NORWAY SEEMS TO HAVE ERADICATED the South African strain of the Corona virus that was infecting as many as 100 people a week or more in early March. That’s when it peaked, and there are hardly any signs of it in Norway now.
A total of 769 people in Norway have tested positive to the South African mutation, which was viewed as highly contagious and blamed for worsening the country’s third wave of infection. Only two cases of it were confirmed in early May, however, one in Oslo and one in the northern county og Troms og Finnmark. “That can indicate,” writes public health institute FHI, “that the infection chain of this virus variant has been broken in Norway.”
That’s good news, tied to what appears to be persistent tracking of the strain that hindered its spread. Those testing positive for it are also being hailed for following infection control rules and going straight into quarantine.
NORWAY’S TOTAL NUMBER OF CONFIRMED CORONA CASES rose to 115,194 on Thursday (May 6), up from 114,436 on Wednesday. A total of 2,672 new cases have been registered nationwide during the past seven days, higher than in recent days. The number of patients needing hospitalization rose, too, after several days of decline, landing at 115 on Thursday but still down considerably from last week at this time. The death toll remained at 767. A total of 1,430,384 Norwegians have been vaccinated with at least their first shot, 27 percent of the country’s total population.
OTHER CORONA-RELATED NEWS:
***Norway’s tradition of hosting various summer music festivals around the country is under threat again because of the Corona virus. Organizers of the popular OverOslo festival, featuring magnificent views over the city from its venue in the hills at Grefsen, cancelled the event on Wednesday. So did organizers of the Stavern Festival in the maritime town southwest of the capital: “There was unfortunately no way around” the decision, festival leader Ole Christian Mørk told newspaper VG. The Øya and Palmesus festivals may be scrapped as well, because of ongoing uncertainty over whether they can be held given all the ongoing restrictions on travel, assembly and the serving of food and drink.
***Hopes remained that the huge Norway Cup annual football tournament can still be held in late July. If so, however, it will not be the international event it’s meant to be, with children’s and youth football teams from all world participating. Both the Dana Cup in Denmark and Gothia Cup in Sweden have already been cancelled, but organizers are hoping at least Norwegian teams can meet to compete in Oslo from July 31 to August 7. “We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll be in a situation that will make it possible,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said this week, “but it would have to have a very good infection control regime.” Norway Cup was cancelled last year.
***Norway may soon hold its first “test concerts” with as many as 30,000 people participating in the experiment to monitor infection risk. The state public health institute FHI will carry out Corona tests of all participants, to see whether going to a large concert can be just as safe as watching TV at home. Researchers at FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) are proposing such concerts, with around 5,000 people in the audience at each, to be held in June. There would be no social distancing demands among concert-goers nor would participants have to wear face masks. Plans call for recruiting 30,000 members of the public who’d like to go to a concert. Only half would actually attend the concerts, while the other half would live normally. All both attending and staying home would be tested before and after the concerts are held, allowing researchers to compare how many may become infected with the Corona virus in the control groups and then determine whether attending such concerts increases the risk of infection. It hasn’t been decided where the concerts would be held or who would perform, but they’re likely to be indoor venues in Oslo, where infection has been highest. Those attending will likely be aged 18 to 30 or 40 and all would need to certify that they have no underlying health problems or risk factors. A regional health ethics committe and state health authorities will decide whether the project can proceed.
***Norway’s business and trade minister is quarreling with Oslo’s government leader Raymond Johansen over her government’s plans to allow more businesses to bring in foreign workers. Johansen fears they’ll bring more imported infection with them, while Trade Minister Iselin Nybø claims he’s painting an undeservedly poor picture of foreign workers. Nybø told newspaper Aftenposten that only 1 percent of those testing positive in Oslo have been infected abroad, while Johansen counters that 90 percent of all infection in Oslo involves the British strain that initially came from abroad. She’s concerned about all the businesses who’ve gone months without access to the labour force they need. Johansen counters that the state should mobilize laid-off Norwegians to step in for the foreign workers. Employers and farmers who use cheaper foreign workers contend that’s not always easy.
Oslo has remained mostly closed while other areas of Norway have opened up. Johansen, from the Labour Party, is under pressure to at least allow stores to reopen soon, as merchants complain they’re losing business to stores open just outside the city limits. Johansen is most concerned with keeping infection levels low and under control. Nybø, a member of Norway’s Conservatives-led government, agrees the infection situation means the country must continue to limit entry to Norway as much as possible. “At the same time, the strong restrictions have considerable consequences (on business) and we must try to maintain activity in Norwegian companies in order to preserve jobs.”
***State oil & energy company Equinor was having to deal with Corona infection on board one of its oil platforms in the North Sea on Monday. A worker tested positive onboard the Gullfaks A, sending another 15 workers into quarantine. “The plan is to fly the infected worker to land,” Equinor spokesman Morten Eek told newspaper Bergens Tidende. All other air transport to the platform has been halted because of the infection on board.
***Several organizations are worried Corona infection will spread again after another weekend of parties and large gatherings of people that exceeded regulations, especially in Oslo. The May 1st holiday on Saturday and graduating high school students known as russ contributed to the excessive socializing. Police patrolled gathering places such as the park at St Hanshaugen in Oslo, informing those gathered that their numbers needed to be reduced. In the southern town Mandal, around 600 people including the entire graduating class at Mandal High School were in quarantine Monday after 11 russ tested positive to the Corona virus. The teenagers were disappointed, their families also were quarantined and Mandal’s mayor said he was disappointed over those who took part in “rolling” parties even though Corona had forced cancellation of most weekend events.
“They think only about themselves and not all the others who have (underlying health) problems and are especially afraid of Corona infection,” said Tor Eivind Johansen, leader of Norsk Revmatikerforbund, which helps those with rheumatism. Johansen stressed on NRK’s national radio Monday that contracting Corona can be fatal for many who haven’t yet been vaccinated. The head of Norway’s diabetes federatoin was also worried, and upset. “Most people with diabetes under age 60 have not been vaccinated,” Bjørnar Allgot told NRK. Many are still isolating themselves, he said, for fear of infection.
***Bergen officials opted against easing Corona restrictions on Monday, offering only some relief for children and youth. They’ll be allowed to once again take part in indoor sporting events from Tuesday, including swimming lessons, but social contact otherwise remains strictly limited. “I wish I had good news for everyone, but the situation in Bergen unfortunately doesn’t allow that,” Roger Valhammer of the Labour Party, which leads Bergen’s city government, said at a press conference Monday. He stressed that infection levels in Bergen remained too high and he was disappointed by lots of outdoor gatherings and parties during the weekend and a lack of social distancing. “The big parties we’ve seen are not okay,” said Beate Husa of the Christian Democrats, in charge of health issues in Bergen. “It’s irresponsible.”
***Police have issued NOK 40,000 in fines to a couple in their 60s who refused to stay at a quarantine hotel after arriving back in Bergen from a holiday trip to Spain. They’re charged with violating infection control measures. They claimed they could just as well spend their quarantine time in their own home, but prosecutor Laila Skeide said their “unnecessary” trip abroad did not qualify for them for any exceptions to the hotel quarantine regulation imposed on March 19. The man and wife were thus fined NOK 20,000 each (USD 2,400). So was a man in his 20s from Førde who broke his obligation to remain in isolation after testing positive for the Corona virus. He received several visitors while in isolation at home.
***Norway aims to get more people vaccinated by increasing the interval between the first and second shots. The government is extending it from six to 12 weeks, meaning everyone aged 18-45 will now be offered vaccine five weeks earlier than planned. Health Minister Bent Høie said the government was acting on the recommendation of public health institute FHI. “When we increase the interval, many more people can get vaccinated earlier,” Høie stated in a press release issued Friday afternoon. “That will help hinder both serious illness and death, and contribute towards reducing infection in society.”
It also means more young people will be able to get their first shots beginning in mid- to late July, instead of from late August. Infection has increased most among Nowegians in their 20s and 30s. Earlier vaccinations can also help ward off new infection waves after the summer holidays and when classes resume at high schools, colleges and universities. The new intervals will take effect from May 3 but won’t affect those who’ve already had their first shot and have appointments for their second six weeks later. Those appointments will still be honoured. Those with underlying illnesses or in high-risk groups will also continue to be offered vaccinations six weeks apart.
***Expats in Norway from other European countries must be allowed to re-enter the country, editorialized newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. It was reacting to how the government has suddenly tightened entry rules for those not holding long-term residency permits in Norway, as a means of preventing imported Corona infection. There have been several dramatic cases recently of EU and EEA (European Economic Area) citizens who’ve been living and working in Norway being turned away upon arrival, and sent back to their country of citizenship. The government is now allowing entry or re-entry only to those with permanent residence permits and listed in Norway’s Folkeregister.
That violates Norway’s trade agreement with the EU, claim several legal experts. EEA citizens who live in Norway, they claim, should be treated just the same as Norwegian citizens and permanent residents, and allowed entry. “It’s fine that the government has finally tightened border control,” Aftenposten editorialized, “but the rules must be the same for all. Those who live in the country must be able to re-enter after going through quarantine and testing negative to the virus, whether they’re Norwegian or from other EEA countries.” Justice Minister Monica Mæland, however, showed no sign of remorse or sympathy with those who’ve been turned away when addressing the issue at a press conference this week. She claimed that the new rules have been adequately communicated and are necessary for infection control.
***Corona containment measures are being blamed for ongoing bureaucratic delays in obtaining or renewing residence permits or acquiring citizenship in Norway. It’s now taking as long as 10 months for immigration agency UDI to process citizenship applications even after applicants have finally had all their documents approved by the police – a process that itself took at least another nine months last year. That means thousands of expats finally eligible for dual citizenship probably won’t be able to vote in the upcoming national election in September despite starting what was supposed to be a new “automated” citizenship process early last year.
Now Norwegians themselves are also facing long delays in obtaining or renewing their own passports. Even though Norwegians may finally be able to travel abroad again this summer, many won’t have valid passports because it currently takes months to get a passport appointment. The situation is also jeopardizing expats’ hopes of visiting family abroad if their residence permits are up for renewal. Police officials claim they’re trying to “increase capacity” to process applications, but “we have a large backlog of those who weren’t able to renew their passports last year (when the Corona crisis began),” Lars Blomquist of the passport office in Oslo told newspaper Aftenposten.” Those needing new passports, he said, will just have to follow the police website all the time, in the hopes more appointment slots may be made available.
***Fully vaccinated Norwegians can now have more close contact with others who also are fully vaccinated, Health Minister Bent Høie confirmed on Wednesday, but only in private homes. They’ll still have to observe all the same infection control measures as everyone else when in public, including social distancing and use of face masks. There wasn’t much liberalization of Corona rules at Wednesday’s latest government press conference. Even though vaccines can hinder the spread of infection, Høie claimed there’s still a risk and that’s why those vaccinated can’t have too many privileges while out in public. They can have close contact with those outside high-risk groups, however, so most grandparents can at least once again hug their grandchildren, he said with a smile. He and Justice Minister Monica Mæland stressed that Norway can’t reopen too soon or too quickly. He hopes the government can allow stores, restaurants and some other public places to open during Step 2 of the government’s reopening plan, perhaps sometime in late May.
Mæland also announced stricter entry requirements for everyone arriving in Norway from India, Bangladesh, Iraq, Nepal and Pakistan because of high infection rates in India that can spread to bordering countries. “The situation in India is extremely serious,” Mæland said, raising the risk of imported infection and new virus mutations. All arrivals face mandatory testing and must now spend at least 10 days in a quarantine hotel. Norway, meanwhile, is in talks with Indian authorities over how it can best help the country as it deals with its worst infection crisis so far.
***Retailers in Oslo are “deeply disappointed” by the city government’s decision to keep all stores and shopping centers closed, especially when those in neighbouring towns reopened this week. “When neighbouring communities have reopened for shopping, this distorts competition and increases mobility,” Bjørn Næss of the local retailing association (Oslo Handelsstands Forening) told newspaper Aftenposten. “Many stores are sitting on large inventory, and it’s especially important that seasonal wares can be sold. We are deeply disappointed that the city is still keeping stores and restaurants closed.”
***Around 350 soldiers and civilian employees in Bodø are being mass tested this week after an outbreak of the Corona virus tied to the defense community in the northern Norwegian city. Nine new confirmed cases of the Covid-19 have all been traced to defense forces, with indications the infection was imported. Bodø’s chief medical officer Dr Tor Claudi feared a new infection wave among military personnel.
***Seven Corona-related deaths have been registered in the past 10 days at Akershus University Hospital (Ahus) just northeast of Oslo, reports local newspaper Romerikes Blad. A hospital official declined to comment further on the deaths, but it brings Ahus’ total number of fatalities tied to Covid-19 to 60. There currently are 43 Corona patients admitted at Ahus, down from 70 earlier this spring, when some patients had to be transferred to Oslo University Hospital because of a lack of capacity at Ahus.
***Norway’s state reopening plan can probably proceed, says Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of the state health directorate, since infection levels continue to decline nationwide and the numbers of people vaccinated continue to rise. “We are absolutely going in the right direction,” Nakstad told news bureau NTB on Tuesday. Nakstad’s comments marked the second day in a row with optimistic assessments from state health authorities (see below). Infection has also fallen for the sixth week in a row in Oslo, prompting city government leader Raymond Johansen to roll out his own “gradual” and “cautious” program to reopen the Norwegian capital.
The optimism is also shared by the general public, according to results of a public opinion poll conducted by research firm Opinion. Only 30 percent of those responding think infection rates will rise again, while 40 percent think they’ll keep falling. The remainder think infection levels will remain unchanged. Nora Clausen of Opinion told NTB that all earlier polls have indicated that a majority of the public expected rising infection levels. April’s poll marks the first time that wasn’t the case.
