For those of us who think that personal responsibility is the best way to defeat coronavirus without crushing the economy, the Swedish model has become a go-to talking point.
Sweden didn’t shut everything down when the virus hit. There were no stay-at-home orders. Instead, Swedish authorities trusted their people to make correct decisions about what to do and how to socially distance.
The success of this is debatable (President Donald Trump isn’t a fan, saying they’re “paying heavily” for the decision not to lock down) and some of what makes Sweden’s path doable is cultural, meaning it’s not entirely applicable here.
And there’s also the fact that not all Swedish officials are onboard with this laissez-faire thinking.
Take officials in the city of Lund, a university town with a population of around 91,000. It’s a short 20-minute drive from Malmö and also home to a major Walpurgis Night celebration. That’s a night of revelry that was originally supposed to be about the canonization of Saint Walburga, although it’s become something a bit more secular these days.
“At midnight, the official start of spring is heralded by setting off fireworks, dancing and playing loud music — all said to drive the witches and winter spirits away,” Germany’s The Local reported in 2014. “But not for long, exactly six months later the spooks will return for the start of winter on All Hallow’s Eve.
“Nowadays Walpurgisnacht has also become an excuse for causing mayhem.”
Anyway, one way to ward off coronavirus-related “mayhem” in Lund was apparently to spread 2,200 pounds of taxpayer-funded chicken manure in the city’s central park in order to stop people from gathering when Walpurgis Night happened on Thursday.
Mayor Philip Sandberg told a Swedish outlet it would “not be a pleasant experience … to sit in a park that stinks of chicken manure. But it will be good for the lawns, as chicken manure contains a lot of phosphorus and nitrogen, so we’ll get a really nice park for the summer.”
“Lund could very well become an epicenter for the spread of the coronavirus on the last night in April, [so] I think it was a good initiative,” Gustav Lundblad, chairman of the city council’s environment committee, added, according to the U.K. Guardian.
“We get the opportunity to fertilize the lawns, and at the same time it will stink and so it may not be so nice to sit and drink beer in the park,” Lundblad said.
Lund couldn’t actually ban the festival because of coronavirus concerns, given that it’s a spontaneous happening. While they have a ban in place on gatherings of 50 or more people, this was their solution — which Lundblad admitted might have a slight drawback.
“I am not a fertilizer expert, but as I understand it, it is clear that it might smell a bit outside the park as well,” Lundblad said.
“These are chicken droppings, after all. I cannot guarantee that the rest of the city will be odorless. But the point is to keep people out of the city park.”
And I’m sure people around the park are going to stay in their domiciles when those domiciles reek of bird feces.
It would not be a pleasant experience to sit in an apartment that stinks of chicken manure the same way that it would not be a pleasant experience to sit in a park that stinks of chicken manure. Good work.
Anyway, here’s a video of a worker spreading the fertilizer:
There aren’t any reports out of Sweden describing Walpurgis Night revelers defying the smell and starting bonfires amid the bird poop — or meeting elsewhere, for that matter, so I guess you could say it worked. The problem is that no one could have predicted whether or not this gathering would have happened in the first place.
Sweden, as previously mentioned, has bans on gatherings of more than 50 people.
I’d love to hear if there were cost-benefit analyses done by the council as to whether or not putting police or chicken droppings in the park was more cost-effective. I’d also love to hear if anyone noted that the number of people celebrating Walpurgis Night in the midst of a pandemic is probably low enough that this could have been dealt with literally any other way.
I’m not an expert here, but maybe someone could have brought up the fact that Lund is a relatively large city and people could find ways to meet elsewhere.
Maybe someone could have mentioned that most people were probably going to celebrate this in smaller groups this year — if they celebrated it at all.
There’s even the argument that spreading chicken manure in a park people still use is creating a health hazard in order to forestall another health hazard that may not have happened.
But then, I’m not a resident of Lund. I don’t celebrate Walpurgis Night or socialize with anyone who does. I hope you guys made the right decision. Enjoy the smell.
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