Sweden’s schools for over-16s shift back to remote learning

Sweden's upper secondary schools are again closing their doors to students from Monday until after Christmas.

Sweden's schools for over-16s shift back to remote learning
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Public Health Agency director-general Johan Carlson. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

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.”

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.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.