Sweden is to shut upper secondary schools from next week as it tries to control a surge in coronavirus infections that has led to 209 deaths in the past two days alone.
From next Monday, students at the country’s upper secondary schools, or gymnasiums, will no longer be taught on-site, but will instead study online from home.
“You are going to need to change the way you are getting educated. I fully understand that this isn’t easy, but in the current situation, it is necessary,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said on Thursday (Friday NZT).
He warned students to stay home and avoid contact with those outside their households.
“I trust that you are wise and understand that this is not an extended Christmas break,” he said. “It’s not a go-ahead for parties with friends. You are still in school and should study.”
Sweden’s second wave came later than other countries in Europe, prompting its state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell to voice hopes that immunity might be bringing some protection.
But over the past month, infection, hospitalisation and death rates have once again soared far above those of the country’s Nordic neighbours. The country has registered more than 1000 coronavirus deaths in the past month alone – more than Finland, Norway and Iceland combined have registered over the entire pandemic.
In a press release, the government said upper secondary students would shift to online teaching from December 7 until January 6.
Upper secondary schools for pupils with special needs will not need to shift online, and students will still be able to visit their schools for national exams, some other exams, and introductory programmes.
Johan Carlson, the agency’s director, stressed it had been the agency rather than the government that had taken the decision, countering recent media claims the government is starting to seize control of the county’s coronavirus strategy.
Carlson said the move was intended to reduce crowding on public transport.
“The main purpose is to reduce crowding in society as a whole, for example in public transport. But we also have a significant level of infection in this age group,” he said.
He hoped upper secondary students would be able to return to classrooms after New Year.
Sweden kept primary and lower secondary schools open during the northern hemisphere spring, a decision that has been copied by most other European countries during the second wave of infections that began after the summer.
Upper secondary schools and universities, however, were shifted to distance learning on March 17, only reopening again in August for the start of the autumn term.
At the same time as announcing the decision to move to distance learning, Sweden’s Public Health Agency changed its guidelines to allow the country’s municipalities to reinstate local bans on visits to care homes if necessary to protect residents.
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