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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Lucia with Sweden’s vaccine pass: How my daughter’s friends’ relatives got blocked

At his first event requiring a Covid-19 vaccine pass, The Local's correspondent Richard Orange was surprised at how many people, all fully vaccinated, ended up having problems (including himself).

Lucia with Sweden's vaccine pass: How my daughter's friends' relatives got blocked
A Lucia concert in the somewhat grander Gustav Vasa Church in Stockholm. Photo: Ola Ericson/imagebank.sweden.se

I hold up my phone expectantly as the cheery pensioner at the door of the St Pauli Church in Malmö takes aim at the QR code, only to be confronted by a big red cross and the words ej godkänd, “not valid”.

Failed in the first attempt. It transpires that my vaccine certificate, downloaded for a trip to Denmark over the summer, has expired. After a few minutes’ fumbling on the Covidbevis.se website, I’ve downloaded a fresh one and am allowed to enter.

But I’m not the only one with problems.

It’s the Lucia concert for my daughter’s choir, an event for which they’ve been practising since the summer. Perhaps two hundred parents and relatives have come to see the children’s big performance of the year.

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First comes Isaac, the Ghanaian father of one of my daughter’s best friends. He is double vaccinated but has no idea how to get a vaccine certificate, so I take his phone, ask for his personnummer, make him type in his BankID, and it’s sorted. 

It’s a similar story with Rose, the Cameroonian mother of my daughter’s other friends. She tries at first to use the vaccine record in her journal on 1177.se, Sweden’s primary care health website. Again, I take her phone and get her a certificate. 

It’s then the trouble starts.

Isaac’s 18-year-old eldest daughter arrives. She’s only been in Sweden five months, is double vaccinated, and has a Swedish social security number – personnummer, or personal number. But she has yet to open a bank account, which means she cannot get a BankID, and this means she can’t download a Covid pass online. She could get a FrejaID, but not at such short notice.

It is possible to apply for a vaccine pass by post if you have a personnummer but don’t have BankID, but the waiting times for a paper pass are currently several weeks long. Sweden introduced vaccine passes at large public events on December 1st, with two weeks’ notice.

I plead with the pensioner at the door and the two women who run the choir, but there’s no mercy.

Next Rose’s Swedish husband arrives with his 99-year-old mother. Although she lives quite happily by herself and is still relatively sharp, she was 81 at the time BankID was introduced in 2003, so she can be forgiven for never having managed to get hold of one.

She had tried to find the paper certificates she had been given when vaccinated, but to no avail. Again, there’s no mercy from the people at the door (this is Sweden). In the end, she waits in the car outside with her grandson while the rest of the family goes in without them.

Arguably, these are problems with BankID, rather than with Sweden’s vaccination pass system. No one who was turned away from Monday’s Lucia concert was among the thousands of fully vaccinated people who cannot get a vaccine pass because they only had a temporary reservnummer (reserve number) at the time they were vaccinated, or because they were vaccinated abroad.

What the vaccination pass has meant is that those without a BankID can now be barred from actual physical public events, not just online services. In the case of Rose’s 99-year-old mother-in-law, that might mean missing one of the last chances of seeing her grandchild sing Lucia. 

The concert itself was wonderful, the children’s voices reverberating around the high, open space of one of Malmö’s finest churches. It just seems a shame some people couldn’t be there.

Member comments

  1. People should not accept this overreach by the government.
    Initially measures were introduced to save the elderly – now we see that the elderly are being punished for formalities. And as we all know, the vaccine doesn’t protect from getting infected, so the introduction of these passes seems bizarre at best.

    1. The passes are fitting in my view…….their logistic totally weird however. No way elderlies should be treated like that.

  2. I don’t think it’s lack of “mercy”, I applaud that those checking follow the rules. While you can get and give Covid while vaccinated the latest studies show it is many, many times less likely. Since the elderly are still a risk group it’s fitting that they are under scrutiny, it’s better to not be admitted than to face serious illness or death.

    1. Would you please share your sources for “the latest studies show it is many, many times less likely” (to get and transmit Covid when vaccinated)? Because I can’t find them. Everyone repeats that but these are not facts. At best the vaccine moderately reduces transmission, but the exact numbers are not known or shared.
      It makes no sense to only allow vaccinated people to meet. It contributes to spreading of the virus too, including to unvaccinated people in different settings.
      And why can’t the elderly (or anyone else for that matter) decide for themselves what they can do, and what risk they are willing to take?

    2. Would you be utterly upset if I labelled your comment…..pathetic ? No apology however.
      As much as I love Sweden, this system is beyond weird.
      Here in France….I walked out of the vaccination center and my certificate was already in my social security vault as well as on my phone.
      Soooooo many things we got wrong….but at least this one right.
      No way elderlies would be left freezing their venerable rear ends is a car while the Lucia concert is going on.

    3. If the vaccine was at best pathetic at protecting you from Delta, taking the vaccine now with Omicron is like taking a flu shot from 5 years ago. Completely useless.

      Rendering the vaccine pass only useful for tracking your every movement, and creating further separation in Swedish society. Everyone in this country is so scared of being seen as a racist or sexist, but are completely ok with medical apartheid?