***”Now there’s reason to be optimistic,” Dr Bjørn Guldvog, head of Norway’s state health directorate, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) during the weekend. He noted that infection rates are falling while the numbers of those getting vaccinated are rising. He expects most all Norwegian adults will be fully vaccinated by the end of July. Guldvog, like most other health authorities in Norway, has been cautious about getting Norwegians’ hopes up. They’ve been most keen on encouraging everyone to keep following both state and local infection control measures, with local rules often more restrictive. He made a point of noting that many remain infected around the country. Infection rates have been highest in Oslo and the surrounding area. “But we can look forward to good news in the weeks ahead,” Guldvog told NRK. “We expect to get twice as much vaccine in May than we received in April. At the same time, we see that infection levels nationwide are declining rapidly.” He noted that they’ve been cut in half during the past month in both Oslo and Viken County.
***Police had another busy weekend all over the country, trying to control partying Norwegians who weren’t following Corona containment measures. As many as 1,000 people gathered in the St Hanshaugen Park in Oslo, mostly in small groups but too close together, Brian Skotnes of the Oslo Police District told state broadcaster NRK. They were also violating laws against drinking alcohol outdoors: “It got so bad that police had to break up parties and order people to leave.” Officials have been worried that warmer weather will tempt Norwegians to gather both outdoors and indoors for spring parties. It was still cold and windy this past weekend over much of the country, also in Oslo, but that didn’t stop one group of young people from hanging up balloons, popping open champagne bottles and celebrating a birthday together. State broadcaster NRK ran photos of the empty bottles left behind (external link to NRK’s website).
***Norwegian residents born in other countries
***As expected, Oslo city government officials opted against easing local Corona restrictions this week. “Even though the numbers are going down, we had more than 1,100 new cases of infection in Oslo last week,” said city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party. He said a new evaluation of restrictions will be made next week.
***All Norwegians who have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine will now be offered either Pfizer of Moderna for their second dose. Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine remains suspended in Norway until at least May 10, when a new evaluation of Astra Zeneca is due. “There’s a need to clarify second doses before the evaluation is delivered,” Health Minister Bent Høie stated in a press release on Friday. Around 135,000 people in Norway, most of them health care personnel, had been vaccinated with AstraZeneca before it was removed from the vaccination program because of several cases of serious and even fatal side-effects. Now many are due for a second dose. The government is following advice from Norway’s public health institute FHI, which now recommends that they all receive vaccine from either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
***Despite declining infection levels in Norway, there will be no further easing of national restrictions in connection with Constitution Day celebrations on the 17th of May. Areas with high infection levels will have even stricter local rules than those applying nationwide. “We can’t let up now, therefore the national rules and recommendations in place will also apply on the 17th of May,” government minister Abid Raja confirmed at the government’s press conference on Thursday. Any guests invited home or to holiday homes will be limited to five, everyone must stay at least a meter apart, outdoor arrangements are limited to 20 and to just 10 in rented venues. Most 17th of May parades have already been cancelled, including the largest in Oslo. The capital also has maintained rules that are stricter than the national ones, with only two guests allowed in private homes. All socializing is still discouraged.
***Corona infection levels in Norway have declined by nearly half since they peaked in mid-March, according to new data from public health institute FHI. That raises prospects that the government will be able to proceed with its cautious reopening program in May and restrictions may be eased even Oslo, which has had the highest infection rates. Last week’s 3,717 new confirmed cases of the Corona virus are down 43 percent from the same time last month. FHI also reported that 2.9 percent of everyone tested last week were positive, down from 3.3 percent the week before. Deaths are also down, from 21 during the first week of April to 18 last week and five so far this week.
***Norway’s borders will remain mostly closed until at least May 12, the government announced on Tuesday. Even though the third wave of infection has crested, with the numbers of new Corona virus cases on the decline, government officials think it’s too early to allow unrestricted entry into the country. “We all hope that we’ll continue to see a descending curve in the infection situation,” Justice Minister Monica Mæland stated in a press release. She added that the government is constantly evaluating current restrictions and whether they can be eased. They concluded that the situation remains too fragile to expose Norway to the risk of more imported infection. “We’re still caught in a serious situation,” Mæland said. “It’s therefore necessary to extend the strict entry rules.” Norway’s borders have been closed since January 29 with just a few exceptions.
***After just recently easing Corona restrictions, Bergen is tightening them again. City officials were not pleased that residents flocked to newly reopened outdoor cafés, restaurants, parks and private homes and partied without observing social distancing, especially while standing in line for tables. Bars and restaurants have already been subjected to controls and were ordered to enforce social distancing when customers are waiting in line and place tables farther apart. If crowding continues, warned city government leader Roger Valhammer of the Labour Party, they’ll be forced to close again. Stricter rules were also directed at children and youth, with all public swimming pools, amusement parks, bingo parlours, bowling alleys and other places that attract youngsters closed again. The city also reduced the number of guests allowed in private homes back down to two.
***Public health institute FHI confirmed that Norway will receive an extra 1.18 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of July. A total of nearly 2 million doses will arrive by the end of August, meaning that “everyone will be vaccinated much earlier” than expected, according to Geir Bukkholm of FHI. The extra doses will also help offset the loss of AstraZeneca doses if they are permanently removed from Norway’s vaccination program because of some serious side-effects. The government recently postponed a decision on the use of AstraZeneca because of how removal would slow Norway’s recovery from the Corona crisis. Norwegian officials have, meanwhile, declined an offer from Russian officials to receive deliveries of their Sputnik vaccine but only because Norway isn’t buying its vaccines directly but rather through the EU, which hasn’t yet approved Sputnik for its program.
***Norwegian police were busy all over the country during the weekend, as the state’s first phase of re-opening prompted lots of parties that were noisy and exceeded limits on guests allowed in private homes. Warm spring weather also led to outdoor gatherings where social distancing rules weren’t followed. State broadcaster NRK reported Sunday that police handed out dozens of citations and fines tied to violations of Corona containment measures. The government started the first step of its reopening program on Friday but it still contains lots of restrictions.
In Oslo, police broke up parties at Majorstua, Bekkelaget and Vindern, among other places, and fined a total of 33 people mostly in their 20s. Other parties were halted in Trøndelag, Molde, Kristiansund, Bergen, Stord, Kirkenes, Hammerfest, Alta and Troms. In Sørlandet along the southern coast, where the weather was especially sunny and warm, partying started in the afternoon and continued after bars and restaurants had to stop serving alcohol at 10pm. Police responded to complaints in Kristiansand, Grimstad, Arendal, Flekkefjord and Farsund. In Vestfold and Telemark the partying involved large gatherings of cars with festivities going on around them. Outdoor cafés and restaurants, especially those along waterfronts, were packed in Bergen, Arendal and many other coastal cities after they were allowed to open and pour drinks until 10pm. Oslo and several cities in Viken County, however, have continued their shutdowns because virus infection levels are still high.
***Norway was relieved by news Friday that it will be getting twice as many vaccine doses as expected in July. Pfizer will be delivering as many as 1.5 million doses, instead of the 710,000 expected. The news comes just as the Norwegian government continues to deliberate whether it should resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine (which has been linked to serious effects) or follow the state public health institute’s recommendation to remove it from Norway’s state vaccination program. Another 510,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are also expected in July, meaning that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be needed after all. “This is very good news, and very good in terms of securing operations (of the vaccination program in Norway),” Geir Bukholm of the state public health institute FHI told state broadcaster NRK. Extra doses of the Pfizer vaccine are also expected in June.
***No one is being fined after a defiant group hug at a demonstration against Corona restrictions in Oslo last weekend. It attracted around 200 people who criticized health authorities and defiantly burned faced masks, but police claimed it was in line their democratic rights. The decision comes shortly after Prime Minister Erna Solberg was fined NOK 20,000 because 13 of her family members gathered to mark Solberg’s 60th birthday at a dinner in Geilo that Solberg herself couldn’t attend. Police nonetheless decided against fining any of the demonstrators even though their numbers exceeded local limits and they rejected social distancing.
“The arrangement was a political demonstration,” Harald Nissen of the Oslo Police District told state broadcaster NRK, and thus not subject to Corona containment measures. A law professor at the University of Tromsø confirmed that it’s judicially difficult to deny anyone the right to demonstrate peacefully, even during a pandemic. More demonstrations are planned in the weeks ahead, even after the deaths of at least two people after an illegal gathering at Gran in Hadeland late last month. All attending also opposed Corona restrictions. At least a dozen others who attended the event have tested positive to the virus. Many aren’t cooperating with local authorities trying to track the infection and warn others who’ve been in contact with the infected.
***Health authorities are now reporting a “sinking infection trend” around Norway, as the spread of the Corona virus declined in many areas. The number of confirmed cases last week was down 6 percent from the week before and down 19 percent from the week before that. Public health institute FHI reported that 3.3 percent of the 144,496 people tested last week were positive. That’s also much lower than during the Easter holidays. Fully 72 percent of all infection, however, has been found in Oslo and its surrounding Viken County, as calls escalated that those areas should be allocated the largest numbers of vaccine doses.
***Faced with a looming shortage of vaccine in Norway, the head of an expert group studying Corona’s economic impact is urging an extension of the period between the first and second shots. That would allow more Norwegians to get their first shot, and that can help prevent the spread of infection. Steinar Holden, a professor of economics at the University of Oslo, leads the government’s panel that’s evaluating the social and economic consequences of the Corona pandemic. He was responding Wednesday to news this week that Norway likely won’t be receiving an expected 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in June (see below) because of concerns over its side-effects. Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, meanwhile, remains under suspension because of similar concerns.
“It will be even more important that the vaccine we do have is used in the most efficient manner,” Holden told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday. Oslo, meanwhile, is already allowing for six weeks between shots for those in low-risk categories, up from two- to three-week intervals earlier in the year when elderly Norwegians at higher risk were being vaccinated. “Studies show you can get good protection from just the first dose,” Holden said. Holden is also urging state officials to allocate more vaccine to areas with high infection and less to those with low infection rates. That’s music to the ears of Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen, who called for more vaccine for Oslo on Wednesday. Oslo has had Norway’s highest infection rates and is thus among areas, Holden notes, where there’s more risk of residents becoming sick or even dying than elsewhere in the country.
***Problems with the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine may delay completion of Norway’s state vaccination program by as long as eight to 12 weeks, state health authorities confirmed on Tuesday. That means young Norwegians may not be able to get their shots until well after the summer holidays. “It will slow the vaccine tempo if the vaccine doesn’t arrive,” Line Vold of the state public health institute FHI said at a press conference Wednesday. Around a million doses of the J&J vaccine (also called Janssen in Europe) were expected to arrive in Norway in June. If the troubled AstraZeneca vaccine remains on suspension, there will be “considerable” delays in the vaccination program, Vold said. Prime Minister Erna Solberg seemed to downplay the news Tuesday that Johnson & Johnson is delaying the introduction of its vaccine in Europe after it was connected to blood clots and internal bleeding in some users in the US. Such serious side-effects are what also prompted the AstraZeneca suspension in Norway, even though it remains approved for use by the European Medicines Agency.
***Long lines formed at the Covid-19 testing station in the northern city of Bronnøysund on Tuesday after an outbreak of the virus at a construction site. At least 32 people were confirmed infected and they had lots of close contacts, setting off alarms in the city with a population of only around 8,000. “This is dramatic, children are testing positive, too,” the local mayor, Eilif Trælnes of the Center Party, told state broadcaster NRK. “There’s enormous pressure on our testing station.” The infection was traced to the building site of the new state registry office (Brønnøysundsregistrene), and workers for its building firm Veidekke. All of Brønnøy municipality, which extends beyond the city limits, went into lockdown as of midnight Monday.
***The city of Steinkjer in Northern Trondelag was under lockdown this week after 12 residents tested positive for a new California mutation of the Corona virus. It’s led to a major outbreak in Steinkjer of the mutation that’s believed to be 20 percent more contagious than the original Covid-19 strain. Three cases of it have been registered in Norway earlier in the counties of Viken, Vestland and Oslo. A total of 36 people have tested positive for Covid-19 during the current outbreak in the municipality of around 22,000 residents where infection had been very low until now. State broadcaster NRK reported that around 2,500 people in Steinkjer are in quarantine.
***Corona-related restrictions are being eased in 55 municipalities around Norway and more may be added to the list. There haven’t been many signs of a rise in post-Easter infection, according to the state public health institute FHI, and the numbers of new confirmed Corona cases are now declining. Officials are thus already letting some restrictions run out on their expiry dates this week in 19 municipalities of the large Viken County, six municipalities in Vestfold and Telemark and around the Haugesund area, for example. Officials in Halden, which runs along Norway’s southern border to Sweden, are also reopening stores and several other public places even though nearby Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad remain mostly under shutdown. So do Oslo, Asker, Bærum, Drammen and Moss, all of which are expected to remain under the strictest measures in the country. The government was planning to announce more details regarding specific regulations later this week.
***Even strict Labour government leaders in Oslo are now arguing in favour of allowing vaccinated residents to visit one another, travel and use public transport. Opposition politicians want to go futher and open up stores, restaurants and other activities to those who can confirm immunity or vaccinations. “FHI (Norway’s public health institute) reported during Easter that those who are vaccinated don’t infect others,” Anne Rygg, leader of the Conservatives’ bloc on the Oslo City Council, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “That must mean that they should be able to move freely in society. It would be a good way to begin reopening the city.” City government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party isn’t so sure, noting it would give some people preferential treatment and pose ethical dilemmas. As more and more people get vaccinated, he thinks the problem will solve itself, with many restrictions due to ease or disappear this summer. Norway’s overall “R-tallet,” which charts how many people one person with Corona can infect others, also fell to 0.86 heading into the weekend. Oslo continues to have the highest level of infection in Norway.
