Today, most of the containment restrictions and measures imposed will be lifted. It is of course a huge relief that the country, after two years of pandemic, can at last start returning to normal. For one thing, it means that everyone who’s been working from home can return to their places of work, and this includes the Karolinska Institutet staff.
Our teachers and students will also feel the change, as the exhortation to run courses remotely whenever possible is also being rescinded today. We will gradually be returning to on-campus teaching and I really look forward to seeing many more people milling around both Flemingsberg and Solna. Digital solutions have their definite advantages and over these past two years we’ve learnt an enormous amount and grown in terms of both technique and attitude when it comes to meeting remotely. It’s effective, has decided environmental benefits and makes it possible for us to meet and converse in a smarter, simpler way than before.
But… Nothing beats meeting in person.
The Swedish Public Health Agency has published information on the changes that will now be made and what they will mean in practice – and on what we still need to bear in mind. For instance, we must continue to take special measures in health and social care to protect the most vulnerable and, equally importantly, not let up on our personal responsibilities: to stay at home if you are sick, to avoid exposing others to unnecessary risk, to have a booster jab when required, and so on.
This applies especially to those of us in close contact with the health and social care services. Many of our students are or will be on placements and therefore in contact with vulnerable people. The same goes for all those with some kind of combined appointment that involves both clinical work and a teaching or research position at KI.
The virus has mutated, as we know, and several variants have flared up over the past two years – and will very probably continue to do so. We need to be prepared for the possibility of a sudden change in situation, as the Swedish Public Health Agency’s director general Karin Tegmark Wisell has underlined in a series of interviews recently. It is also why we at KI have spent the past year working hard to build preparedness for future serious health threats, not least through the establishment of our Health Emergency and Pandemic Science Centre.
It is also worth noting that a great many people around the world are unvaccinated. Here, infection will continue unabated, and with more widespread infection comes a greater risk of viral mutation.
The global dimension
The global dimension is incredibly important and the fact that viruses and diseases recognize no national borders has been made all too clear during this pandemic. This is a lesson we must take with us from the past two years. It’s also imperative that we call attention to the fact that the wealthier parts of the world need to take greater responsibility to ensure a more equitable distribution of medical resources, healthcare, drugs and, not least, vaccines. You can find out more about this in the articles I’ve helped to write this past year (see the links at the end).
The pandemic isn’t over!
Dialogue with students
This said, it is a great feeling that we’re entering a new phase in which we can socialise, work, study and live again without all the restrictions that the containment of infection necessitated. KI has begun the process of return, a process that must be done gradually, considerately and in dialogue with the staff and students affected. I especially want to state how important it is that we listen to our students, the group at KI who have probably been hardest hit by the measures we have had to take.
This pandemic has created much suffering and put us all to a severe test. As president of Karolinska Institutet I would also like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all of you – students, teachers, researchers, staff – for your input, sacrifices and patience and for taking your responsibilities seriously. A health crisis such as this demonstrates just how valuable medical higher education and research is to society and to how quickly we can adjust when called upon to do so.
A meeting place
But a university is also a meeting place. And it is with keen anticipation that I now look forward to returning to it – and to meeting people for real and in person. We’re approaching our destination and can glimpse the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. But we’ll not let go of the controls and will continue to act prudently, judiciously and responsibly. We must never forget all those who have suffered at the hands of COVID-19. But for now, we must be able to look with hope to the future.
Finally, I remind you again to please regularly check our information on COVID-19 for staff and students on the KI web.
Links to some articles on global perspectives:
Addressing production gaps for vaccines in African countries (WHO Bulletin, Dec 2021)
The battle for COVID-19 vaccines highlights the need for a new global governance mechanism (Nature Medicine, May 2021)