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The project will, among other things, study how reindeer husbandry has been affected by the pandemic. Photo: Henrik Andersson View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Unique research project on the pandemic in Norrbotten

Published: 17 December 2020

The corona virus has changed a lot in our lives. In a new project, researchers in history and nursing at Luleå University of Technology – together with a large number of other stakeholders – will gather knowledge and experience from the ongoing pandemic.

The new one-year project, which has received SEK 3.1 million in funding from the Formas Research Council, has a special focus on Sami and reindeer husbandry, nursing homes and dementia care, and the consequences of the pandemic in the border areas with Finland and Norway.

– The reindeer do not care about national borders or pandemics. In the spring, the mountain reindeer migrate, as they have always done, west towards the Norwegian coast. In the autumn, they return to the forest and coastal land in the east. The closed borders of Norway and Finland have therefore had far-reaching consequences for reindeer husbandry. Other major challenges have been the long distances to emergency care and finding new ways of working to avoid the older generations from being exposed to infection, says project manager May-Britt Öhman, associate professor of environmental history.

Several organizations are participating

In addition to researchers in history and nursing at Luleå University of Technology, the new project also involves the national organization Same Ätnam, individual reindeer herders, Ersta Sköndal Bräcke University, Uppsala University and researchers from prominent universities in Norway, USA, Canada and Japan. Norrbotten's museum participates together with Laponiatjuottjudus and Piteå museum with an extensive contribution to the project. A researcher will work full-time on the project at Luleå University of Technology.

– A better understanding of a pandemic's social impact contributes to better managing it in the present and can strengthen future generations' preparedness. The Spanish flu, which a century ago was ravaging hard in Norrbotten, led to an extensive debate about the shortcomings in health care in the county, which led to a large investment in nursing homes, says May-Britt Öhman.


Document own experiences

The researchers collect data in the form of material from social media, photos, films and interviews, and document their own experiences of the pandemic. The collected material will be used as a basis for historical comparisons and for future research projects. At the same time, the material collection itself becomes a resource for conversations about the ongoing crisis and the development of crisis management.

– I am basically a historian of technology and science and believe that it is important to analyze the technical measures against the pandemic that are discussed in our time. How do investments in mouth protection, tests and vaccination compare to investments in healthcare, medicines, elderly care and self-care? What does fear, closed borders and injunctions for social distancing entail for interpersonal relationships and for society now and in the long run? Ten years ago, we saw a worldwide pandemic in the form of swine flu, but it never had the consequences in the form of border closures and restrictions that have now taken place with covid-19, says May-Britt Öhman.

Nursing researchers Malin Olsson and Catharina Melander will conduct a sub-study focusing on elderly care and dementia care.

– For people with dementia, relatives are vital. Their experiences of how the covid-19 pandemic has affected everyday life are of great importance for better handling similar situations in the future, says Malin Olsson, assistant professor of nursing.

Arctic profile

Luleå University of Technology has an Arctic profile with research linked to cold climates. The project connects to this profile and at the same time strengthens the state of knowledge about the situation in the county during an ongoing crisis situation.

– This is a unique and comprehensive research project that will engage several employees with us at the Unit for History and our partners in the coming year. Norrbotten County and the Arctic region play an important role in Sweden, the Nordic countries and Europe, while the conditions here in important respects are completely different than in the south. Therefore, it is important to capture how different actors in the region experience and handle the pandemic, says Dag Avango, professor and subject representative in history.

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