Sweden is still in vacation mode. Many shops are closed. Even in Stockholm the streets are noticeably empty. But that will change in two weeks at the latest. Then everyday school and day-care life will begin again for almost 1.7 million boys and girls in Sweden. Mikael Kalmenstam is already preparing for it. He is the rector of Björngårdskola in Södermalm, Stockholm. This Thursday he is on a retreat with a few colleagues. The new school year is planned. Nevertheless, I look back: "There were times when 98 percent of my emails were about Corona." One had to prepare in any case. Also for a closure of the school. In the end, however, the government decided differently: only grades ten to twelve at high schools were switched to distance learning. All other schools and kindergartens remained open.
And how is the balance for his school? "Very good," says Kalmenstam. "Especially in May, the classes were as full as never before. Not a single case of illness even among the staff." Only at the beginning of the corona pandemic did many parents leave their children at home, "says the 42-year-old. But that also subsided over time.
Björngårdsskola in Stockholm is a good example of thousands of schools in Sweden. The virus has changed little everyday school life in the country. Concerts, school meetings, swimming lessons, graduation parties - all of that has been canceled. But mask requirement or small group lessons? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. The children sat at their four-table tables as usual, even during Corona times. How does this fit in with the studies that found that children have a similarly high viral load as adults or that school closings are the most effective means of preventing the spread of the pandemic.
"A very low number of cases of illness"
In Sweden one comes to a different conclusion. The open schools are seen as a great success of the Swedish special route. They not only contributed to both parents being able to continue their careers - which is the rule and not the exception in Sweden. Above all, however, the children from disadvantaged families have kept their regular school life - including free school meals in Sweden.
The first studies on the spread of Covid-19 in Swedish children and adolescents are now available. One comes from the Karolinska Institute (KI) in Stockholm. Helena Hildenwall, a researcher at the KI, and other colleagues analyzed all cases of children treated with Covid-19 in the Stockholm region. There were a total of 63 confirmed cases. The study comes to the conclusion: "There was only a very low number of cases of illness in children - despite the daycare centers and schools that were open."
Another study comes to similar results, comparing Sars-CoV-2 infections in children in Sweden and Finland. Between the ages of 0 and 19, a total of 584 cases were counted in Finland and 1,124 in Sweden by mid-June. In terms of population, that equates to 49 cases in Sweden and 52 in Finland.
So there were a similar number of illnesses in both countries. But the crucial difference: Finland had its schools from March 18th to March 13th. Closed in May, in Sweden they were open. The authors of the study, which were commissioned by the two national health authorities, come to the conclusion that the closure of schools has done little. Children only "played a small role in the spread of the virus". In any case, however, the negative effects of school closings are to be rated higher than the positive effects that such a measure has in containing the pandemic.