11:29 GMT25 January 2021
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    What made his compatriots seethe is that Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has himself urged fellow Swedes to "take responsibility" and avoid shopping malls to stop the spread of the virus.

    The scandal around Justice Minister Morgan Johansson, who defied the government's own instructions and went shopping, has been overshadowed by a bigger one, as Prime Minister Stefan Löfven himself was found visiting a mall in central Stockholm several times in December, despite his own calls for reduced congestion during Christmas shopping.

    The prime minister's press secretary underscored that Löfven, who visited the mall with his bodyguards, wasn't there to buy presents.

    "He was in the mall to pick up a previously submitted item. The visit was carefully planned. The prime minister has followed the Public Health Agency's advice and his own calls to avoid congestion. I cannot go into further details", press secretary Mikael Lindström told national broadcaster SVT.

    The most recent visit reportedly took place on 20 December, two days after a government press conference, where Löfven emphasised the severity of the situation and the need to avoid congestion in shops at all costs.

    ​Ironically, when Justice Minister Morgan Johansson was seen buying Christmas presents for his parents at the Nova shopping centre in the city of Lund, Löfven slammed his actions as "careless".

    Marja Lemme, a senior lecturer in political science at Södertorn University, called it "extremely serious".

    "I am very surprised, I will not say shocked, you should always expect the worst, but I am extremely surprised that the prime minister showed such a lack of judgment", Lemne said in a comment to SVT.

    According to her, the recommendations apply to all citizens, with no exceptions for high-ranking politicians.

    "This really hurts the trust. I think there will be more ministers and opposition politicians who may have broken the recommendations. The prime minister is the one who has stood and nodded and said what we should and shouldn't do. The prime minister is the head of government. I do not know how he will handle this. It has been a long time since we heard any ministers or higher-up apologise for their wrongdoing", Lemne added.

    Ulf Bjereld, a professor of polical science at the University of Gothenburg and Löfven's fellow Social Democrat, suggested that this will "turn against him" the next time Stefan Löfven gives a speech to the nation. He ventured that it is right to make higher demands on elected officials and underscored that there is irritation within the Social Democratic Party.

    "This feels like a very unnecessary discussion. It may be that Stefan Löfven's leadership is eroded, at least temporarily", Bjered told SVT.

    The newspaper Expressen, which published photographs of Löfven's visit, wryly suggested the prime minister had failed to convince himself with his moral sermons and that he had "shopped away" his trust.

    ​"What has now happened is that both Morgan Johansson, Stefan Löfven, and the government as a whole are losing weight and credibility as they continue to urge the public to follow advice and recommendations to reduce the spread of infection", political commentator Mats Knutson noted, calling the higher-ups to practice what they preach.

    On social media, fellow Swedes were merciless over the perceived hypocrisy.

    "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others", think tank Timbro CEO Benjamin Dousa quoted Orwell's "Animal Farm".

    ​"Nice of Löfven to support watchmakers by shopping at regular prices", Moderate MP Hanif Bali tweeted sarcastically.

    ​"When politicians say we are in the same boat, it means that it is you who gets to row", boxer and actor Paolo Roberto tweeted.

    ​"Now is the time for everyone to shape up. Now every citizen must take responsibility", journalist Ivar Arpi tweeted, citing Löfven.

    ​Meanwhile, Sweden, a nation of over 10 million, has seen more than 420,000 COVID-19 cases with nearly 8,500 deaths. Its largely business-as-usual approach has been criticised both abroad and at home, most recently by King Carl XVI Gustaf himself, which is an extremely rare occasion in Sweden.

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    Tags:
    COVID-19, coronavirus, Stefan Löfven, Scandinavia, Sweden
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