‘Just a sign’: What a supermarket sign tells us about Sweden and Covid-19

'Just a sign': What a supermarket sign tells us about Sweden and Covid-19
'No-one is reading our signs,' stated the sign displayed by a Coop supermarket in Norrtälje. Photo: @beardonaut/Coop Norrtälje
A sign put up out of frustration in a Swedish supermarket said 'no-one is reading our signs' about following Covid-19 measures.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people in Sweden and around the world have got used to signs that would have seemed dystopian just over a year ago: ‘Closed due to the pandemic’ ‘Remember the two-metre rule’ ‘Shop alone and avoid busy times’. 

At a local Coop supermarket in Norrtälje, a different type of sign has gone up.

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It reads: “Just a sign. Since no-one is reading our signs about, among other things, Covid-19, this sign is mostly to be considered as decoration. Maybe something to share on social media, what do we know.”

It was shared on Twitter by the user @beardonaut, who told The Local: “I started to laugh when I saw it, and then I wanted to scream. Pretty much how I think lots of people are reacting. It pinpoints how people are behaving despite the restrictions and efforts from shops, and we have all seen exactly that.” As predicted by the shop, it resonated on social media, with nearly 2,500 people ‘liking’ the image within 12 hours.

One reason it struck a chord could be that Swedes are known for avoiding conflict, for example opting for passive aggressive notes when raising issues with neighbours.

The sign also highlights Sweden’s much-discussed approach to handling the pandemic.

While the government has made some far-reaching law changes (such as limiting events to 50 people in late March 2020, further reduced to eight in December, and banning care home visits for much of last year), most of the measures for individuals have taken the form of recommendations, for example to keep distance from others, limit socialising, and stay home when unwell.

Shops are subject to legal limits on maximum customer numbers, which they can be fined for breaching, while individuals are recommended to avoid busy periods, shop alone, and keep a distance from others. Individuals themselves cannot face fines for entering an already-busy shop. 

The Coop staff are far from the only ones to observe people being lax in following recommendations.

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven issued a stern admonishment in a press conference on Thursday, saying “more people need to do more”, a reiteration of warnings issued during the winter

“We can see that more and more people are stopping following the advice and recommendations and that is having a negative effect on the spread of infection,” he said.

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