Sweden has caught the toilet paper epidemic

Yesterday, I was poised to write a post about the differences I’ve been seeing between responses in Australia and Sweden regarding this Covid 19 panic.

I was going to say that I thought it was remarkable that Australia’s toilet paper wars were seemingly absent here. That, instead of tasing one another over missing grocery items and greediness, I was seeing new subgroups of suburb-specific buy/swap/sells emerge, entirely for the purpose of finding those in the community who needed help and filling that need.

But that was before I ordered my weekly delivery of groceries and found that the first delivery was six days away. The 5kg bag of rice was sold out, as were the soap refills and the toilet paper I’d chosen. I replaced them with a 2kg alternative, a different brand of soap and toilet paper, and moved on. It’s still not as bad here.

It was before I started seeing Swedish versions of the “Stop selfishly buying everything and leaving nothing for the sick and elderly,” posts popping up. 

Before a woman in a mothers’ group I’m in posted desperately asking for some kind of fever-reducing medication (i.e. paracetamol) for her sick (not Covid 19) one-year-old because all the chemists are totally out of it. I saw people clamouring to help, but not the point. She got her paracetamol, but she had to beg. She couldn’t get through to the medical hotline because everybody’s ringing in a panic about the virus.

So it’s reached our shores along with the virus. And it’s the part that scares me. Being pregnant, and the mother of a toddler, and somewhat reliant on a functioning healthcare system, these scenarios are pretty scary.

But Sweden is split into two camps, as I see in Australia. There’s the “The government says we just need to wash our hands!” camp, and the “Why aren’t we closing our borders?” camp. 

Denmark and Norway have closed schools (like 37 other countries), while Sweden tells everyone it’s business as normal, because imagine if people had to stay home from work. They say kids aren’t really carriers or at risk, so don’t worry about it, but in the same breath, they say that if kids had to stay home, they might be put in the care of elderly relatives to whom they would transmit the virus. Both of these things can’t be correct enough to justify the huge decision to not close the schools.

Government inaction allows individuals to turn up to work after hanging out with friends recently returned from Northern Italy (shortly thereafter becoming confirmed cases and causing the closure of a huge cultural arts centre). It means people sent home after working with these confirmed cases are told not to worry. That they’re not in quarantine. It means those people visit supermarkets.

What I’ve learned in the last 24 hours is that Australia isn’t different to Sweden in kindness or compassion, selfishness or greed. Australia has just had a lot of practice not believing a damn word our government tells us. When you’re constantly lied to, you senses become sharper. People have known for longer, in Australia, that this shit is real and bad. Plenty don’t believe it, but plenty, plenty – enough to empty shelves in panic – do. 

Here, in Sweden, we’ve had less shockingly corrupt experiences to draw from. The suggestion that we shouldn’t trust the government’s line of “It’s all basically fine,” is almost blasphemous. Of course, there are outliers. They’re vocal on social media, which is nice, but they’re too few and too far between. They don’t have enough influence over their communities. 

Elderly relatives are being told by health professionals that it’s “life as normal,” and that they don’t really need to worry.

I’ve got three rolls of toilet paper and my bathroom is small, so my showerhead reaches my toilet if need be. No bidet installation necessary.

I work from home, and Felix is on parental leave, so we’re good with self-isolation as far as the practical is concerned. Social distancing with a toddler is a whole other kettle of fish emotionally, though, but that’s a topic for another post. 

If you want to tell me it’s fine, and we should keep schools open because let’s not disturb society too much, I’d like you to read this, and this, and this. Read more than what your local health authority is telling you. Learn to consume the media with skepticism. Stop being blase, and don’t tell me “it’s just the old people”. So? There are a lot of old people I’m very attached to, and who are very attached to their lives.

I recently had a newborn baby and I’m not far off being in possession of another one. I know the accepted wisdom right now seems to be that babies aren’t in a risk group for Covid 19, but they’re in a risk group for a lot of other stuff. Cold sores can really mess them right up. Even the common cold can become RS and require hospitalisation. When Elsie arrived, I became a germophobic compulsive hand-washer and I was on high alert. I know what it feels like when other people don’t bother with basic courtesy because they’re not personally at risk of certain things. 

Imagine how older people, people with compromised immunity, asthma, etc. feel.

Another problem is that the healthcare systems won’t only be overloaded for people with the virus. They’ll be overloaded for everyone. I have a friend due to give birth in the city’s main hospital in under a month. What’s that going to look like? I’m due in August, by which time, selfish-fingers crossed, this whole thing will have largely blown over. But until then, I’m considering cancelling my ultrasound. I’m considering cancelling my daughter’s weight check-ups, and I’m wondering who of our friends, if any, we’re going to be comfortable meeting between now and after the peak. 

I’m not stocking up on toilet paper, but I’m ordering food deliveries so I don’t have to enter the supermarket more than necessary. I’m trying to figure out what I absolutely need to do, and how to most safely do it. I don’t want to be responsible for anybody’s death.

Let’s take a moment to think critically about all of the information, spend a few seconds remembering the occasions the world governments have lied to us to maintain capitalism, and listen to the desperate warnings from Italy, for whom it is already too late. 

Help me flatten the curve. We can have skype preschool dates! We can organise food sharing for those who need it. We can give one another spare toilet paper from a safe distance. Let’s contribute to the long and healthy lives of our grandparents, asthmatic friends, cancer-patients, and even smokers.

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Lily Ray
Lily Ray

Journalist, photographer, traveller and knitter. Mother to a small but demanding infant, Lily's life is messy but generally lovely. She has a lot of thoughts. Here is where she puts them.

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