Sweden to reopen universities and schools for over-16s

Sweden will reopen universities and upper secondary schools from mid-June, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told a press conference on Friday.

Sweden to reopen universities and schools for over-16s
Lund University. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The decision was announced at a press conference with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Education Minister Anna Ekström, Higher Education Minister Matilda Ernkrans and Johan Carlson, general-director of the Public Health Agency.

Sweden has kept its schools for young children open throughout the coronavirus epidemic, but recommended schools for over-16s and universities to move to distance teaching for students in mid-March.

But from June 15th they may be able to return to a “more normal” situation than today, said Löfven.

Most students in upper secondary education (gymnasieskolan) will soon leave for their summer break, so the new recommendation will mostly have an impact on the autumn semester. But it does mean that summer schools may be able to open their door to students this summer.

Some kind of distance teaching may still be needed for adult education if the institutions are unable to maintain other coronavirus rules and guidelines, which remain in force, emphasised the ministers.

More than 35,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Sweden since the start of the outbreak, and more than 4,200 people have died. But the country has seen a low spread of infection among children and teenagers, said Carlson. Fewer than 600 people aged under 20 have tested positive for the virus. 

“In light of this we no longer believe we can justify the recommendation of distance education in upper secondary schools,” said Carlson.

Part of the reasoning behind keeping schools for under-16s open was to ensure that parents in essential jobs would be able to continue working, and that children were not believed to be major spreaders of the virus, nor at significant risk of developing serious illness if exposed to it. But the decision was not without controversy, with several parents telling The Local that they were concerned about sending their children to school.

When deciding to reopen its own schools last month, Norway's Public Health Institute used the experience of Sweden, along with Iceland, Taiwan and Singapore – where no clusters of the virus were linked to schools – as an example when it explained its own reasoning.

Universities, university students and other adult education are still expected to follow Sweden's other coronavirus restrictions and recommendations, for example avoiding non-essential travel, not organising public gatherings of more than 50 people, and observing social distancing. 

“This could mean that you need to maintain distance learning if teaching can't be led in a suitable way otherwise,” Carlson cautioned.

He said that recommendations around travel, including to and from university, would be shared by the agency soon. “The advice [to avoid journeys of more than two hours from home] in general applies to unnecessary trips. If you study at a university and live somewhere else, that's not inherently a necessary trip, but we will discuss travel shortly,” he said.

The ministers stressed that the coronavirus situation in Sweden remains serious, and Friday's decision should not be taken as a sign that the country is ready to start lifting restrictions and guidelines in general.

The decision does not affect restrictions on Sweden's traditional graduation ceremony, utspring, which in a normal year sees students dash out of their school building to be greeted by large groups of friends, family and relatives. Those restrictions are likely to remain in place.

Member comments

  1. The key statistic missing for me is not how many young people have tested positive for the virus but rather how many have been tested at all. Test em all then give statistics that matter.

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New Covid-19 wave in Sweden ‘to peak at end of September’

Sweden's Public Health Agency has warned of a new autumn wave of Covid-19 which it expects to peak at the end of September.

New Covid-19 wave in Sweden 'to peak at end of September'

According to both of the two new scenarios published by the agency on Monday, infection rates are set to rise steadily over the next month, something the agency said was due to a falling immunity in the population and greater contact between people as they return to schools and workplaces after the summer. 

“It is difficult to say how high the peak will be, but it is unlikely that it will reach the same levels as in January and February,” the agency’s unit chief Sara Byfors said in a press release. “The most important thing is that people in risk groups and those who are 65 years old and above get vaccinated with a booster dose in the autumn to reduce the risk of serious illness and death.” 

Under Scenario 0, the amount of contact between people stays at current levels, leading to a peak in reported Covid-19 cases at around 5,000 a day. In Scenario 1, contact between people increases by about 10 percent from the middle of August, leading to a higher peak of about 7,000 reported cases a day. 

The agency said that employers should be prepared for many staff to be off sick simultaneously at points over the next month, but said in its release that it did not judge the situation to be sufficiently serious to require either it or the government to impose additional infection control measures. 

It was important, however, it said, that those managing health and elderly care continued to test those with symptoms and to track the chain of infections, that people go and get the booster doses when they are supposed to have under the vaccination programme, and that those who have symptoms of Covid-19 stay home.