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

A sign put up out of frustration in a Swedish supermarket said 'no-one is reading our signs' about following Covid-19 measures.

'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

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.

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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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.