Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced Thursday that high schools would switch to distance learning beginning Monday through early January to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections in the country. Lofven made the announcement at a Stockholm news conference alongside Swedish Education Minister Anna Ekstrom. He said he hoped the move would have a “breaking effect” on the rate of COVID-19 infections. He added it was not intended to extend the Christmas break for students and he said he was putting his trust in them that they would continue to study from home. The distance learning will be in effect until January 6.People walk past shops under Christmas decorations during the novel coronavirus pandemic in Stockholm, Dec. 3, 2020.After a lull during summer, Sweden has seen COVID-19 cases surge over the past couple of months, with daily records repeatedly set. Deaths and hospitalizations have also risen sharply. Meanwhile, earlier Thursday, Swedish State Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told reporters he did not think masks were necessary, just two days after the World Health Organization (WHO) expanded its advice to use masks as part of a comprehensive strategy to combat the spread of COVID-19. Tegnell said that in some situations, masks might be necessary, but that the current situation in Sweden did not require it. He said the evidence for wearing a mask was weak and he believed social distancing was much more important. In its expanded guidelines, the WHO said that where the virus was circulating, people — including children and students age 12 or older — should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms. On Thursday, Sweden reported 6,485 new COVID-19 cases and 35 new virus-related deaths, bringing the nation’s total COVID-19 fatalities to 7,007. 

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