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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: We should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality

As Sweden prepares to join Nato, we should mourn the gradual passing of a neutral voice in global affairs, says David Crouch

OPINION: We should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality

In the spring of 1999, Russia’s prime minister, Yevgeny Primakov, was on a plane to Washington for talks, just as Nato announced airstrikes on Serbia. The bombing campaign, aimed at halting Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians, targeted Russia’s Slav and Orthodox ally. On receiving the news, Primakov turned his plane around in mid-air and flew back to Moscow. 

This was the first major confrontation between East and West since the end of the Cold War. Russian public opinion swung overwhelmingly behind the Serbs. Moscow liberals warned the conflict would lead swiftly to “a strongly anti-Western, Cold War-oriented regime”. Vladimir Putin became prime minister that summer. And the rest is history. 

This was “blowback” for Nato – the unintended adverse consequences of a foreign policy intervention. This week, Putin is experiencing blowback himself following his invasion of Ukraine, with Sweden rushing headlong to join Nato, whose actions helped unite Russia so suddenly against the West a quarter of a century ago. 

Joining Nato brings down the curtain on a remarkable period in Swedish and European history. The last time the country declared war was in 1810 against the British. Not a single shot was fired, and peace was declared again two years later. Since then, Sweden has pursued a policy of neutrality in all armed conflicts. 

That era ended on Monday. The government confirmed what everyone knew already – that it would apply to join Nato.  

During the Cold War, neutrality gave Sweden the freedom to manoeuvre between the two blocs led by Moscow and Washington. Sweden joined widespread condemnation of the Soviet suppression of Czechoslovakia’s democratic uprising in 1968. 

But its emblematic leader Olof Palme also backed the global movement against the Vietnam war, hosting a tribunal in Stockholm that symbolically put the USA on trial for war crimes in Indo-China. Here was a nation that had found a middle way between capitalism and communism, it seemed, with a diplomatic as well as an economic dimension. 

Sweden became a leading voice against nuclear weapons. Successive leaders pushed for a nuclear-free zone in the Nordic and Baltic regions. Sweden’s self-image was of a “humanitarian superpower”, its independence on the world stage spilling over into anti-colonialism and feminism.

Following the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Sweden sought to make the most of the “peace dividend” offered by the end of the Cold War, closing military bases, ending conscription and slashing defence spending. By 2012 the head of the armed forces admitted Sweden could withstand a limited attack for only about a week

All this is now behind us. The middle way is to become the Nato way. Sweden may continue to object to nuclear weapons, but it has opted for the US nuclear umbrella to ensure its security. It may continue to champion liberal causes, but it will have to bite its tongue as its allies with conservative Nato states such as Hungary and Turkey, not to mention the possibility of a second Trump presidency in the US. 

Beyond the immediate concerns about Russian intentions in Ukraine, Sweden is contributing to the return of a polarised world. The optimism and hope heralded by the collapse of communism 30 years ago have turned out to be a chimera. New generations will grow up in fear of the enemy and in the shadow of nuclear annihilation. In these bleak circumstances, we should mourn the passing of Sweden’s neutrality in global affairs. 

It is unfortunate that Sweden’s historic pivot is taking place with unseemly haste. While public opinion has clearly shifted in favour of Nato since the invasion of Ukraine, the majority in favour is still relatively slim and is based on fear rather than thoughtful and thorough debate. In a poll at the end of April, 55 percent of Swedish men but only 41 percent of women said yes to Nato. There are signs that opposition to Nato among the young may actually be growing.

But the decision to join Nato is a minor tremor rather than an earthquake. While Sweden may have been non-aligned, it has not been neutral for a long time. 

Sweden’s pro-Western orientation during the Cold War was an open secret on both sides. As early as 1954, Sweden signed a top secret agreement with the US regarding collaboration and intelligence sharing, including spying on Russia, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed. Sweden already makes “particularly significant contributions” to the alliance, Nato says. Accession to the European Union in 1995 came at the cost of the abolition of neutrality as a principle. 

In this sense, joining Nato means Sweden is now shedding its mask of neutrality, rather than adopting a radically new stance.

Sweden in Nato means the post-Cold War era is emphatically over. The world is entering a new and unsettling phase. “Peace, love, Woodstock, Kumbaya, let’s dramatically slash defence spending and enjoy the peace dividend — that’s all over,” said Estonia’s president after Russia annexed Crimea. 

The point of any nation’s defence policy should be to provide its population with a secure space for peace, love and Kumbaya. There is an almost giddy excitement in much of the Swedish media about Nato membership. As we progress towards our armour-plated future, let’s not forget what we have lost.

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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