STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s decision to keep schools open during the pandemic resulted in no higher rate of infection among its schoolchildren than in neighbouring Finland, where schools did temporarily close, their public health agencies said in a joint report.
Sweden decided to forego a hard lockdown and keep most schools and businesses open throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, a divisive strategy that set it apart from most of Europe.
Its Public Health Agency has maintained that the negative consequences of a shutdown on the economy and society outweigh the benefits, and says this also applies to schools.
The report, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that during the period of February 24 to June 14, there were 1,124 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among children in Sweden, around 0.05% of the total number of children aged 1-19.
Finland recorded 584 cases in the same period, also equivalent to around 0.05%.
“In conclusion, (the) closure or not of schools had no measurable direct impact on the number of laboratory confirmed cases in school-aged children in Finland or Sweden,” the agencies said in the report, published last week.
The report showed that severe cases of COVID-19 were very rare among both Swedish and Finnish children aged 1 to 19, with no deaths reported. A comparison of the incidence of COVID-19 in different professions suggested no increased risk for teachers.
Children made up around 8.2 percent of the total number of COVID-19 cases in Finland, compared to 2.1 percent in Sweden.
Sweden’s death toll of 5,572, when compared relative to population size, far outstripped those of its Nordic neighbours, although it remains lower than in some European countries that locked down, such as Britain and Spain.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the health agency, who has devised Sweden’s response to the epidemic, has said there is little evidence linking the death toll to the absence of a lockdown, pointing instead to conditions at nursing homes, a decentralised health care system and travel patterns.
Separate studies by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet (KI), an independent medical research institute, and the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and Unicef, showed that Swedish children fared better than children in other countries during the pandemic, both in terms of education and mental health.
WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan urged countries earlier this week not to turn schools into “another political football”, saying they could safely reopen once the virus had been suppressed.
Reporting by Helena Soderpalm, Editing by Niklas Pollard and Raissa Kasolowsky