***Police in Nordland are dropping a case against eight Labour Party politicians who gathered for a party of their own in a Bodø hotel room last month. The gathering didn’t violate national Corona containment measures, prosecutors concluded, even though Bodø itself had just recently tightened its anti-infection rules. The decision to drop the case came on the same day that police in southern Norway announced they were fining Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, after her husband invited 12 other family members to a dinner in Geilo to celebrate her 60th birthday. That put them over the limit of 10 at the time but only Solberg herself was fined, even though she couldn’t attend the party because of an eye infection. The Labour gathering, which included Labour’ deputy leader Bjørnar Skjæran, was found to have fallen outside rules against gathering and drinking alcohol. It had already been dropped by local police once before, but reopened on the request of state prosecutors. Both Skjæran and other participants were questioned and he has apologized for joining the “embarrassing” party, held after the Nordland Labour chapter’s annual meeting. He and all the others have now avoided fines that could have amounted to at least NOK 10,000.
***Vaccination tempo is rising in Norway, despite suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and now calls are going out to allow top officials to get vaccinated even though their age groups haven’t yet come up in the queue. “Give (Prime Minister Erna) Solberg & Co vaccine,” read the headline on an editorial in Norway’s biggest newspaper, Aftenposten, recently after some top aides to government ministers were infected as was Oil Minister Tina Bru. “Good crisis leadership is critical, but Solberg hasn’t been given priority in the queue,” editorialized Aftenposten, nor has Health Minister Bent Høie, public health institute (FHI) leader Dr Camilla Stoltenberg or either of the two top leaders of the state health directorate, Dr Bjørn Guldvog and Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad. “It’s fine to maintain that politicians shouldn’t have privileges (something Solberg has experienced first-hand) but it’s also important to have leaders who won’t go down for the count. If it makes it more fair, let opposition party leaders be vaccinated, too.”
***Even if Norway starts re-opening, Oslo residents likely face ongoing restrictions. Infection levels in the capital remain high, and Oslo’s strict city government leader Raymond Johansen doesn’t see much relief any time soon. “We’re far from any reopening,” Johansen told news bureau NTB after Prime Minister Erna Solberg revealed her government’s tentative reopening plans in Parliament this week. Solberg herself confirmed during her address that local restrictions will take precedence over any national easing of the state government’s rules and recommendations. Johansen has no plans to propose any reopening plans this week or next. “It’s wise that the government hasn’t set any concrete dates for easing various measures,” Johansen said. He doesn’t see much chance for a reopening until infection declines considerably and lots more residents get vaccinated. Much more vaccine is expected to be delivered over the next several weeks, though, and the city is moving ahead with its vaccination program. The government’s goal is to vaccinate everyone over age 18 by the end of July.
***Norway surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases of the Corona virus on Wednesday, a dubious distinction that confirms a recent rise in infection levels. It seems to have levelled off, however, and reaction to Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s plans to control infection and gradually ease restrictions was generally favourable. Jonas Gahr Støre, leader of the Labour Party and the opposition in Parliament, was the first to respond to Solberg’s address to Parliament on Wednesday. He thanked the prime minister and noted that “we all share the hope” that the Corona crisis will soon ease. “People are exhausted but patient,” Støre said, noting that even if Solberg’s four-step reopening plan for Norway can proceed as normal, Norwegians still face many more weeks of restrictions on everyday life.
Støre went on to claim, though, that the Norwegian government “must work to acquire more vaccine,” ward off a fourth wave by improving border control, increase testing capacity and improve programs to address new mental health problems among both adults and children. Member of Parliament Trond Helleland, who leads the parliamentary delegation for Solberg’s Conservative Party, responded that Norway has done better than most other countries during the Corona crisis. The main goal now, he said, is to provide more predictability and offer real hope that some normality will return during the summer.
***Never before has Bærum registered so many confirmed cases of the Corona virus as on Tuesday (April 6). The affluent area just west of Oslo is seeing much more infection within the age group 10-19, and among children. All day care centers were closed on Tuesday but were reopening at the “red alert” level on Wednesday. Schools have been closed with only home instruction offered to everyone over the fifth grade since March 18. Infection has risen nonetheless, with 68 new cases logged on Tuesday and 449 during the past two weeks. That’s the highest level since the pandemic began and it comes even after fewer residents tested themselves during the long Easter holiday weekend. Top health officials are tracking infection developments closely this week, after the holiday period, to determine the need for ongoing Corona containment measures.
***Health Minister Bent Høie is worried infection will now increase after the Easter holidays, just like it did after summer, Christmas, New Year and winter school holidays in February. It’s likely that national Corona containment measures will continue beyond next week, when they were supposed to end. “We’ve had some positive developments during Easter,” Høie said on Monday, but added that fewer people were tested during the holiday period that began last Thursday and continued through Monday. He urged everyone with even the slightest symptoms to get tested this week. “It’s important in general, but now it’s extra important when we need the best possible overview over the (Corona) situation,” Høie said, as Norway approached 100,000 confirmed cases of the virus. Prime Minister Erna Solberg is due to report to Parliament this week on her plans for eventually re-opening Norway, which restrictions will need to stay in place, and for how long.
***There’s hope that Norway’s third wave of Corona infection will soon be cresting, says Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of the state health directorate, after detecting declines or at least stability in new numbers of confirmed cases. He worries, however, about prospects for spring parties and other social contact after the Easter holidays. As the weather gets warmer “it will be easier to meet outdoors,” Nakstad told news bureau NTB. That’s better than indoors, he notes, “but we fear there will be too much socializing within age groups where infection levels are still high. That can quickly lead to major outbreaks, because the virus mutations that dominate in Norway and the rest of the world now are considerably more contagious than before.”
There already were signs of social gatherings during the Easter holidays, with families and even large groups of young people seen gathering around campfires along skiing trails or outside hytter (cabins) in popular winter sports areas. Restrictions against all social arrangements and having guests at home remain in force until mid-April.
***”It’s an Easter miracle,” contends Dr Preben Aavitsland of Norway’s public health institute FHI. He was referring to new studies in the US that show how both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines not only protect those vaccinated from becoming infected by the Corona virus but also prevent them from spreading it. “This is very positive,” said Aavitsland, a soft-spoken man from Norway’s southern coast (Sørlandet) who’s become a familiar face and voice in Norwegian media. “Since those vaccinated can only to a small degree be infected, they they can’t infect others eithers,” he told state broadcaster NRK as the long Easter holidays were beginning this week. “We can now remove those vaccinated from the portion of the population who can contribute to the pandemic.”
The studies from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) examined data based on the vaccination of 4,000 American health care workers. Just one dose of the vaccines offered 80 percent protection after two weeks or more, and 90 percent after the second dose. The studies were done in cooperation with others conducted in Great Britain and Israel. Aavitsland added that as more and more Norwegians are vaccinated, the need for all the national rules and regulations now restricting daily life can be reduced, some of them this spring. “This gives hope that we can soon put the pandemic behind us,” he told NRK, also writing on social media that “the Easter miracle came early this year.”
***All Norwegians over age 18 can now expect to be vaccinated by mid-July, according to the public health institute FHI. That confirms the government’s long-held expectations that Norway will be getting back to normal during the course of the summer. Geir Bukholm of FHI, which is responsible for Norway’s vaccination program, now expects “only a short delay” of around two weeks in FHI’s vaccination calendar. Most Norwegians in the age group 18-44 will probably also be fully vaccinated by August because they’re slated to receive the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. It has said that around 52,000 doses will be delivered in April, much less than the 310,000 expected but Bukholm said he’s confident the entire shipment will show up. “We haven’t received any indications that the rest won’t be delivered,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Tuesday afternoon.
Vaccinations will continue through the summer holidays, Bukholm said, adding that he hopes everyone will nonetheless accept the vaccination appointments they’re offered. He and other state officials were disappointed when some Norwegians declined vaccinations this week because they had other plans during the Easter holidays, even at a time when Corona infection keeps rising. FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) has factored resumed use of the AstraZeneca vaccine into its program calculations. The current suspension of AstraZeneca following serious side-effects in some of those injected with it is expected to last for five weeks. Even if that’s extended, Bukholm doesn’t expect it will delay the program by more than a few weeks.
***Public health institute FHI has complained that several international airlines are hindering their efforts to track infection among passengers on board the same flights. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the airlines include Wizz Air, Delta Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines and Pegasus. FHI filed an official report of concern with the state health directorate, in which FHI wrote that most airlines are helpful and willing to help FHI track down passengers who may have been exposed to Corona infectin. “Unfortunately there are some who never reply to our inquiries or reply much too late,” FHI’s complaint read.
***State airports operator Avinor reported that a total of 8,663 people flew to international destinations from Norwegian airports during the weekend, even though they face hotel quarantine upon return at their own expense. Most still wanted to take advantage of Norway’s long five-day Easter holiday that officially begins on Thursday. Many took off early, including a couple in their 70s who were heading, they told state broadcaster NRK, as usual to the Canary Islands for sunshine and warmth. They didn’t want to be interviewed on camera, though, by NRK, which had a reporting crew Norway’s main gateway airport OSL Gardermoen as the holiday week began. Others interviewed had moved to Norway from abroad and wanted to fly back to their homelands to visit family.
This week also marks a major holiday- or pre-holiday period for many Norwegians from the Middle East. The Persian New Year Nowrus was celebrated last weekend and soon comes Muslims’ fasting period of Ramadan, with its Id celebrations on May 12. In Norway, all mosques, churches and other places of worship are either closed or services have been cancelled. Others checking in for flights were tempted by low airfares, including one man from Poland who works in Norway and said he hadn’t seen his children since last fall. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that others feel pressure from family abroad to return home to visit elderly parents, for example.
All such travel is likely to be considered “unnecessary” by Norwegian authorities and therefore subject to mandatory Corona testing and strict quarantine regulations when they land back in Norway. That’s because of the high risk of more imported infection: A recent survey by the state health directorate, for example, showed that 12 percent of all passengers landing in Norway from Pakistan tested positive to the Corona virus. State airports operator Avinor noted that around 2,000 people flew to Poland, around 1,000 to Germany and around 1,000 to the Netherlands. An estimated 500 flew to Spain, with Avinor noting that total airline passenger traffic was down 96 percent from Easter of 2019, the last such holiday period before the Corona crisis began.
***A large annual gathering of partying high school graduates known as russ has been cancelled. More than 15,000 had already bought tickets for Landstreff Stavanger, traditionally held in the amusement park Kongeparken, and organizers claimed in a press release Monday (March 29) that they had kept hoping they could hold the huge event. The Corona situation and its associated restrictions made that impossible, they claimed. It’s the second year in a row that the annual russ event has been cancelled because of the pandemic. All who have purchased tickets are eligible for refunds.
***Lørenskog, located northeast of Oslo, has now registered the highest infection rate in the country, according to new numbers from public health institute FHI: 890 infected per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. Haugesund on Norway’s west coast came in second, with 859.3 infected during the same period. There’s also still a high rate of infection in Drammen and there’s been another death at the hospital in Østfold.
***Authorities are opening an investigation into an unusually high rate of infection and death at the Stabæktunet nursing home in Bærum, reports local newspaper Budstikka. It started with an outbreak that left 36 elderly residents infected, and 10 later died from Covid-19.
***Norway will maintain its suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine until at least April 15. Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the state public health institute FHI, said Friday that she and her colleagues need more time to examine reports on possible side-effects of the vaccine, some of them serious and even fatal. FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 11, after six Norwegians who’d been injected with it developed blood clots and internal hemorrhaging. Four have since died, and doctors treating three of them at the national hospital in Oslo reported they’d found a link between the vaccine and what made them so sick. All were under age 55. Stoltenberg said she and her colleagues want to further probe use and worrisome side-effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine and others in various age groups.
The suspension has slowed the tempo of the entire national vaccination program that FHI administers, because of a lack of other vaccines to replace it. If AstraZeneca is once again offered, she added, it probably will also be reserved for older age groups.
***Fully 10 percent of all Norwegian diplomats stationed abroad have been infected by the Corona virus. Norway’s foreign ministry confirmed the number to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) this week, which compares to just 1.5 percent of residents of Norway being infected. Some of the Norwegian diplomats have also been evacuated from their posts and brought home to Norway in order to receive medical treatment, according to ministry spokesperson Trude Måseide. The situation has been demanding, because many of the diplomats are living and working in countries with high infection rates, and with poorly developed health care systems. That’s now prompted Norwegian officials to allow diplomats and their families to travel home to Norway to be vaccinated if they can’t get vaccinated where they’re stationed.
Some diplomats, though, are stationed in countries with a higher vaccination tempo than Norway. “I came from the US to Israel in September last year, and it was a big difference,” veteran Norwegian diplomat Kåre Aas told DN. He was Norway’s ambassador to the US for several years and now holds the same post in Tel Aviv, where diplomats were included in the country’s massive vaccination program: “In the course of three months they (the Israelis) have vaccinated 5.3 million of the population of roughtly 9 million,” Aas told DN. He was fully vaccinated in January, adding that “it was really a privilege to be included in their national vaccination campaign.”
***Another Norwegian municipality is cracking down on the mobility of its residents. Østre Toten in Innland County wants everyone to stay home through the Easter holidays because of an increase in Corona virus infection, especially the British mutation. The new measures will continue through the Sunday after Easter. “We’re not so far from Viken County and Oslo, where infection is high,” Mayor Bror Helgestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. Local infection is also already worrisome, with around 400 residents currently in quarantine.
The new rules may ruin Easter holidays for many who’d planned to head for the nearby mountains. Østre Toten now requires use of face masks and wants to halt all travel outside of the municipalities borders until at least April 11. Several others areas are also tightening their rules ahead of the Easter holidays, in the hopes they won’t lead to more infection. The popular skiing destination of Trysil doesn’t want anyone to have more than five guests at their holiday homes (hytter), and if they’re coming from Oslo or Viken, only two are allowed. Nord-Aurdal, another popular hytte community in Valdres, is also limiting visitors and only wants one person from each hytte to shop at local grocery stores, with a face mask.
