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Education, Shame and More Motivate Umeå Social Distancing, Says Psychologist

  • Study: almost 9 in 10 people in Sweden now practice social distancing in public
  • Västerbotten registers a new coronavirus death
  • Report: local economy hit hard by crisis, but not as hard as 2008 recession
  • Health care worker union, hospital talks break down; summer holidays may be moved to September
  • Arson suspected in Friday house fire, but not connected to car burnings
  • Umeå Police looking for tips about moped drivers who almost hit officer

CENTRUM – Sweden’s Civil Protection Agency put out a report today stating that more Swedish residents are now practicing social distancing in public. Since April 30, 87% of the population self-report social distancing, an increase from 72% between April 23 and 29. The survey specifically asked people if they were “keeping a distance from each other, for example, in stores, restaurants, public transit, and other public places.”

There was also a substantial increase, from 61% to 69%, of people who are “avoiding kissing and hugging,” the report said.

Umeå University behavioral psychology professor Annika Nordlund told Umeå Today said that it may be a tendency for people to hold to social norms that motivates them to maintain social distancing, even when it is not enforced by the government.

“Maybe we’re good at following social norms in Umeå,” Nordlund reflected, after observing that pedestrian and cycle traffic has decreased in her neighborhood of Öst på stan over the last month.

“Umeå has a high level of education,” she said, “and I think that is at play here, because people can take in quite serious information from official channels.”

Umeå University behavioral psychologist Annika Nordlund says that coronavirus health protection measures are enforced by social norms. -A. Nordlund

“In the north,” she added, “we’ve had time to prepare, because we’ve seen what’s been happening in Stockholm and the west coast of Sweden.” She also observed that Umeå is more sparsely populated than those places, so it is easier to maintain a distance. Infection and death rates have been much higher in Sweden’s largest cities than in Västerbotten, an Umeå Today analysis showed yesterday.

Nordlund suggested that “the national health authorities are highly trusted by the public, and the government also has high ratings in trust right now.” She also said that shame played a role in people’s keeping social distance. “This is a situation where there is a lot of worry, and people feel afraid form themselves, their relatives, and society as a whole. So, it’s a social norm that’s spiced up with fear and worry.”

“We leave angry notes at people who leave junk in a washing machine room. Similarly,” she added, “shaming and its forcefulness are due to the fact that we are fearful.”

“Shame is quite a natural response,” said Nordlund.

Over the course of the pandemic, Umeå Today has repeatedly observed citygoers overlooking social distancing guidelines. However, that was before the period covered by the Agency’s latest study.

Västerbotten officials announced today that one more person in the region died due to the coronavirus, bringing the total to 16 after it had plateaued at 15 for four days. The total number of confirmed infections and patients in intensive care did not change, at 330 and 9, respectively. One fewer coronavirus patient was reported to be in the hospital today, for a total of 18.

An economic report by Nordea bank has revealed that although Västerbotten has been hit hard economically by the coronavirus crisis, the damage has not been as bad as during the 2008 recession. 3500 people have reported losing their jobs in the region since the crisis began. The Gross Regional Product — which measures the value of goods and services produced in Västerbotten and Norrbotten — has dipped by about five percent. However, during the recession a dozen years ago, that same figure dipped by 10 percent.

On the left, Gross Regional Product since 2001; on the right, steel and metal industry total production for the same period of time. -Nordea

One of the hardest-hit industries in Västerbotten has been steel and metals, which has collapsed further than it did in 2008, the report showed.

Union negotiations broke down today between hospital worker unions and Umeå University Hospital about summer vacations, which so far have been unscheduled due to the pandemic. The result of the breakdown is that hospital staff can choose to take their vacations in September — without pay. Union representatives are highly critical of the failure in talks.

This decision — on top of being unbelievably stingy salary policy — is going to lead to the loss of skilled workers in the region, who will resign or be laid off,” Jenny Olsson, a union leader, told Västerbottens-Kuriren.

“If summer vacations become autumn holidays,” she said, “union members will be exhausted, and the patient health and safety will be put at risk.”

Umeå Police said today that they suspect arson in an apartment house fire on Friday night on Himlastigen in Mariedal. The fire broke out in a basement at around 7 PM, and damaged several flats. No one was injured. Police said that they did not believe the fire was related to the dramatic car fires two weekends ago in Umeå and Holmsund, which are also suspected to be arson and possibly connected to gangs and drug trade.

Finally, Umeå Police are asking for any tips from the public about two moped drivers who, police said, almost hit some officers during a large party in Backen on Saturday night. The police were there to monitor the gathering of some 120 young people. The mopeds were travelling about 30 to 40 kilometers an hour, police said, and the officers had to dodge the vehicles and even push one away. “It was both luck and skill that the officers were not hit,” officer Peter Lindgren told Västerbottens-Kuriren.

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