The measure is intended to pull a “brake” on the spread of infection in Sweden, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told a joint press conference with Education Minister Anna Ekström and Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson on Thursday.
They said it was “necessary” in order to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus across Sweden. A total of 272,643 people have tested positive in Sweden to date, including 7,007 fatalities and 3,364 intensive care admissions.
The decision means that upper secondary schools (generally teenagers aged around 16-18 in Sweden) will have to quickly switch back to online teaching for the rest of the semester, from December 7th until January 6th.
Exceptions will be made if necessary, for example for practical modules that can't be postponed, exams that can't be held online, school for teenagers with special needs, and teeangers taking language introduction classes.
Addressing students, Löfven said: “I trust that you are wise, and understand that this is not an extended Christmas break. It's not a go-ahead for parties with friends, you are still in school and should study. I want to urge all parents to speak with your children about how important it is to follow the recommendations.”
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Carlson said it was the Public Health Agency that took the initiative to recommend the closure of schools for older teenagers.
“The aim is to reduce crowding, for example on public transport. But we are also seeing a large spread of infection in this age bracket,” said Carlson, adding that they would review the situation after Christmas but that there were no immediate plans to extend remote learning beyond January 6th.
Sweden closed schools for the same age group in spring, but reopened them before the autumn term started. A nationwide closure of schools for younger children was never imposed, although rules were changed to make it easier for individual schools to move to online learning in the event of a local outbreak or a shortage of teachers.
The Public Health Agency is expected to present new health and safety guidelines for the Christmas holidays next week. For now, everyone in Sweden is urged to stay at home and get a coronavirus test if they are at all sick (even a mild cough or sore throat), practice social distancing, work from home if possible and follow good hygiene practices. In addition, people in all of Sweden are subject to stricter recommendations which may vary depending on where you live. Read more about the local rules here.