***Finally some good news on the Corona front: For the fifth day in a row, the city of Trondheim hasn’t registered a single new case of the Corona virus. At a time when the rest of the country is seeing rising infection, Norway’s third-largest city with around 200,000 residents seems to buck the trend. “I can hardly believe our numbers, given so much infection elsewhere in the country,” Dr Tove Røsstad, chief medical officer for Trondheim, told state broadcaster NRK. “It’s very nice, but we know this can still turn around.” She’s hoping the locals will continue to be good about avoiding any travel, testing themselves at the slightest suspicion of infection and following measures to stop the spread.
***Norway’s tough Corona restrictions seem to be working, given a slight reduction in reports of new cases and an infection curve that’s starting to flatten out. Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of the state health directorate, however, said the overall picture is mixed. “It looks like infection numbers are flattening out in some areas, but in other areas, they’re rising,” Nakstad told state broadcaster NRK on Monday. The reductions, meanwhile, aren’t enough to prompt health authorities and the government to ease restrictions early. Most now in place are expected to remain in force until mid-April, after the Easter holidays.
Rules may also toughen further, Nakstad warned, with social distancing going from a recommended two meters to a mandatory two meters. Until now, the rules call for Norwegians to remain at least a meter apart from those not living in their own households. Infection rates remain high in Oslo and the surrounding Viken County. They’ve also risen sharply in Ålesund on the northwest coast, prompting a lockdown from Monday. Schools were closing in Tønsberg for everyone in the fifth to 10th grades, with instruction to be conducted digitally instead. Many areas now require face masks for everyone older than 12.
***Police in Geilo have started investigating whether Prime Minister Erna Solberg and/or family members violated her government’s own Corona virus containment measures, when marking her 60th birthay last month. Solberg and family members spent a weekend in the mountain town, and Solberg herself has later admitted that too many of her family members were present in the same room. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) broke the news Thursday night about Solberg’s alleged transgressions. She ended up having to forego a dinner in her honour at a Geilo restaurant because of an eye infection that demanded emergency treatment in Oslo, but 13 family members attended, three more than allowed under both state and local rules. She returned to Geilo in time for take-away sushi in the holiday apartment her family had rented, but that led to another case of too many family members being present: 14.
Solberg has apologized profusely, just like a deputy leader of the Labour Party had to after he and other Labour politicians partied in Bodø last weekend. They were let off the hook because of differences between state and local rules. Solberg and her family, meanwhile, face fines of NOK 10,000 each and NOK 20,000 for whoever is determined to have arranged the two dinner, probably either Solberg or her husband, Sindre Finnes.
***Health authorities fear the number of Corona virus patients needing intensive care will triple over the next four weeks at hospitals in southeastern Norway. That would put “an extreme burden” on health care staff, claims the head of Norway’s nurses’ union, Lill Sverresdatter Larsen. “Nurses are used to swings in demand,” Larsen told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday, “but when there already has been such a huge burden over such a long time, this is very worrisome.” Cathrine Lofthus, chief executive of the state’s regional health care agency Helse Sør-Øst, was also worried about the prognosis from the state public health institute FHI. The main problem now is the rapid spread of the British mutation of the Corona virus, she said, noting that it’s behind 90 percent of current hospitalizations.
Hospitals in the southeast had 195 Corona patients admitted as of Thursday (March 18), 52 of them in the intensive care unit and 34 of them on respirators. Local hospitals have begun postponing non-critical operations to make room for more patients in Oslo, Bærum, Lørenskog, Vestfold and Sarpsborg.
***Norway’s third infection wave was crashing over the country this week, as the highest numbers of confirmed virus cases ever rolled in. A total of 1,156 cases were registered in a 24-hour period between Tuesday and Wednesday, with areas like Haugalandet on the West Coast now being hit hard. “These are high and disturbing numbers,” Jarle Nilsen, the mayor of Karmøy, told state broadcaster NRK. Fully half of all cases in neighbouring Haugesund now involve children and youth. In Oslo, the number of new confirmed cases hit 495 in just a 24-hour period. That’s 214 more than on Wednesday last week. Numbers were also high in Drammen, Bergen and Tønsberg.
Trondheim, however, could report its best news in weeks: Not a single case was registered from Tuesday to Wednesday, a huge improvement from outbreaks earlier this winter. Several other communities around the country also remain infection-free, but health authorities were still considering even tougher national containment measures. None were rolled out on Wednesday, and Norwegians will still be allowed to travel to their holiday homes (hytter) during the Easter holidays.
***There’s been another big increase in Corona cases in the northern city of Bodø, prompting even tighter rules that are likely to remain in force until well after the Easter holidays. The South African mutation of the Corona virus is behind most of the confirmed cases, leaving 52 people in isolation and 250 in quarantine. Many of those infected are young, and both high schools in Bodø have been closed.
***Norway has entered its third wave of Corona infection, confirms assistant state health director Dr Espen Nakstad. Several more outbreaks were registered on Tuesday, including cases of the new Brazilian mutation in Vestby, just south of Oslo. Some hospitals have had to postpone scheduled operations because of infection concerns and staff in quarantine. Newspaper VG reported that four patients and five employees at the Lovisenberg hospital in Oslo have tested positive for Covid-19. Another 70 employees had to go into quarantine, prompting the hospital to halt all new admissions to the geriatric, stroke and cardiac wards. Bærum Sykehus, just west of Oslo, was also poised to do the same as it moved to a higher level of preparedness after Bærum registered record-high infection with 68 new cases overnight.
In Tønsberg, around 25 scheduled operations have been postponed because of a jump in admissions of Corona patients. A professor at the University of Oslo warned that the recent rise in Corona infection will likely result in more admissions over the next few weeks, putting more pressure on hospitals, especially those in Oslo and Viken County, now under strict Corona containment measures. The mayor of Haugesund, where infection has also risen, was calling on the government to put the entire country under lockdown again. “Oslo, Viken, Nordland and parts of Rogaland and Vestland have imposed the strictest measures,” Mayor Arne-Christian Mohn of the Labour Party told state broadcaster NRK Tuesday afternoon. “Then the question is whether they should also be imposed nationwide. We see that the virus mutations are much more aggressive, hospitalizations are rising and we risk losing control if we don’t crack down.”
***Hair salons in the northern city of Bodø were ordered to close on Tuesday, after the city registered another 180 cases of the Corona virus. That makes Bodø, which also has experienced a sharp rise in Corona infection recently, the first city in Norway to resume salon closures since the first wave of infection in early 2020. State health officials and the government haven’t viewed such “one-to-one” services as high-risk sources of infection, but Bodø officials included salons, barbershops, tattoo studios and other such non-medical services in a new shutdown aimed at halting the current spread.
***Another vaccinated health care worker died during the weekend. She was one of three health care workers admitted to the national hospital (Rikshospitalet) in Oslo after all suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. The state drug administration is investigating, since all three health care workers had received the AstraZeneca vaccine. “They took the vaccine at around the same time,” Dr Pål Andre Holme told reporters at a press meeting on Monday. The health care worker who died was described as “a young woman,” under the age of 50, who worked at the hospital in Lillehammer. She had no other underlying illnesses, according to Dr Trine Kåsine of the National Hospital’s intensive care ward.
“She was vaccinated a week before she was admitted (to the hospital),” Kåsine said. “She received treatment through the weekend, but we couldn’t save her life. She died on Sunday.” Kåsine described her cerebral hemmorhage as creating “a great catastrophe in her brain that we couldn’t repair.”
A health care worker in her 30s from Tynset also died last week from a blood clot after being vaccinated with AstraZeneca (see below). All recent cases involving cerebral hemmorhages and blood clots in Norway are under examination for any ties to the vaccine, use of which has been suspended (see below).
***The Brazilian strain of the Corona virus has been confirmed in Norway for the first time. Three cases of the highly contagious mutation have been registered in the western industrial mountain town of Årdal, but local officials claim they have “good control.” Infection from the Brazilian strain was confirmed in the laboratory at Western Norway’s largest hospital, Haukeland University Hospital, during routine screening of positive Corona virus test results. State broadcaster NRK reported that the person involved had traveled from Brazil and tested positive upon arrival at Norway’s gateway airport OSL Gardermoen before later traveling on to Årdal.
***Norway’s state drug administration (Legemiddelverket) is investigating the death of a Norwegian woman who died not long after being vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Norway has suspended its use following reports of some potentially serious side-effects (see below). Public health institute FHI has not concluded there’s any connection between the death of the woman, a health care worker in her 30s who lives in Tynset in Innland County, and the vaccine. Her case, however, “will be thoroughly evaluated,” wrote FHI in a press release Friday.
***Norway is now due to receive far fewer doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, reported newspaper VG Thursday evening. Only around 670,000 doses are now expected to arrive in Norway during the second quarter, a million fewer than the state public health institute FHI had expected before they suspended use of the vaccine because of health concerns. “That’s about a 60 percent reduction in the second quarter,” Knut Jønsrud of FHI told VG. He and his colleagues had expected delivery of as many as 1.67 million doses during April, May and June. Use of the AstraZeneca doses already in Norway, however, was put on hold Thursday pending a probe of reports from Denmark about possible fatal side-effects. “We’re doing this to see whether there’s any connection between AstraZeneca vaccinations and blood clots.”
Denmark has also suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was recently approved for people age 65 and over in Norway. The suspension will delay Norway’s vaccination program. On a more positive note, the EU approved use of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, meaning it will likely be made available in Norway as well. Despite complaints from opposition parties in Parliament, state broadcaster NRK reported that Norway’s vaccination program has been progressing at a rate that ranks it fifth in the world (behind only Israel, Great Britain, the US and Denmark) in terms of the percentage of countries’ populations that are now vaccinated. Norway had vaccinated 10 percent of its population as of this week.
***A proposed compensation program for foreign workers aims to help those who haven’t been able to travel to their jobs in Norway. It will provide at least some compensation for lost income from January 29, when the government closed Norway’s borders. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she’d already informed her Swedish counterpart, Stefan Löfven, about the program since Swedish workers in Norway have been hit the hardest. It will still need approval from opposition parties, but Solberg called the program “a solution” to problems facing foreign workers when she addressed Parliament on the Corona situation this week. It will apply to all workers who live in the European Economic Area but commute to jobs in Norway. The government’s proposal, to be administered through state welfare agency NAV, will compensate foreign workers for 70 percent of their wages up to a maximum of NOK 600,000.
Only the conservative Progress Party, a former member of Solberg’s government coalition, has publicly opposed the program so far. “We believe Norwegian welfare benefits should go to Norwegian citizens and others who live and work in Norway,” claimed Progress politician Erlend Wiborg. “The government’s compensation program will go to people living in Romania, Poland, Latvia, Sverige etc. It’s not Norwegian taxpayers’ job to finance this. It’s up to Poland, Sweden, Romania and other European countries to take care of their own citizens.” Labour Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen rejected Progress’ criticism, noting that many foreign workers in Norway already have earned rights to sick pay and other Norwegian welfare benefits. Given the rising infection numbers in Norway, the borders may also remain closed for a long time.
***A proposed compensation system for foreign workers aims to help those who haven’t been able to travel to their jobs in Norway. It will provide at least some compensation for lost income from January 29, when the government closed Norway’s borders. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she’d already informed her Swedish counterpart, Stefan Löfven, about the program since Swedish workers in Norway have been hit the hardest. It will still need approval from opposition parties, but Solberg called the program “a solution” to problems facing foreign workers when she addressed Parliament on the Corona situation this week. It will apply to all workers who live in the European Economic Area but commute to jobs in Norway. The government’s proposal, to be administered through state welfare agency NAV, will compensate foreign workers for 70 percent of their wages up to a maximum of NOK 600,000.
Only the conservative Progress Party, a former member of Solberg’s government coalition, has publicly opposed the program so far. “We believe Norwegian welfare benefits should go to Norwegian citizens and others who live and work in Norway,” claimed Progress politician Erlend Wiborg. “The government’s compensation program will go to people living in Romania, Poland, Latvia, Sverige etc. It’s not Norwegian taxpayers’ job to finance this. It’s up to Poland, Sweden, Romania and other European countries to take care of their own citizens.” Labour Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen rejected Progress’ criticism, noting that many foreign workers in Norway already have earned rights to sick pay and other Norwegian welfare benefits. Given the rising infection numbers in Norway, the borders may also remain closed for a long time.
***A proposed compensation system for foreign workers aims to help those who haven’t been able to travel to their jobs in Norway. It will provide at least some compensation for lost income from January 29, when the government closed Norway’s borders. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said she’d already informed her Swedish counterpart, Stefan Löfven, about the program since Swedish workers in Norway have been hit the hardest. It will still need approval from opposition parties, but Solberg called the program “a solution” to problems facing foreign workers when she addressed Parliament on the Corona situation this week. It will apply to all workers who live in the European Economic Area but commute to jobs in Norway. The government’s proposal, to be administered through state welfare agency NAV, will compensate foreign workers for 70 percent of their wages up to a maximum of NOK 600,000.
Only the conservative Progress Party, a former member of Solberg’s government coalition, has publicly opposed the program so far. “We believe Norwegian welfare benefits should go to Norwegian citizens and others who live and work in Norway,” claimed Progress politician Erlend Wiborg. “The government’s compensation program will go to people living in Romania, Poland, Latvia, Sverige etc. It’s not Norwegian taxpayers’ job to finance this. It’s up to Poland, Sweden, Romania and other European countries to take care of their own citizens.” Labour Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen rejected Progress’ criticism, noting that many foreign workers in Norway already have earned rights to sick pay and other Norwegian welfare benefits. Given the rising infection numbers in Norway, the borders may also remain closed for a long time.
***Norwegian health officials are planning to lengthen the interval between vaccination shots, in order to enable more people to get their first shot. They’re also set to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over age 65. Norway’s current vaccination program using the Pfizer/Biontech and Moderna vaccine has involved a second booster shot within two weeks of the first shot. That interval will now be extended to between three and six weeks, freeing up available vaccine so more people can get their initial shot and thus be better protected from infection. Norway expects to soon receive more than 2 million doses of additional vaccine, which can then be used for both booster shots and initial shots for more people.