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For members

OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Swedengate was the moment ‘new Swedes’ found their voice

The Swedengate Twitterstorm last week was a clash between recent arrivals in the country and Swedes with deeper roots, says David Crouch

OPINION: Swedengate was the moment ‘new Swedes’ found their voice

Last week saw a global storm in a Swedish teacup. The hashtag #Swedengate trended briefly in the US and the UK, sparked by an obscure observation that some Swedes would sometimes exclude visiting children from the family evening meal

Much fun was had at Sweden’s expense, and foreign media raised an amused eyebrow at all the fuss. But the conversation soon moved on. Cheap jibes at Swedish hospitality offered some light relief from war in Ukraine and the Texas school shooting.

Not so in Sweden. For four straight days, #Swedengate trended on Twitter among the top 10 hashtags in this country, not to mention a torrent of posts on Facebook and elsewhere. Popular tweets racked up tens of thousands of likes. Respected authors and academics hit the airwaves to explain the custom at issue. The placid Swedish duckpond (ankdammen) became a whirlpool. 

So why did most of Sweden spend the best part of a week debating its food culture? Swedes enjoy international attention, it makes a small northern nation feel noticed and important. Articles about Sweden in foreign newspapers are often picked up and discussed in Swedish media. As one Swede wrote during a Swedengate dispute on my Facebook feed, “we love to see ourselves as strange and special, even exotic”. 

But if some ripples are still being felt abroad, the eye of the storm hangs over Sweden itself. Swedengate was a clash between recent immigrants to Sweden and Swedes with deeper roots in the country. Or, to put it more bluntly, between multicultural Sweden and white Sweden. 

“New Swedes” (nysvenskar) often come from cultures that are extravagantly generous with respect to food. The idea that a guest, let alone a child, should sit separately and unfed during a meal seems monstrous to people with Iranian, Afghan, Arab or African backgrounds. My wife’s side of the family here, which has Polish roots, are positively mortified by the thought that a visitor might not be fed. 

Feeling this pressure, the old Swedes dug in their heels. The sensible thing would have been to lighten up, take the hit, confess that this once used to happen but now not so much, and admit that it looks to outsiders like very mean behaviour. This was the approach of singer Zara Larsson, who poked fun at “peak Swedish culture” and joked that “we might not serve food but we do be serving bangers” (i.e. great pop songs).

Instead, most old Swedes performed somersaults to defend the practice of excluding others’ children at mealtimes. In the mainstream media, it was explained in terms of personal insecurity or embarrassment, individualism, 19th century poverty, even respect for other families (!). On social media, people furiously supported the practice or furiously denied that it ever happened; they claimed it was not a Swedish phenomenon, or dismissed the whole thing as irrelevant. 

In any case, it is impractical to feed kids who turn up unexpectedly at mealtimes, said some. Others claimed it was an attempt by Russian trolls to derail Sweden’s Nato membership. Sweden’s Psychological Defence Agency (yes, there is such a thing) investigated whether Swedengate was a foreign disinformation campaign (it wasn’t). Author Jens Ganman, better known for his cynicism about Sweden as a cauldron of immigrant crime, was offended that people were ignoring his nation’s generosity towards refugees

The irony involved in all this was not lost on new Swedes. “As a white swede, how does it feel being judged for something that only a ‘small’ minority of your nationality do?” tweeted one, hinting at mainstream Sweden’s suspicion of Muslims as woman-hating extremists and terrorists. Said another: “It’s fucking wild to see all these people getting super defensive about #Swedengate.”

And new Swedes swiftly grasped that old Swedes were defending the indefensible; the Svenssons were in a hole and digging themselves even deeper. Whichever way you look at it, the practice – however rare it might be – of not inviting kids to share a family meal is, frankly, bizarre. 

Lovette Jallow, an author who emigrated to Sweden from Gambia when she was 11, wrote: “Laughing at Twitter finding out that Swedish people will not feed strangers. As a kid growing up here we knew to just go home around dinner time. On the flipside, my mom would feed Swedish kids though.” Centre Party youth leader Réka Tolnai tweeted: “It’s funny that the world has discovered what we immigrant kids have been talking about for years.”

Since the mood in Sweden swung against asylum and immigration in late 2015, new Swedes, particularly those from outside Europe, have experienced persistent pressure to prove that they fit into Swedish society. They have been told at every opportunity that they must integrate into Swedish society and conform to its behavioural norms. And no matter how hard they try, it is never enough – non-white Swedes feel keenly that they are second class citizens. 

With Swedengate, the boot was suddenly on the other foot. Who wants to be Swedish when Swedes are so weird?! For people from the Global South, as several observers noted, Swedengate became less about hospitality and more about far-reaching criticisms of Swedish society, such as its history of colonialism and racism. Using a debate about food to attack someone for racism seems a bit like jailing Al Capone for tax evasion. But the bigger picture is that new Swedes felt emboldened by Swedengate to express their broader grievances against Swedish culture.

The first week of June was the moment when new Swedes, immigrants, expats, whatever you want to call them, found their voice. Swedengate marks a step towards immigrants speaking up for their rights and celebrating the many contributions they make to Swedish society – not least in terms of helping to introduce a more warm and welcoming culture around food. 

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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