Higher Education Minister Matilda Ernkrans turned to Sweden's 400,000 students at a press conference on Friday and started by thanking everyone who is following the Public Health Agency's health and safety recommendations to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“But, to get to the student parties – unfortunately there are far too many of you who are not taking responsibility and you have to get a grip now. We can't have universities becoming corona transmission clusters,” Ernkrans said.
“I don't think I should have to say this, but I want to remind the country's students that it isn't just yourself you're putting at risk by not following the Public Health Agency's recommendations. If you go to a party and get infected, you put those close to you (at risk). Your friends, your professor, the staff at your local supermarket, the person next to you in the library. (…) It is not acceptable that adults act in any other way than by taking responsibility.”
Public Health Agency general-director Johan Carlson said that eight regions in Sweden had reported outbreaks linked to universities, since the autumn semester started and students started returning to campus.
So far 200 students have reportedly been infected in these outbreaks, said Carlson. He stressed that even if it sounds like a low number out of 400,000 students, it has a wider impact. “200 can quickly become 500, or 1,000.”
“Our message is to, sure, have a party, but in smaller groups, and preferably with the same group of people you usually meet – kind of like what we've been saying about families. At least this autumn and winter,” Carlson said. “The spread of infection in universities risks spilling over to other parts of society. In many parts of Europe, university outbreaks have been a driving factor in the spread of infection.”
Responding to a question by the TT news agency, Carlson said the press conference should not just be seen as a way of singling students out to tell them off, but as a way of giving them information.
“I don't think students themselves realise that this is such a big problem. I don't imagine we'll reach all of them, but if enough people think about this kind of behaviour and risks, the situation will get better. Otherwise, the situation will deteriorate pretty fast,” he added.
The outbreaks are mainly linked to unofficial student parties, and not usually to teaching, said Carlson. Simon Edström, chairman of the Swedish Student Association, told the same press conference that the association “condemns all social events that do not follow the Public Health Agency's recommendations”.
He said events did not necessarily have to be cancelled, but that they should be held in a corona-safe way. According to Sweden's guidelines, that would include not organising events of more than 50 people, and for example ensure that attendees are able to keep a distance and have access to hand disinfectant.
“We think it is better to have as corona-safe and well-thought-out events as possible, to decrease the number of parties where rules are not being followed, for example dormitory parties,” Edström added.