State public health institute FHI is also now evaluating the AstraZeneca vaccine to Norwegians older than 65. New studies are showing that it’s been more effective than first thought for seniors, and can also allow many more Norwegians to be vaccinated sooner than expected. While Prime Minister Erna Solberg stated in an address to Parliament Tuesday that AstraZeneca “will now be recommended,” however, FHI’s director in infection prevention Dr Geir Bukholm told newspaper VG that “we’re evaluating it, we haven’t concluded yet.”
***Immigrant communities in Norway continue to have among the highest Corona virus infection rates, and are thus due to be allotted more doses of vaccine. Large families and a tradition of several generations living together have put them at a much higher risk of infection. Newspaper Aftenposten reported how the Oslo neighbourhoods of Stovner and Søndre Nordstrand have had more residents hospitalized than all of Northern Norway, Trøndelag and Møre og Romsdal combined. Nearly 30 percent of all Corona patients aged 45 to 75 come from six neighbourhoods in Oslo and four municipalities in Viken County: Lørenskog, Sarpsborg, Fredrikstad and Moss.
The seven hardest-hit neighbourhoods in Oslo alone accounted for around 20 percent of all Corona patients in the country, according to statistics compiled by the public health institute FHI and the City of Oslo. Oslo-area hospitals are currently filling up with Corona virus patients once again. It’s being linked to all the elderly immigrants living with their children and grandchildren, who are out working or at school. Someone in the family unwittingly comes home with the virus and soon many family members are infected, just like when Norwegians who’d been skiing in the Alps last winter brought the virus back with them, and then passed it on to others, “like the taxi drivers taking them home from the airport,” said Oslo city government leader Raymond Johansen. Norwegian students living in collective housing and workers from abroad living in company housing are also at risk. Now they’re due for more systematic testing and vaccinations, as attempts to control the spread of the virus move forward.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg addressed the nation again Sunday evening, apparently feeling a need to rally public support for new and even tougher national anti-infection measures. Her government is expected to issue the new Corona containment measures this week. Solberg’s address was meant to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of when the Corona crisis officially began in Norway, and her government shut down the nation. She said she understands that everyone is tired of ongoing restrictions on personal freedom, but stressed that “we still have a ways to go” until restrictions can be lifted.
“Infection is rising again,” Solberg said, adding that “the British mutation is taking over. That’s why we’re not finished with strict measures just yet.” She expressed gratitude for Norwegian solidarity during the crisis: “We are together in this and we stand best together. We will come out of this together.”
*** The need for intensive care exceeded capacity at a major Oslo-area hospital this week, forcing the transfers of several patients to other university hospitals. Staffing shortages worry hospital officials, as infection keeps rising in the Norwegian capital and extended shutdowns loom (see below). Corona patients continue to stream into the Akershus University Hospital (Ahus) in Lørenskog, with many needing intensive care. There’s no shortage of beds or respirators, but there are not enough intensive care nurses to tend to patients who are critically ill. The staffing shortage is especially acute during the weekends.
Nursing representatives complain of an overall lack of nurses (called sykepleiere in Norwegian) being educated in Norway. Corona-related travel restrictions and border closures have also disrupted the entry of nurses from Sweden and Denmark. The situation is so critical that some medical professionals are now urging a national shutdown for the two weeks before the upcoming Easter holiday week and two weeks afterwards. They don’t think current regional shutdowns in Oslo, Kristiansand, Bodø and some other Norwegian cities are enough to halt the spread of the Corona virus and its new contagious strains.
***New national Corona restrictions loom in the coming week, warned Health Minister Bent Høie on Thursday (March 4). The goal is still to reduce the spread of the Corona virus, specifically bringing the so-called “R-factor” that measures the spread down below 1. “We must gain control over infection through March and April, in order to be able to start having more normal everyday life,” Høie told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He said Norway’s R-factor is now 1.3, meaning that infection is still spreading “very quickly.” If that spread continues, Høie warned, “it will have dramatic consequences for many people who can become seriously ill and land in the hospital. Our health care services will then be over-burdened.”
Other state health officials and medical professionals have also pointed to the importance of reducing infection over the next two months. Dr Espen Nakstad of the public health institute FHI said earlier in the day that he doesn’t think Norway will “get back to normal” until the summer, and then only if Corona containment measures remain in effect through the spring. Høie stressed the importance of local restrictions, saying he was impressed by how Oslo has cracked down after more outbreaks, as have cities like Kristiansand and Tromsø. Many of Oslo’s neighbouring communities including Lillestrøm, Lørenskog and Nittedal have followed up with their own measures that include closing stores and restaurants and discouraging guests at home, while Bærum is allowing them to remain open but demanding patrons to register their addresses. Only people actually living in Bærum, for example, can use exercise studios or get a beer.
***Norway’s national vaccination program is due to pick up with the pending arrival of around 2 million doses in March and April. That’s greatly cheered state and local health officials around the country who’ve been all set up for mass vaccinations but lacked vaccine. After only receiving 372,000 doses in February, Dr Camilla Stoltenberg is more optimistic about the tempo of vaccination programs this spring. She expects far more reliable shipments of both the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccine, and Norway also may start getting other vaccines through its agreement with the EU. That may include the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine, acquisition of which has already been urged by officials in Finnmark where Norway shares a border with Russia and wants to work with its northerly neighbours.
***Oslo plans to start mass-testing high school students next week, in yet another effort to stop the spread of the Corona virus in the capital. Schools in areas with the highest levels of infection (Groruddalen, Søndre Nordstrand and Gamle Oslo) will be tested first. School officials plan to use several testing methods including spit tests, nose tests and a combination. Testing won’t be mandatory, but highly encouraged. Recent studies have shown that the highest level of infection in Oslo is now occurring in the age group 10-19. The entire city was forced into a new social shutdown this week, after some of the highest numbers of confirmed Corona cases since the crisis began, made worse by more cases of highly contagious new strains of the virus.
***The mayor of Norway’s central city of Molde remained under fire Tuesday after he spent the weekend criticizing Oslo’s failure to halt Corona virus infection. By Monday he was even being scolded by his own Conservative Party’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who called his criticism an “unnecessary contribution to the Corona debate,” only to later find out that her own top adviser was involved.
Molde Mayor Torgeir Dahl was still trying hard to fend off a social media storm of outrage, and claimed he had no regrets for stating that he was “unimpressed” over how Oslo’s city government, led by the Labour Party, “never gets control over infection” that can then be “planted out in the country.” That was interpreted as an attempt to pit Norway’s biggest urban area against rural districts, and it backfired badly. Instead of gaining support from others outside Oslo, the vast majority rallied to support the capital and its population, which has lived under the strictest Corona containment measures in the country. On Sunday evening, city leaders even had to tighten them again with a new social shutdown due to last at least until mid-March.
Oslo’s government leader Raymond Johansen called Dahl’s remarks a “distasteful attack” on the people of Oslo. Solberg added her support for Oslo, too: “I know that many people all over the country are tired of Corona measures,” she wrote on social media. “We all have to contribute and there’s no doubt Oslo has had a tougher time than others. The new measures imposed Sunday have my support and the government’s.” She added that Norwegians have to “stand together in this, and get out of it together.” After finding out that her state secretary had helped Dahl get national newspaper coverage for his tirade against Oslo, his future seem in jeopardy, too.
***Oslo residents who’ve been away on winter holidays elsewhere in the country are being asked to test themselves for Covid-19 after returning home. City government officials struggling to control rising Corona infection don’t want even more of it to be imported from other regions. The daily average of confirmed Covid-19 cases has jumped from 64 to 99 just in the past two weeks. Robert Steen, Oslo’s top politician in charge of health issues, pointed to some Corona outbreaks at mountain lodges last week and how mobility in itself contributes to the spread of the virus.
***Public health officials are now most worried about the infection situations in Oslo and Kristiansand, the southern city where every fourth confirmed case can’t be traced to its source of infection. Fully 414 people were infected in Kristiansand in February. “We underestimated the situation in Kristiansand and don’t see any clear signs that it’s turning around,” Dr Preben Aavitsland of the state public health institute FHI told state broadcaster NRK. Residents can expect much stricter Corona containment measures including bans on all public gatherings except funerals, closure of all bars, restaurants and exercise studios and digital instead of classroom instruction at local high schools among other restrictions.
***Norwegian researchers are looking into whether many Norwegians’ traditional habit of imbibing a daily dose of cod liver oil (called tran) has spared them Corona infection. Medical professionals have already noted that fewer or those who take tran daily have been infected by the virus, and if they are infected, they don’t get as sick as others who don’t take tran. Now Dr Arne Søraas and his colleagues at Oslo University Hospital are seeking many more people to take part in their research by taking tran or a placebo. Around 30,000 have already signed up but 70,000 participants are needed in the study.
***Children in Norway may have to start wearing face masks at school, reported radio station P4 on Friday. That’s because the new strains of the Corona virus that are rapidly spreading around Norway infect all age groups much more easily, also children and youth. State health officials are thus evaluating whether they’ll recommend stricter anti-infection rules for schools. “We now unfortunately see an increase in the infection situation many places around Norway,” state health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog told P4 and later state broadcaster NRK. “One of several measures could be use of face masks at school among teachers and the oldest students in areas with lots of infection.” The standard rule of staying at least a meter apart may also be doubled, to two meters, Guldvog said. Testing and infection tracking must also be strengthened.
***Vaccination programs are critical for bringing about an end to the Corona crisis, but they’ve also prompted some complaints. Oslo’s highly digitalized registration process has been branded as far too difficult for many elderly citizens to understand. Norwegian authorities’ tendency to force digitalization upon the public can often seem to go too far. In Oslo, it’s frustrated many in the age group between 75 and 84 who are now being encouraged to sign up for their Covid-19 vaccinations. They find it challenging to follow or even see links on their mobile phones, tap in multi-step security codes, set up new pin codes and answer lots of personal questions in order to get their shots.
“I made several efforts but had to give up,” 82-year-old Kristen Knudsen told newspaper Aftenposten. “The instructions for what I had to do were very poor.” He’s otherwise fairly comfortable with online solutions but found himself overwhelmed by all the verification codes and pin codes needed to book a vaccination appointment. City officials in charge of Oslo’s program responded that everyone unable to deal with the digitalized system will be contacted by telephone, letter or other means to make sure that those who want to be vaccinated will be.
***Norway’s southern city of Kristiansand was suddenly imposing strict new Corona infection control measures this week. Health officials warned the virus was spreading through the southern region known as Sørlandet, just as winter holidays were beginning. The city responded by halting the sale and serving of alcoholic drinks and closing gyms, on the advice of state public health institute FHI. “Everyone can see that this is now serious,” said Kristiansand Mayor Jan Oddvar Skisland of the Labour Party. Other restrictions included closures of public swimming pools, bowling alleys, amusement parks and other gathering places, while restaurants were asked to register all guests so that they could be contacted later if necessary.
A total of 315 residents of Kristiansand have been infected with the Corona virus so far this month. Outbreaks have occurred among various groups and the situation was described as “highly unstable.” Neighbouring municipalities were also considering new shutdowns and other restrictions.
***Oslo will be organizing mass testing for the Corona virus at various workplaces in the Norwegian capital. City health officials are targeting construction sites, exercise studios and other venues in an effort to be able to ease restrictions if low infection rates are found. City officials can’t force employees to undergo testing, however, but expect most will. Thousands of Oslo residents complied with recommendations that they test themselves before leaving town for this week’s winter holidays. The goal is to identify sources of infection and crack down on it before it spreads, especially cases of new strains of the virus. State health officials announced Monday that a total of 747 cases of the British strain have been confirmed in Norway plus 74 of the South African strain. Fully half of the South African strain were found in Western Norway and 23 in Nordland County.
Testing at workplaces began on Friday among construction workers building new pools at the Oset water treatment plant at the southern end of the lake Maridalsvatnet. There have been several outbreaks of Covid-19 at construction sites in Oslo since the Christmas and New Year holidays.
***The new strains of the Corona virus being found in Norway may make March and April the “most difficult” months of the entire pandemic, Dr Espen Nakstad warned on Friday. His warning came as state officials announced they were keeping most of the current national restrictions in force, with the exception of some easing of rules for children and youth in areas where infection is low. Nakstad said the various mutations of the virus can make it difficult to keep schools and day care centers open, though, because they seem to spread more quickly among children.
“The next two months will be very difficult in Norway because we have an increase of the more contagious virus strains and infection levels that are rising again,” Nakstad said at the government’s press conference Friday afternoon. He said state health officials were closely following developments in Sweden and Denmark, where mutant virus infection is now rising quickly. Officials in Oslo are also worried about another wave of infection after next week’s winter holidays. There already have been examples of how entire classes of children can be infected. A large day care center in Oslo, Margarinfabrikken, was closed this week.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed this “is not the the time” to ease restrictions too much, but local communities will be allowed from next Tuesday (Feb 23) to determine whether their local colleges, universities and professional schools can reopen for instruction. Children and youth can also be allowed compete in organized sports, with up to 50 people present at indoor events and 200 present outdoors, but that includes all athletes, coaches, staff and parents. Strict border control remains in place.
***The southern coastal city of Kristiansand was reporting record high infection levels on Friday, with 24 new registered cases and the mayor calling for everyone to use face masks. Kristiansand now has the highest rate of new infection in the country, according to chief medical officer Dr Priscilla Hilton, with “many unknown sources of infection.” Mayor Jan Oddvar Skisland appealed to local residents on Friday that “this is serious. We must halt the spread of infection.” Nearly 200 residents have been infected in the past two weeks.
