Göteborg from the air

Pandemic hits hardest against vulnerable groups – in Gothenburg and worldwide

​A new scientific article from Chalmers researchers compares Gothenburg City’s response to the pandemic with other cities worldwide, including Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manchester, Shimla in India, and Kisumu in Kenya. The researchers conclude that in all the countries, the most vulnerable groups have been hardest hit by Covid-19.  
The study compared the different cities' responses and governance relating to the pandemic. In addition to national recommendations and bans, cities have introduced their own restrictions and efforts to lessen the effects of the pandemic.

In Gothenburg, for example, this has included how the upper secondary schools adapted to remote education, and bans were put in place on visits to nursing homes – but also temporary relaxations, for measures such as keeping outdoor serving spaces open, widening cycle and walking paths and having lower parking fees.

Sweden's handling of the pandemic has received great international attention for its efforts to keep society as open as possible. The restrictions in Sweden have been less harsh than in many other countries and the state has sharply increased the general state subsidies to the country's districts to attempt to lessen the effects of the pandemic.

“Yet we also see evidence that more and more people have applied to the City Mission and similar organisations, and the police have reported increases in the number of domestic violence incidents,” says  Jan Riise. Jan Riise was part of the research program Mistra Urban Futures and is one of the authors of the new scientific article, published in the journal City. Co-authors include Chalmers researchers Sandra Valencia and Sara Pettersson at the Stadsledningskontoret in Gothenburg. Professor David Simon, former Head of Mistra Urban Futures, was the article's lead author and editor.

Cities and vulnerable groups most affected

The most important conclusion of the research is that the pandemic has reflected and reinforced existing inequalities in society. The most vulnerable groups were consistently hardest hit. People in these groups have been more exposed to the virus than others, become more seriously ill, and been at greater risk of dying. The pattern is consistent in cities and outlying areas in all the countries looked at.

The effects of the virus were neither uniform nor random, but rather due to environmental and social conditions that were common across many vulnerable groups. Frontline healthcare workers and other jobs involving close contact with the public, and groups with poorer access to open spaces and recreation have been overrepresented.

In Gothenburg, these differences have existed between the different districts, though this levelled off somewhat during the latter part of 2020. The experience from Gothenburg can perhaps be most closely compared with the situation in Greater Manchester, which is a ‘city region’ with a certain degree of independence from the otherwise fairly centralised United Kingdom. As in many places, vulnerable groups have been hardest hit and growing inequalities have only exacerbated the situation of the most disadvantaged. 

Elsewhere in the article, the authors emphasise the importance of also seeing the pandemic as a catalyst for working against existing inequalities, rather than allowing them to increase even more.

Many of the measures taken have highlighted walking, cycling and a reduction in car traffic, which has led to less air pollution. The increased distance work has also opened up opportunities to convert commercial areas in inner cities into homes.

“The big challenge now is to 'build back better', not only with warning systems and other forms of preparedness, but also to seriously address the growing gaps and to work and plan for equality and sustainability,” says Professor David Simon., who has also written a blog post for the British Campaign for Social Science relating to the article.

For more information or to interview one of the authors, contact
Jan Riise, Project Developer at GMV, Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development
070-823 3377

David Simon, Professor Royal Holloway University of London, former Head of Mistra Urban Futures
+44 (0) 1784 443651

Sandra Valencia, researcher at GMV, Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development

Page manager Published: Mon 04 Oct 2021.