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Expressen correspondents go inside the pandemic

By Jenny Rydén

Expressen

Stockholm, Sweden

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They have covered war zones and conflicts in some of the world’s most dangerous places. They survived kidnapping and torture in Syria.

But in 2020, Swedish reporter Magnus Falkehed and photographer Niclas Hammarström faced the most challenging journalistic experience of their careers: the coronavirus pandemic. This time, the “war zone” was at home.

Photographer Niclas Hammarström and reporter Magnus Falkehed outside a hospital with ICU for COVID-19 patients.
Photographer Niclas Hammarström and reporter Magnus Falkehed outside a hospital with ICU for COVID-19 patients.

“What we’re witnessing is a siege on the country. Yesterday the Italians rushed to the stores to stock up on groceries. The people are facing a hard battle.”

Falkehed delivered this report on live television from Rome, Italy, on March 11, 2020 — the day the WHO declared a global pandemic. A startled world was watching what was happening in Italy. Like so many other times, Falkehed was reporting from the epicenter of the chaos. But little did he — or anyone else — know how hard the virus would spread across the globe and through his motherland, Sweden.

Covering the war at home

After many years as a foreign correspondent and reporter, Falkehed became known to a larger audience in 2013 when he was captured and held hostage, along with Hammarström, while on assignment in Syria. For almost two months, they endured captivity and torture. Once released, the two journalists continued working together around the world, covering everything from climate change to poverty.

As Rome went into quarantine, Falkehed and Expressen Managing Editor Magnus Alselind decided he should return to Sweden. He managed to book what they thought was the last plane home. By this time, Sweden had had its first COVID-19 related death, followed by another and then many more. Seemingly overnight, the pandemic held the whole country in its grip.

Expressen took readers inside the pandemic to experience it from behind the scenes.
Expressen took readers inside the pandemic to experience it from behind the scenes.

Swedes were prompted to keep their distance, work from home, and stay home if they were ill. For many, especially the elderly, social contacts shrunk. At the same time, ICUs were packed with new COVID-19 cases and the death toll continued to rise. The catastrophe was real, but for most of us, it was only manifested in faceless numbers. Expressen aimed to show the faces and hear the voices from inside the pandemic. The mission was handed to Falkehed and Hammarström.

“Lately, we’ve been saying to each other, ‘What did we actually know back then?’ This was at the time when people were stocking up on toilet paper,” Falkehed said, looking back one year later.

In a series of stories, he and Hammarström managed to go where no one else could go: side by side with the hospitalised, the medical staff, the survivors, and the grieving. Through their reporting, the viewers met ICU patients and heard them talk about their anguish, sadness, and hopes.

They saw a widow’s pain as she put flowers on her husband’s grave and reflected on how hard it was to understand he was not coming home anymore. And they got to follow some former COVID-19 patients and witness their long journeys back to normal life.

Documenting history

One year later, Hammarström said it feels like they have been covering the biggest event since the Second World War.

Falkehed and Hammarström, together with TV editor Cecilia Anderberg, succeeded in their mission of covering the pandemic from the inside. “Inside the pandemic” was awarded “TV reportage of the year 2020” and won the Swedish national photo contest for “Image of the year.” It was also nominated for “Best coverage” by Swedish Publishers Association.

About Jenny Rydén

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