***Fully vaccinated Norwegian still can’t live as they used to before the Corona pandemic began, warns Norway’s public health institute FHI. Dr Preben Aavitsland said those vaccinated are protected against the illness, but they can still infect others who aren’t vaccinated yet. “Everyone has to realize that they can still infect other people,” Aavitsland told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. “They must therefore follow the same rules as everyone else when they’re out in the public.” Those who have had both vaccinations should, for example, continue to wear face masks. Recovering cancer patient Anne Grethe Solbakken of Trondheim said that’s fine with her. She still follows a strict infection protection regime because her cancer treatments lowered her immune system. “Especially now, when there are the new mutant strains of the virus out there, I’m still anxious about infection,” Solbakken told NRK.
***A new strain of the Corona virus has been discovered in Norway that’s similar to both the British and South African strains. It can be more contagious than Covid-19 and has been called B.1.525. Around 30 cases of the same strain have also been found in Denmark and Great Britain. Public health institute FHI said around 10 cases had been found in Norway since Wednesday, and it’s also cropped up in the US.
***Oslo officials are only slightly easing their strict Corona containment measures. City government leader Raymond Johansen warned against any “re-opening” too quickly, thus taking only a careful few steps out of the social shutdown imposed in January. Children and youth will be able to resume participation in organized sports and free-time activities. Organized athletic or exercise programs for adults can also resume, but only outdoors and only in groups of no more than 10 people. High schools were also allowed to reopen earlier this week, while universities could reopen their libraries and study rooms.
All other restrictions will continue for at least another two weeks, including closure of all shopping centers and a ban on serving alcohol in bars or restaurants. Business organizations were disappointed, especially over the ongoing closure of shopping centers. Johansen claimed, however, that allowing such public gathering places to reopen too quickly could have “very, very serious” consequences, such as new spikes in Corona virus infection.
***”It’s the beginning of the end” of the Corona crisis, according to the head of Norway’s public health institute FHI, Dr Camilla Stoltenberg. She confirmed on national radio Wednesday morning that infection rates have declined markedly in recent weeks, while more and more people worldwide are getting vaccinated. Stoltenberg, who’s been part of the group of health care professionals and government officials in charge of Norway’s Corona containment measures, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) early Wednesday morning that trends show “the beginning of the end” of the crisis that’s gripped the globe for the past year. She stressed, however, that the situation can still change again quickly, not least because of the new strains of the virus that have been appearing. She urged everyone to remain vigilant with social distancing and other infection prevention measures that already have left Norway with among the lowest infection levels in Europe and also the world.
FHI’s head of infection control, meanwhile, said the institute is now revising its vaccine strategy and that risk evaluations of the new strains will play an important role. “We have started a process of going through our strategy,” Geir Bukholm said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, while acknowleding that some cities with high infection levels want more vaccine than currently alloted. “We are always stressing the most efficient means of distributing our vaccines.” Stoltenberg conceded that Norway’s vaccination program has proceeded more slowly than expected, “but that’s because we haven’t received as much vaccine as expected.”
***Health Minister Bent Høie eased state-mandated emergency restrictions in Oslo and many other surrounding municipalities on Tuesday, allowing them to return to imposing their own local Corona containment measures as they see fit. Infection levels are back under control and the need for overriding state restrictions was no longer deemed necessary. Høie said the state public health institute FHI had evaluated the situation in both Oslo and Viken counties “and now has a better overview of the infection situation and better capacity for testing, tracking infection and quarantine.” Uniform measures in all the various municipalities can thus be lifted from Thursday.
That means shopping centers, schools, libraries, colleges and universities can reopen if the municipalities where they’re located think that’s safe. Exercise studios may also be able to reopen and restaurants may even be able to serve alcoholic beverages. Oslo, Halden and Sarpsborg have had the highest levels of infection, with their new restriction levels expected to be announced later this week. The state restrictions were first imposed after new strains of the Corona virus were detected in Nordre Follo, just south of Oslo. The restrictions were later expanded to most of southeastern Norway.
***Norway’s most popular Corona expert, Dr Espen Nakstad of the public health institute FHI, says he hopes for “a more normal summer” this year but still fears a third wave of infection. He’s urging ongoing vigilance and respect for Corona containment measures. “If many people think the danger is over and stop paying attention to infection prevention advice before they’re vaccinated,” Nakstad warned, “we can risk a third wave of infection that will lead to more illness and hospitalizations in age groups not yet vaccinated.” He told news bureau NTB that only real turning point in the Corona crisis will come when the entire population is fully vaccinated. That’s not expected until late summer at the earliest.
***Oslo residents are being asked to test themselves for Corona infection before they leave the city for winter holidays out of town next week. Robert Steen, the city’s top politician in charge of health issues, also stressed that those heading for the mountains or other holiday destinations should continue to follow their hometown’s rules when away as well. “We have seen that holiday periods have a tendency to lead to a rise in infection afterwards,” Steen told NRK. Schools are closed around the country either in the week beginning February 22 or March 1, and that’s when families traditionally take off for winter holidays.
***Norwegians can travel to their holiday homes during the upcoming winter holiday weeks, as long as their hytter are in Norway. Restrictions are in place, however, with everyone urged to do their shopping at home, avoid social gathering spots at ski resorts and travel only with those in their own households. “The one-meter rule also applies at the hytte,” said Health Minister Bent Høie. “Travel with those you live with and without contact with others.” He noted that “you can gladly visit one another outdoors,” just not indoors. Høie also noted that everyone should continue to follow restrictions issued by their home areas, also while at their hytter in different areas. “If you’re not supposed to go to shopping centers where you live, you shouldn’t go to a shopping center while on winter holiday.” The goal is to avoid meeting too many other people. He also noted that all ski centers will have strict Corona containment measures in place that must be followed. Low infection rates so far have meant that ski resports in Norway haven’t had to close like they have in other countries.
***Several hundred people in Haugesund were ordered to be tested after discovery of the British strain of the Corona virus at the Aibel offshore yard, just over a bridge from downtown. Local health officials are alarmed and evaluating a new wave of restrictions. The contagious British strain was confirmed in a worker at the Aibel yard who’s now in isolation. The infection source was unclear and all the worker’s close contacts were in quarantine. Haugesund officials were responding with mass testing: “Since the infection source is unknown, we need to take this as seriously as we can,” Dr Josten Helgeland, the local chief medical officer, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
Aibel has not been shut down and those testing negative so far are working as normal. All are in quarantine in their free-time, however. The person confirmed with the British strain is a foreign worker, often viewed as a source of imported infection, but he reportedly has been in Norway since before borders were closed on January 29. He has not had any close contact with local residents. Aibel insisted that all its Corona containment measures had been followed.
***Health care workers heading in for shifts at the University Hospital in Stavanger could be encouraged by some new street art painted on a wall along a main commuter route. It’s signed by the anonymous Norwegian artist Pøbel, and it depicts Health Minister Bent Høie wearing a face mask and lifting up a health care professional in full protective gear. The image was immediately linked to an iconic scene in the film Dirty Dancing and Høie himself called it “incredibly beautiful.” Høie, who’s from the Stavanger area, told state broadcaster NRK that he thinks the artist “brought forth how grateful we all are for the work the health services are doing. They really deserve this.” Pøbel himself told NRK that his choice of location for the art, near the hospital, was “not coincidental” since it’s “a place many health care workers are passing by.” He called his latest work “a tribute to the health services, which has been heavy pressure during the pandemic.” He otherwise declined further comment, saying it was up to the viewer to interpret it. (To see photos of the art, click here – external link to NRK’s coverage).
***As many as 1,500 people are in quarantine in Trondheim after two confirmed cases of the British strain of the Corona virus were found among students at the local Singsaker School. Trondheim was already plagued by various outbreaks and has been forced to impose strict new measures to prevent the spread of infection. Now concerns are high that the more contagious new strain will lead to yet another. State broadcaster NRK reported that the elementary school has 390 students and 65 employees. All were sent home on Thursday and ordered into quarantine along with their families. At least 27 people in Trondheim have now been confirmed infected with the new strain that’s spread to Heimdal and neighouring Stjørdal. Six other municipalities have also felt obliged to impose new restrictions.
***Norway’s bishops are asking local leaders of The Norwegian Church around the country to decide on whether they’ll postpone spring confirmation ceremonies until the autumn. That would allow more family members to attend the confirmations that serve as a “coming of age” for a majority of 15-year-olds around the country. Corona containment measures currently allow gatherings of no more than 10 people, and more uncertainty around travel and other restrictions will prevail during the next several months. Health officials suggested on Wednesday, however, that life may return to normal by the end of summer.
Fully 54 percent of Norway’s 15-year-olds were confirmed in The Norwegian Church in 2019, while many others opt for non-religious ceremonies. Most confirmations have traditionally taken place in the spring, but Corona-related restrictions threaten to spoil them. Archbishop Olav Fykse Tveit is thus asking local church officials to decide on postponements as soon as possible. Around 450 prospective konfirmanter in Siljan, Porsgrunn and Skien have already been told that ceremonies will be held this fall instead of between April and June.
***New strains of the Corona virus continue to emerge around Norway, forcing Bergen into a new lockdown and raising serious concern in Trondheim. Another 37 confirmed cases of virus mutation were reported in the Bergen area on Tuesday, including 27 that involved the British strain while 10 were the South African strain. A total of 27 cases of virus mutation, believed to be even more contagious tha the original Covid-19, was also registered in Trondheim this week, along with reports that some people with positive results had violated quarantine. They were being reported to the police.
Even the small town of Nittedal, just north of Oslo, was reeling under a new outbreak of the Corona virus including two cases of the British mutation. Around 3,500 people out skiing at the popular Varingskollen Alpine Center in Nittedal between last Monday and through Sunday have been asked to test themselves for the Corona virus as soon as possible. The slopes were staying open but all ski equipment rental and cafés were closed.
***Norway’s education minister announced cancellation on Monday of written final exams for both junior high- and high school students, after months of debate over the quality of instruction during the Corona crisis. Oral exams for some high school students, however, will proceed as planned. “The pandemic has without doubt led to varying degrees of instruction,” said Education Minister Guri Melby of the Liberal Party. It’s been difficult for schools around the country to maintain national standards for instruction that’s tested in final exams. Several opposition parties in Parliament along with student organizations had urged cancellation, with even newspaper Aftenposten editorializing that exams should be cancelled. Constant fluctuation between digital and classroom instruction has been demanding for both teachers and students. Nine out of 10 student councils at 183 high schools around Norway had also recommended cancellation.
***Only 24 new confirmed cases of the Corona virus were registered in Oslo from Sunday to Monday. It was the lowest number since October, before the second wave of infection hit Norway, but officials remain on guard because of new virus strains. “We can celebrate how 700,000 Oslo residents have shown how we can really come together on something,” the city government leader in charge of health issues, Robert Steen of the Labour Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday morning. The number of new cases is less than half as many a week ago and a fraction of the 242 new cases reported in November when city officials imposed a new shutdown that has remained in force and even been expanded.
The biggest concern now is the spread of new strains of the Corona virus that have hit several areas in and around Oslo, including news cases in suburban Asker, plus Bergen and the Hardanger region. Bergen, Ulvik and Kvam were in lockdown mode early this week.
***Norwegians won’t be able to cross the border into Sweden until at least April. While Norwegian border closures were still up for review, Sveriges Radio reported Saturday that the Swedish government has decided to keep its borders closed to Norwegians, Danes and the British until March 31. Swedish authorities cite the threat of more imported infection involving new strains of the Corona virus, not least the mutation that first occurred in the UK late last year. Others are now appearing as well, including one from South Africa.
It means Norwegians won’t be able travel into Sweden even with documentation of a negative Corona test. Another 18 cases of Corona infection have been confirmed in Halden, meanwhile, which is located on the border to Sweden. That brings the total number of cases to 380 in Halden, which remains under strict Corona containment measures. Several new cases of the South African strain of the virus have been confirmed, meanwhile, in Bergen. Nearly half the population of the western mountain community of Ulvik in Hardanger, meanwhile, remains in quarantine after an outbreak of Covid-19 (see below).
***Norwegians who own holiday homes in Sweden were cleared for visits by a court in Oslo on Friday, only to be stymied once again by an appeal and an extension of border closings by Swedish authorities. They were nonetheless encouraged when the Oslo County Court ruled Friday that the state hadn’t adequately documented a need for mandatory quarantine upon return to Norway. Newspaper VG and state broadcaster NRK reported that the court ruled in favour of Norwegians who have complained mightily over not being allowed to visit vacation properties in Sweden during the Corona crisis, many of which lie just over the border from Norway. The court ruled that quarantine for owners of hytter/stugor in Sweden is such an infringement of their freedom of movement and property rights that it requires a thorough evaluation of whether infection control weighs more heavily. The court expressed doubts, meanwhile, over whether the Norwegian government’s restructions are invalid
Owners of property in Sweden can’t jump in their cars and head for their hytter any time soon, however. The state had until March 5 to appeal or come up with new regulations, and filed an appeal just hours after the verdict came down. Borders between Sweden and Norway also remain closed, with Swedish authorities extending their closure on Saturday (Feb 6) until March 31. Current rules thus continue to apply, and they allow only day trips for inspections or necessary maintenance. Any overnight stays trigger 10 days of mandatory quarantine upon return to Norway. More than 12,000 Norwegians own holiday property in Sweden, and around 1,000 were behind the class-action lawsuit against the state, which also has restricted hytte visits within Norway as well. There is no so-called “hytte ban” at present, but Norwegians are not supposed to invite guests to their holiday homes nor frequent local stores.
***There’s been a new outbreak of what’s suspected to the British strain of the Corona virus, this time at the main hospital in southeastern Norway. Administrators at Sykehuset Østfold in Kalnes, between Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg, were sounding alarms Friday (Feb 5) that too few hospital personnel have been vaccinated yet. The hospital will receive 1,800 doses of the new AstraZeneca vaccine, but vaccinations won’t be able to begin before February 15 at the earliest.
