By Wendy Boyd Isacsson and Keith Begg
In Sweden sending your child to school is compulsory and home-schooling is illegal. All children must go to school, even if they or their family members are in a risk group. This scenario continues to play out as the Delta variant endangers children’s health and ICUs across the world are seeing staggering increases in the number of children being admitted with chronic respiratory problems.
What changes have been made in the Swedish classroom in light of international research on the dangers that the Delta variant poses to children?
As children in Sweden are due to return to the classrooms no obligatory physical changes to schools have been enforced by the government nor the Swedish Public Health Authority (FHM) to make schools safe. A few smaller timetable changes and increased hand hygiene, such as signs to wash your hands and the use of sanitizers in the classrooms (which might prevent the spread of droplets, but will have no effect on aerosol spread infections) are the only tangible differences you will notice in a Swedish schools from the norm.
Mask wearing in Swedish schools is considered totally unnecessary in educational settings. Class screening is not required at all. Schools are advised to assist regional authorities with tracing infections at schools but it is sporadic at best translating to “stay at home” if your child feels unwell. The Swedish COVID response fails to address and prevent asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread and so as the autumn school term begins it is causing great concern amongst parent(s) and teachers alike. The FHM still insists that COVID is a droplets infection, when all the scientific data contradicts their findings.
During most of 2020 children were still forced to go to school even if the rest of the family was infected with COVID. Presymptomatic spread or even asymptomatic spread in children has been discussed as highly unlikely by the FHM. They have also insisted that children do not usually get seriously ill from COVID, nor do they suffer from its long-term effects and are not drivers of the virus. In fact one scientist who has dominated the media debate in Sweden, Agnes Wold has claimed that children are immune to the virus.
Even though Sweden`s State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell in a rare turnabout, admitted that he was wrong and that children are in fact the driving force in spreading the virus, there are still no requirements to provide ventilation, screening of schools and of course no mask mandates. The FHM has also insisted that school staff do not get infected by COVID more than other professions which has been debunked by a number of international studies with the teaching profession showing amongst the highest levels of infections of all working groups!
The FHM has engaged in spreading scientific disinformation to the people in Sweden, especially around the issues of children and COVID which continues to have dangerous consequences as more than 200 children from Stockholm alone have been diagnosed with long-term COVID sequelae. The UK estimates that between 13-15% of children might suffer from longCovid. 234 Swedish children have contracted MIS-C which is six times higher per capita than in Germany (updated 8th April 2021 FHM).
In a procured email from Anders Tegnell who had written to his equivalent in Finland, Mika Salminen his intentions were made clear; that keeping schools open in Sweden would lead to faster herd-immunity. Several Swedish scientists have also advocated using children to spread the virus in society. After these emails were released (under the Freedom of Information Act), many COVID related emails were subsequently deleted by Anders Tegnell on the state servers. Most of these have never been retrieved. Protecting the economy has been one of the major facets of the Swedish strategy, but it has had detrimental effects with almost 15.000 deaths and tens of thousands suffering from long-term COVID.
If children don’t get seriously ill it is understandable that open schools are desirable. However, alarming reports have shown that children can be adversely affected by the Delta variant leading to; a reduction in the grey matter of the brain, organ damage and memory problems which are now flooding into scientific journals providing one stark conclusion; that a drastic change in strategy from mitigation to elimination is urgently needed in Swedish schools.
Ia Almström is one of thousands of mothers across Sweden fighting to protect their children by keeping them safe at home. However, she is also one of the few who has challenged the state and the authorities which are forcing her to send them to school as the virus rages largely unchecked as the Swedish authorities chose a herd-immunity path.
Up until the middle of summer Sweden had one of the lowest testing rates in the OECD. Masks were never mandated, society remained largely open, and there was no tracing or quarantine. For Ia she refused to stay silent, a move that can have serious repercussions in a society that is largely consensus and conformist based and where the debate is largely polarized
Ia is in a risk group and was gravely concerned that she might contract the virus or that the virus could be spread from her children attending school. As Sweden’s hospitals began to fill up in April of 2020 she took the decision to safeguard her family’s health by keeping her children home from school.
What followed was nothing short of harassment and bullying by the authorities.
“A friend of mine, who works as a teacher in another part of Sweden, messaged me and wrote that the principal of her school had now said that all teachers must start reporting all parents whose children are kept at home for fear of being infected by Corona. I did not believe my ears! What? Reporting unrest in a pandemic!? This teacher thought it was extremely difficult and she did not know what to do.”said Ia Almtröm.
As a mother, a parent who wanted to protect her children during the worst pandemic in living memory, she was now facing fines of 285 SEK (28 Euro) per day per child that would add up to 17,000 SEK (1,700 Euro) per month for safe guarding her children. The school where her children attended acted as a megaphone for the authorities by reporting parent(s) who failed to send their children to school.
The school consistently sent her threatening letters that she would be reported to Child Protection Service and a real fear gripped Ia and many other parents worried about their children being taken away from them.
“Other parents told me that it feels like putting my children on a raft and pushing them out to sea while I myself remain in relative safety. And that is how it felt for me. Personally, I sat at home safely and worked remotely while I would have to force my small children to go to school, risking their health every day. It was simply unimaginable. I needed to protect the children and myself.” said Ia Almström.
One of Sweden’s most prolific media outlets, Dagens Nyheter reported on August 13 that the current spread of infection is now ten times higher than the FHMs worst case autumn scenario. But no new recommendations are being introduced by the Swedish authorities nor the government to protect the health and welfare of school children.
Recently in a vote of no confidence against the leader of the Social Democratic party, Stefvan Löfven every politician wore masks in Parliament (despite most of them already being vaccinated), but they still refuse to enforce or extend the courtesy of mask wearing in schools through mandates. In Albert Einstein’s famous line “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The Swedish government and the FHM continues down its own path, ignoring international scientific findings, and dismissing the concerns of meritorious scientists advocating for change to the Swedish COVID strategy from within. A nervous autumn lies ahead for parent(s) and teachers.
Wendy Boyd Isacsson is a British teacher living and working in Sweden advocating to protect children at school.
Keith Begg is founder of Media Watchdogs of Sweden (MEWAS)