The iconic Spy Bar at Stockholm's posh clubbing district Stureplan was one of the nightclubs in the area that reopened last weekend, after closing back in March when new restrictions were introduced for bars and restaurants – permitting only socially distant table service – during the peak of the pandemic.
Spy Bar's owners told Swedish media that the nightclubs had been rebuilt to ensure that customers were able to keep a distance, and that precautions to prevent spread of infection had been taken.
But videos showing revellers on crowded dance floors sparked a stir on social media.
“This is what it looks like in a nightclub, and it is hard to assess just based on these images. It can be noted that there are a lot of people in the same place, so it is definitely something we will be looking into further,” Stockholm City Council officer Daniel Persson told broadcaster SVT.
Swedish local authorities are in charge of inspecting bars and restaurants, and have the authority to fine or close down venues that fall foul of the binding coronavirus rules.
The videos were widely shared on social media in Sweden over the weekend:
Varför öppnas vissa branscher upp och inte våran? Klubbarna har kommit med säkra lösningar på våra stora arenor men får nej, medans nattlivet och mycket annat får godkänt??? Fotbollen är död utan publik https://t.co/r15Yzfjlzp
— IsaacKieseThelin (@IKieseThelin) October 11, 2020
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“Why are some industries opening up and not ours?” wrote footballer Isaac Kiese Thelin on Twitter, referring to audience numbers at public events, including football, still being capped at 50. “The clubs have presented safe solutions for our major arenas but are told no, while the nightlife and a lot of other things get a pass???”
“Lagom is hardly the sexiest word in Swedish, but Sweden has so far avoided a second wave of the pandemic with that strategy. It should probably apply in the bar as well,” wrote Patrik Lundgren in the Expressen tabloid, in an opinion column with the headline “are we drinking the Swedish strategy away?”
“Theatres are closed, the elderly keep their distance and refrain from meeting grandchildren and friends. Meanwhile, the 20-year-olds are dancing on the tables at Stureplan,” wrote Erik Helmerson in DN. “It isn't strange if people start ignoring the quarantine rules if they don't apply to everyone.”
But Spy Bar is not the only place that has hit the headlines lately.
Last week, Swedish health authorities urged students to follow health and safety recommendations after cluster outbreaks were linked to university parties. Councillors in Uppsala have said that the city is considering closing bars at 11pm – however there is also a concern that doing so will lead to more private parties in apartments.
A sign urging people to keep a distance in Malmö in May. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
The party videos from Stureplan emerged just days after several Swedish politicians were caught on camera apparently flouting social distancing recommendations set out by the Public Health Agency in spring.
Ebba Busch, leader of the Christian Democrats, sparked debate after dancing, hugging and kissing people on the cheek at a friend's 40th birthday party in late September, just days after Prime Minister Stefan Löfven had warned people to avoid hugs and crowded home parties amid rising infection rates in Sweden.
“Most of the party was held outside. In retrospect I could think it would have been better not to go, and that has formed the basis of my future decisions,” Busch told Expressen in an email.
Ella Bohlin, a Christian Democrat councillor in charge of elderly care in Stockholm, also attended the latter party, and also told Expressen that she regretted the decision in hindsight.
Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT
Sweden Democrat party leader Jimmie Åkesson was also caught on camera sitting close to and throwing his arm around guests at another 50th birthday party in Oxelösund.
“It is correct that there were occasional situations when guests wanted to take selfies and say hi. That happens even in other situations, for example at Ica. Generally I try to avoid body contact but sometimes things happen spontaneously without reflection,” he told Expressen last week.
Public events with more than 50 people are currently legally banned. This applies to concerns, demonstrations, and theatre performances, for example, but not to workplaces, shopping centres or private events.
However, Swedish authorities have asked people to avoid “large events” in general, and generally try to socialise only with a small group of the same people – however, there are no exact rules or limits on how many people. People are also asked to keep distance from other people both indoors and outdoors.
At restaurants, bars and nightclubs other rules apply. Although more than 50 people are allowed, venues should have other measures in place in order to limit crowding, with table service only and space between tables. It is not just venues that have the responsibility to ensure this, with people urged not to enter crowded places.