***Health officials in Lier, located between Drammen and Oslo, were also worried about a possible outbreak of the British strain of the virus heading into the weekend. New cases of infection were linked to Tranby School, a local treatment center for drug addicts and a produce packaging plant. Massive testing was due to be carried out during the weekend.
***More confirmed cases of the Corona virus have been found in Norway, including two new cases of the South African strain in Bergen. It’s the first time the South African strain can’t be directly tied to imported infection. Health officials reported a total of 254 confirmed cases of the virus mutations on Thursday including 26 new overnight. Of them, 25 were identified as the British strain and one of the South African strain. State broadcaster NRK had reported the South African cases in Bergen, involving infected residents who had not been abroad themselves. The source of infection was unclear, and that’s what worries health officials most at present.
Lesser-known mutations have also been discovered among residents of a nursing home in Bærum that are neither the British nor South African strain. The threat presented by the spread of new virus strains is what’s prompting state and local authorities to maintain strict Corona containment measures, even though infection levels nationwide are on the decline.
***There’s been a “considerable decline” in Corona infection cases nationwide and “the trend is good,” Norwegian health officials said Wednesday, despite a rash of local outbreaks that has forced more social restrictions. They’re likely to be eased in some areas, and next week nursing home residents will even be able to receive visitors and get a hug. “It will be allowed to hug again,” Health Minister Bent Høie said at a government press conference, at least for the majority of nursing home residents who have received their second vaccination. They won’t have to maintain distance from others, Høie said, “because the vaccine gives them good protection.”
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian public health institute FHI also cited a “considerable decline” in total infection numbers, “but we need to be prepared that a quick increase can occur.” There have been several local outbreaks that have forced new shutdowns, but she was also pleased that hospitalizations have declined, too. Vaccinations were due to double next week, as more doses arrive in Norway.
***Norwegian drug authorities welcomed news this week that the Russian vaccine known as Sputnik V, has been found to be highly effective. “This is what we’ve been waiting for,” Dr Steinar Madsen, medical director at Statens legemiddelverk (The Norwegian Medicines Agency) told news bureau NTB after the medical journal The Lancet published a positive analysis of the drug showing it to be 91.6 percent effective. “This is very promising,” Madsen said. If it’s accepted by European authorities, it can come to Norway as part of the vaccine allotments Norway receives through an agreement with the EU.
***Norway’s popular and scenic Hardanger area was struggling with infection outbreaks on Tuesday, and feared that a confirmed case of the British strain of the Corona virus would spread. A total of 18 new Corona cases were confirmed in Ulvik, while infection was also confirmed in the nearby communities of Voss, Kvam and Samnanger. Ulvik responded quickly with strict measures, shutting down most businesses and stores and even banning visits at private homes. All restaurants and other public gathering places were also closed. Ulvik has a very small population and got through last year with only four confirmed cases of Corona. That’s why 18 new in one day, and 10 more in recent days, is considered alarming.
“We have as much control as we can in a situation like this,” Ulvik Mayor Hans Petter Thorbjørnsen told state broadcaster NRK. Five of the new cases are also the new more contagious strain. Voss, a popular skiing area, reported two new cases, while Kvam had four new cases during the weekend and Samnanger had one. Neighbouring regions of Eidfjord, a popular cruise destination before the Corona crisis set in, and Ullensvang were on high alert and also imposing stricter infection control measures.
***A total of 93 soldiers tied to the recent NATO military exercises in Northern Norway have since tested positive for the Corona virus. NRK reported on Tuesday that local health officials weren’t informed about infection warnings issued by the state public health institute FHI in advance of the exercises that were ultimately cancelled. They weren’t involved in planning for the exercises either, and were expressing displeasure this week over infection risk for their local communities. Norwegian defense officials have stressed, however, that all arriving soldiers from abroad were sent into quarantine, and isolated if test results were positive.
***State authorities clamped down on the southern cities of Halden and Sarpsborg Sunday evening (Jan 31), after a local outbreak of a new strain of the Corona virus. The outbreak has been traced to a hockey training session for children that resulted in 23 new confirmed cases of the virus, at least one of which is the new, more contagious mutation. Halden Mayor Anne-Kari Holm told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the hockey event at the Halden Ice Hall “should never have been held.” It wasn’t illegal, though, and officials wanted children and youth to be able to gather. Local organizers insist, and Holm confirms, that they followed all anti-infection guidelines that apply to children and organized sporting activities.
Halden is nonetheless left with a total of 324 local cases of confirmed infection and both it and nearby Sarpsborg are subject to the same strict shut-down rules as Oslo, Nordre Follo and Ås: closed schools, shopping centers, restaurants and most everything else except grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations. The neighbouring townships of Fredrikstad and Hvaler were subjected to the next-highest level of closure (so-called “Ring Two” of standards announced Saturday) while Moss and Våler won’t be liberated from the highest level from Wednesday as scheduled. A new evaluation for all of Southeastern Norway (still best known as Oslo, Akershus and Østfold) is due on Tuesday after results of test analyses show whether more cases of the new virus strain have emerged.
***The government’s new Corona crisis compensation and financial aid packages that were proposed just before the weekend “must be improved,” claims Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party and several other opposition politicians in Parliament. They want compensation for closed businesses’ losses to continue until at least October 1, instead of July 1, and more financial aid for airlines that have lost the majority of their business because of travel restrictions. The Conservatives-led government, which lacks a majority in Parliament, must thus negotiate, probably first with Progress, its former coalition partner, before offering likely sweetened financial aid to both companies and individuals.
***This summer’s music festival season remains highly uncertain, because of the unpredictability of Corona infection. The government is thus offering NOK 350 million in support for festival and concert organizers so they can begin planning and have a financial cushion if everything has to be cancelled again. The idea is stimulate cultural life and try to secure summer music and theatrical programs.
***The new “British” strain of the Corona virus has been found in the test results of at least two British soldiers who arrived in Northern Norway earlier this month for NATO winter exercises. Local health care officials in Målselv township fear that more soldiers are infected as well. They went into full emergency mode and have imposed extra infection control measures. Dr Vidar Bjørnås, chief medical officer in Målselv, told state broadcaster NRK that discovery of the so-called British mutation of the virus was “not unexpected” and that British personnel have all been handled as if they were infected with it.
The NATO exercises that brought a total of 3,000 NATO troops to Norway have since been cancelled, because of the infection risk and logistical challenges. The two British soldiers confirmed to be infected with the more contagious form of the virus arrived in a second group of British personnel who landed in early January and they’ve been kept in isolation.
***Oslo-area residents can once again travel to their hytter (holiday homes), as long as they don’t invite guests along on the trip. Government officials eased some Corona restrictions on Thursday evening but are still advising extreme caution. Residents of 25 municipalities in the greater Oslo area were asked last weekend not to travel outside their own region, to prevent the spread of a mutant strain of the Corona virus. Now they can, except those living in Nordre Follo, where the outbreak of the new strain began. Health Minister Bent Høie urged, however, that residents travel only accompanied by those in their own households and that they don’t invite guests. They’re also asked to do their shopping for the weekend at home and not to frequent stores, restaurants or others gathering places in the area around their hytter. Restrictions against other “unnecessary” travel in Norway remain in place. Norway also closed its borders as of midnight Thursday for the next 14 days, in another attempt to contain the virus.
***New cases of the Corona virus have declined dramatically, prompting Prime Minister Erna Solberg to conclude that containment measures are working. It remains a paradox, however, that she still felt a need to impose some of the strictest rules ever this week. Solberg is closing Norway’s borders to most everyone except permanent residents, even at a time when infection levels haven’t been so low since October. At that time, Oslo was a fairly open city whereas now it’s all but shut down. That’s because of concerns over outbreaks of the new, potentially more dangerous British strain of the Corona virus, and the threat of more imported infection from abroad.
Newspaper Aftenposten reports that this week’s numbers nonetheless reflect a 27 percent decline in infection since New Year. The spike then prompted Solberg to impose new rules limiting social gatherings. She thanked Norwegians on Wednesday for respecting them but felt compelled to impose still more restrictions last weekend and now, the border closings, all aimed at controlling and even “eliminating” the new strain. Health officials were still waiting for analyses of new testing to determine whether more cases of the British strain have spread in the Oslo area. Only eight out of 120 tests in outbreak areas were positive, and most were being traced to a possible source.
***Norway’s vaccination program faces delays of one to two months, Health Minister Bent Høie confirmed on Tuesday. He said he was sorry to report at his latest press conference that Norway won’t be getting the large deliveries of vaccine from producer AstraZeneca that were expected. Fewer deliveries mean fewer vaccinations, with state public health institute FHI telling newspaper VG on Tuesday that “this means a considerable delay in the vaccination program. It means that many in the high-risk groups will be vaccinated in April and May instead of February and March.” Norway had expected 1.12 million doses in February, but now vaccine deliveries are delayed over all of Europe.
Trouble has also cropped up with vaccine deliveries from producer Pfizer. Norway has been receiving its allotment of the Pfizer vaccine via Swedish authorities, who in turn receive them through the EU. Since Norway is not a member of the EU but entitled to an allotment though its trade deal with the EU, Sweden is helping to administer it. Now, however, Sweden is suspending payments to Pfizer because of a conflict over whether each glass of vaccine contains five or six doses. Pfizer is charging for six, but Swedish vaccine coordinator Richard Bergström told newspaper Dagens Nyheter that’s “unacceptable” if six doses are not retrievable without a special needle. The lack of payments may also lead to vaccination delays.
***15 mayors in Northern Norway are mulling new quarantine requirements for everyone arriving from Southern Norway. The goal, reports news bureau NTB, is to prevent the spread of the new British strain of the Corona virus that’s currently spreading in the Oslo area. After initially being discovered at a nursing home and day care center in Nordre Follo, seven cases have been linked to the Smestadhjemmet nursing home in Oslo and officials in Bærum fear an outbreak at the Stabæktunet nursing home as well. Quarantine requirements for people traveling to Northern Norway last spring, however, were highly controversial and Health Minister Bent Høie doesn’t favour a new ones. He stresses that infection levels in Norway have been declining nationwide and that he thinks health authorities can gain control over the British strain.
***Travel to hytter (holiday homes) is being strongly discouraged for all Norwegians living in the Oslo metropolitan area that’s currently under a new Corona shutdown. Government officials don’t want to risk further unwitting spread of the new British variant of the Corona virus, discovery of which led to the shutdown. The best way to do that, they say, is to limit mobility. No actual ban on hytte visits has been imposed, like the controversial one last spring, but local officials in Hemsedal, Hallingdal and other popular hytte areas aren’t rolling out the welcome mats. It was ironic that Health Minister Bent Høie had just arrived at his own hytte outside Stavanger when he had to impose new restrictions on Saturday, but he’s since returned to Oslo. The bottom line: Travel to hytter is not viewed as “necessary,” except in the case of urgent maintenance needs. Those already at their hytter are not being asked to travel home “but should not have visitors,” states the health ministry.
***The Norwegian government will finally start sending out its own translations of its Corona containment measures in a variety of languages, 10 months after the Corona crisis began. The goal is to better reach immigrant communities, which have been overrepresented in Norway’s infection statistics. Norwegian and English versions of press releases will be sent out first, reports newspaper Klassekampen, followed by versions in Polish, Somali, Urdu and Arabic. That can take up to several days, however, because of the need to quality-check translations. Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s statements at her frequent press conferences will also be translated into the languages of Norway’s largest immigrant groups. Around 35 percent of all confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus involve Norwegian residents who were born outside the country, according to statistics from public health institute FHI. Most are from Poland or Somalia.
***Oslo police are doubling the fines they’ll impose on people caught breaking local Corona containment measures. State prosecutors want the same level of fines nationwide, suggesting they’ll soon go up quickly in other cities and regions, too. Anyone caught arranging a party with more than 10 guests total will be fined NOK 20,000 (USD 2,350) if police come knocking on the door. News bureau NTB also reported that if a company or other such entity arranges such a party, fines will hit NOK 50,000. Guests at such an arrangement will be fined 10,000 each. Public places caught serving alcohol in Oslo face closure and fines of up to NOK 50,000.
Quarantine violations can also trigger fines of NOK 20,000, while failure to wear a face mask can cost NOK 2,000. Failure to meet obligatory Covid-19 testing requirements, for example within 24 hours of arrival in Norway from abroad, will result in fines of NOK 10,000. The doubling of fines “stresses the seriousness of violating Corona regulations,” Beate Brinch Sand of the Oslo Police District told NTB. Police districts around the country are being asked to put a priority on alleged violators.
***Norway’s public health institute FHI confirms an overall decline nationwide in the numbers of people being infected by the Corona virus. FHI linked the decline to the stricter anti-infection measures imposed by the government during the first two weeks of 2021. The latest weekly report from FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) shows a 36 percent decline in the number of new cases of Covid-19 in Norway from the week before. There’s also been a 29 percent decline in the number of people being tested, though, after it hit a record high right after the Christmas- and New Year holidays. The portion of those testing positive, meanwhile, declined from 2.5 percent during the first week of the year to 2.2 percent in the second week. Additional declines in hospital admissions and deaths “can be a result” of the government’s social shutdown announced on January 3. Restrictions were eased somewhat earlier this week on a national basis, but most continue in Oslo, for at least another two weeks.
***Health Minister Bent Høie warned again on Wednesday against easing Corona containment measures too quickly. Even though public health officials released statistics showing significant declines in infection levels (see above), Høie thinks Corona infection remains high and could quickly rise again. Norway’s public health institute reported that around 65 percent of actual Covid-19 infection is now being picked up, suggesting that as much as 35 percent still goes undetected. They have also registered 33 cases of the new English strain of the virus and one case of the South African, both of which are highly contagious. FHI thus characterized the current infection situation as “unstable,” even though the infection curve is flattening out.
