelines.
So far, the reactions to the four horsemen of the coronavirus crisis have been positive.
“It's great that we got the knights involved. We think it will help to remind us of the messages we all know by now, but which are so easy to forget when we are distracted by other things during the summer,” Gotland's acting chief infectious disease doctor Sven Montelius said in a statement.
On the famous tourist destination of Gotland, Sweden’s ‘coronavirus knights’ have been recruited to battle #COVID19 Gotland has been an important Baltic Sea trade hub since the beginning of the Viking Age and is a major tourist site today.https://t.co/4E6PWTEcrn pic.twitter.com/zCXGPP9uiz— Ancient Origins (@ancientorigins) July 20, 2020
“This is a slightly different and fun approach. It is so important to do everything we can to remind people to keep their distance and take responsibility. Hopefully the knights help us with that,” Operations Manager at Gotland's Hospitality Centre Frida Ganshed said.
Corona Knights to combat pandemic,— b9AcE 🐊 (@b9AcE) July 17, 2020
patrolling popular spots during peak tourism on Gotland, not using lances but the message "Together, we'll take responsibility",
Knights Society Torneamentum, Sweden's oldest, say they're glad & proud to be called on for the honorable quest.
“Visby and Gotland are for many strongly associated with the Middle Ages. Now that we have the big family weeks ahead of us, we hope and believe that this initiative will create an increased awareness among everyone while further strengthening our hospitality,” Operations Manager at Visby Centrum Magnus Olsson said.
The Swedish province of Gotland (an island that is popular with tourists, especially from the capital region) has a ... peculiar way of reminding people of coronavirus safety precautions. 😆— Språkvärn 🇸🇪 (@Ordvakt) July 20, 2020
The banners read "Maintain (safe) distance" and "Wash your hands often" pic.twitter.com/Xp4ZdLA0qO
Last week, the police stated that more than 60,000 tourists were on the island and that the congestion is worse than in many years. According to the knights, though, the visitors are “behaving well”.
In its irregular approach, Sweden steered clear of lockdowns and tackled Covid-19 with mostly mild recommendations. This made Sweden an outlier among its neighbours, which almost returned to the pre-epidemic state of things. By contrast, Sweden has registered over 78,100 cases and nearly 5,650 deaths, and is counting new infections every day.