***Some international media outlets have been too eager in connecting 13 deaths among elderly vaccinated Norwegians to a Covid-19 vaccine. Health- and pharmaceutical officials were stressing this week that dozens in high age brackets die every day and that it’s far too early to conclude that the vaccine was responsible. Norway’s national pharmaceutical association (Legemiddelverket) told Norwegian news bureau NTB on Tuesday that it had been contacted by media organizations from CNN to Fox News and Bloomberg, after it had reported how it was examining deaths of recently vaccinated elderly Norwegians. The first examinations of 13 show that the vaccine played no role. Another 10 recently vaccinated elderly had died by Tuesday, but Dr Camilla Stoltenberg of the public health institute claims that’s “natural” in a country where 300 to 400 nursing home residents die every week.
Most receiving the vaccine in Norway so far, Stoltenberg noted at a regular government press conference on Monday, already have pre-existing health problems and are weak. The vaccine may prompt a fever or other health issues, leading to some re-evaluations of who should receive it, but the 13 elderly haven’t died because of it. “We don’t believe the reports of deaths we’ve received in Norway form any basis for warning against taking the vaccine in general,” Pernille Harg of Legemiddelverket told Faktisk.no, a fact-checking Norwegian news service.
***Norway has begun its second round of vaccinations for those who already have received their first shot. Now, however, the state public health institute is unsure whether two shots of the vaccine will be enough. State broadcaster NRK reported Sunday night that so-called “booster” shots may be necessary. That means people like Svein Andersen, who’s among the few to have had both Corona shots so far, may need a third before the end of the year.
Around 40,000 Norwegians are now awaiting their second dose of the vaccine (and millions their first) amidst new doubts over whether that will fully protect them from Covid-19. Geir Bukholm, head of infectious disease at FHI, said health care officials and vaccine producers themselves “are prepared” to launch a booster program if necessary: “We believe people will be immune for at least a while, and it’s important that people be vaccinated, especially if they’re at risk of becoming critically ill from the virus,” Bukholm told NRK, “but there’s still a lot that’s unknown around all this and we won’t have answers until after folks have been vaccinated.”
***Police continue to prosecute violations of Corona containment measures, also in Norway’s more rural areas. Innlandet County’s police, for example, have registered 45 complaints and either fined, charged or indicted the alleged offenders. One case involved a man who spit on another and claimed he was infected with Covid-19. In another case, a business owner in Hadeland was accused of putting foreign workers to work without following state quarantine regulations. Those found guilty have been fined NOK 20,000 (USD 2,350).
***Pharmaceutical company Pfizer is reducing the numbers of deliveries of its Corona virus vaccine to Norway and Europe from January 18. They cite production capacity reasons, but claimed they’ll be back up and beyond current levels by the end of February. Joachim Henriksen of Pfizer Norge told state broadcaster NRK on Friday that deliveries will continue but be reduced equally over all of Europe for the next few weeks. The reduction can amount to as many as 7,800 doses a week, according to Norwegian health officials, just when Norwegian cities are launching their mass vaccination programs (see below). It means Norway can received nearly 40,000 fewer doses than state public health institute FHI had expected. By March, however, Henriksen said Pfizer aims to offset the reduction in March, when it expects to be able to deliver more vaccine than estimated.
***Several hundred people were turned away at border crossings last week, reports the state police in charge of enforcing the Norwegian government’s strict new border control measures. A total of 472 non-residents were denied entry into Norway, up by 107 from the week before. Police report more traffic at border crossings after many smaller one were physically closed earlier this month. Police are also conducting more controls in an effort to ease the threat of imported Corona infection.
***Oslo began mass vaccinations on Thursday (Jan 14), with 85-year-old Arne Svein Jul Bekken among those getting the first of two shots with the Covid-19 vaccine at his local vaccination center in the Ulven district. The city hopes to be vaccinating 110,000 people a week by February. Everyone living in Oslo nursing homes and special housing for the elderly has now been vaccinated. Residents of the Norwegian capital are now due to be called in by age group, with the oldest first, along with health care workers considered to be working in critical positions.
The southern city of Sarpsborg was first to start mass vaccinations this week (see below). Now it’s mostly a matter of how many vaccine doses local municipalities can get that will determine how quickly the programs will proceed. Oslo, meanwhile, is also getting Norway’s first dosages of the Moderna vaccine, in addition to Pfizer/Biontech’s. Health care workers were glad a second vaccine is now available.
***Norway’s graduating high school students known as russ (“roose”) probably won’t be able to gather for huge national parties this spring either. Even though Corona vaccination programs are underway, the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus will likely remain too high for thousands of partying russ to gather, for example, at the traditional Landstreff at Kongeparken in Rogaland. Around 14,500 tickets have already been sold for the event, scheduled for May 7-9, but officials at the public health institute FHI cautioned this week it may be cancelled. “I don’t think it’s probable that we’ll be able to allow so many people to gather in May,” said Line Vold of FHI at a government press conference Wednesday.
***Everyone arriving in Norway will now face immediate and obligatory testing for the Corona virus, after the government has gone along with calls to revoke a 24-hour grace period. Justice Minister Monica Mæland of the Conservative Party cited higher government concern over import of new strains of Covid-19, instead of political pressure. The Progress Party has advocated immediate testing on arrival since last summer and testing was finally made obligatory. Foreign travelers and Norwegians alike, however, have most recently been allowed to avoid long lines for testing at the airport, as long as they submit to Corona testing in the city where they’ll be staying within 24 hours.
It’s proven difficult for the government to enforce the 24-hour rule, however, and too many new arrivals have ignored the testing requirement. News bureau NTB reported this week that only 40 percent of those arriving at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen were tested immediately in the days right after the New Year’s holiday. Testing has since risen to around 60 percent, while it has been as high as 96 percent at the Torp Airport in Sandefjord and 98 percent at the airport in Trondheim.
“We see that many people are reacting to how people are traveling in to Norway without being tested,” Mæland said at the government’s press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We also see that the risk for imported infection is rising, so we’re imposing new measures to limit that. We are working to increase testing capacity and the 24-hour rule will be removed.”
***Sarpsborg is the first city in Norway to launch a mass vaccination program, after struggling with among the highest infection rates in the country. Local health officials have set up a vaccination center at a hotel that can vaccinate 2.5 percent of the city’s 56,000 residents every day. “We can vaccinate between 1,000 and 1,500 people every single day if we get enough vaccine,” Sarpsborg’s health director Øivind Werner Johansen told state broadcaster NRK. “We have a lot of capacity.”
Sarpsborg had initially escaped extensive Corona virus infection, but then came a rash of outbreaks last fall. They left the southern city near the Swedish border with 2.1 percent of the local population infected, a high level for Norway. Around 600 were vaccinated on the first day at the Quality Hotel in Sarpsborg, which is thus also getting some welcome if different business during the Corona crisis. As more vaccine arrives in Norway, Johansen hopes to get 10,000 doses next week “because we can vaccinate that many in a responsible manner.”
***Norway’s infection numbers hit new highs during the weekend and not least on Monday morning (Jan 11). State Health Director Bjørn Guldvog claimed Sunday evening that the country is now “in a very demanding situation where we don’t have a full overview over the consequences of the Christmas and New Year holidays.” Guldvog reacted after seeing the new numbers that also included a sudden sharp rise in hospitalizations and in the number of people so sick that they need to be put on respirators. Infection is highest among those aged 20 to 29, many of whom traveled during the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
At the same time, however, many more people than ever before are being tested. It’s thus natural, Guldvog noted, that many more positive results are coming in. “We can see quite strong growth in the weeks to come,” Guldvog said, ” but we have imposed strong measures, so we hope we’ll be able to limit infection again during the next several days.” A total of 20,833 people had been vaccinated as of Monday afternoon, far fewer than hoped but a number expected to rise as more vaccine arrives in Norway.
***Among the recent outbreaks of Covid-19 in Norway is a group of employees at the Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen. A patient who’d been admitted was infected without realizing it, and 13 people working in the hospital wound up infected as well. Newspaper Bergens Tidende reported that everyone who’d had close contact with the patient had been tested, not least after several employees began developing symptoms. The hospital has managed to maintain normal operations, also while those infected have been in isolation.
***There’s also been another outbreak of Covid-19 at the hospital in Drammen that already has spread to the hospital in nearby Bærum, just outside Oslo, and into local home health care services. As of Monday afternoon, 12 patients and 22 employees were infected at Drammen Sykehus, which was set to begin mass testing of all employees. Fully 85 were in quarantine along with nine employees of the orthopedic ward at Bærum Sykehus, where a patient from Drammen was sent before the outbreak was discoverered. Another 60 patients had been treated at the Drammen hospital’s orthopedic ward and all have been contacted.
***Foreign workers returning to Norway after Christmas and New Year holidays back home have been found to be carrying false documents claiming they’d tested negative for the Corona virus. “Many have tried to enter Norway illegally with false documentation,” Torill Sorte of the police told news bureau NTB. Fully 54 people were sent back to where they came from after landing at the Torp Airport in Sandefjord, either because of invalid test certification, a failure to take a Corona test before departure or failure to certify quarantine arrangements for the next 10 days. All test documentation, moreover, must be presented “in a language border patrol police can understand,” according to NTB.
***Norway is on the verge of securing 2 million doses of another new Corona vaccine, after the EU reported Friday that it’s likely to be approved by the end of the month. The Corona virus vaccine from AstraZeneca could arrive by the end of March. Vaccinations have been underway since Norway received the Pfizer vaccine just after Christmas. Norway is being assisted by Sweden in acquiring vaccines through the EU’s agreements with producers, since Sweden is a member of the EU and Norway is not. Swedish vaccine coordinator Richard Bergström told state broadcaster NRK on Friday that nearly a million doses of the new AstraZeneca vaccine can arrive in February and another million in March. In addition come another 300,000 doses from Pfizer and “a small contribution of around 40,000 doses” from a third producer, Moderna.
With a total of 3.6 million doses now secured because of EU agreements with Pfizer, the pace of Norway’s vaccination program can pick up considerably. The elderly are first in line along with others at risk, followed by health care workers and age groups from those over 60 and downwards.
***The doctor who’s been Norway’s most trusted face on TV during the Corona crisis is now worried about how local governments will be able to handle massive vaccination programs and major new outbreaks of the virus at the same time. Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate warned of “a difficult period” between now and the Easter holidays in early April after Norway woke up to a new infection record on Wednesday (Jan 6), when a total of 930 new cases of Covid-19 were registered. That’s the highest in a 24-hour period since the Corona crisis began, and Nakstad worries about looming hospital capacity if patients become seriously ill. “If we don’t get control of this now, and also have to deal with new virus strains that are more contagious, we can actually land in a situation that’s more difficult than in March,” Nakstad told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. Hospitalizations peaked at 325 last April, compared to 127 now, “but it won’t take much before we’re back where we were in March, or worse. We’ve seen that happen in other countries.”
State and local officials have already responded with new social shutdowns nationwide, with Norwegians urged to stay home and warned not to invite anyone for dinner or other social contact until Jan 18 at the earliest. Most restaurants and bars remain closed, after local bans on serving alcoholic beverages were expanded nationwide. Now there’s talk of actual curfews, with people only allowed to go out to the grocery store or for a short walk, but Justice Minister Monica Mæland said the government would resist imposing such “invasive” measures.
***Mandatory Corona testing has forced closure of 58 border crossings in Norway. Testing can only be offered at major border crossings, meaning that those with less traffic including the old Svinesund Bridge crossing at Halden are now barricaded, with travelers told to enter the country via the larger border crossing on the E6 highway to the west. Only the Magnormoen and Trysil border crossings are equipped with testing facilities in Eastern Norway, with cars funneled through tents where testing takes place. After delays of up to three hours at the Svinesund center, local officials have opted to send some travelers to other regional test centers.
***More than a dozen American soldiers have tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Norway for military exercises at Setermoen in Troms og Finnmark. They’ve been placed in isolation at the Setermoen camp near Harstad. A total of 3,000 NATO soldiers are due to arrive in Norway for this year’s Joint Viking 2021 winter exercises and all must be tested. A total of 15 from the US Marine Corps have tested positive so far, according to the Norwegian Army. None of them had any symptoms but will remain in isolation for at least 10 days. Around 1,600 soldiers were arriving this week alone, from the US, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany. Positive tests were also expected within the British troops, reports state broadcaster NRK.
***A major hotel at a popular skiing destination in Norway has had to suddenly shut down, after six employees tested positive to the Corona virus. So have several recent guests. Everyone who has stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort Trysil since December 26 was being sent messages from the hotel this week about the sudden outbreak. The chief medical officer in the town of Trysil, Dr Hanna Rydlov, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that they should all cease social contact, be aware of any symptoms of Covid-19 and get tested. Rydlov said she’d received word that at least five guests at the hotel during the Christmas and New Year holidays had tested positive after their stay. The hotel has more than 200 rooms and a central location in the popular winter destination, best known for both its alpine and cross-country skiing.
A total of six employees of the hotel and a firm that offers services to the hotel had also tested positive, as have two of their close contacts. That forced the sudden closure of the hotel on Monday (Jan 4). It will stay closed at least until January 11. Guests could either go home or move to the Radisson Blu Mountain Resort Trysil, on the other side of Mount Trysil. “We’ve had good infection prevention routines, have implemented them and carried out exercises about them,” stated hotel director Maria Åhgren in a press release. “No matter how well-prepared we are, we’re never secured against an outbreak during this pandemic.”
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg has called for a halt to almost all social contact, to limit a recent increase in the spread of the Corona virus, but a new report from the state public health institute FHI shows that things could be much worse. Norway is still weathering the Corona storm better than most countries, even though the crisis is far from over.
Around 2,000 people had already been vaccinated in Norway as of Sunday, a week after the vaccination program began, mostly in nursing homes. FHI is also relieved that Norway has done well at protecting its elderly, with infection levels still relatively low: 83 of the 3,108 new cases of infection in the last week of 2020 were aged 80 or higher. Age groups with the highest levels of infection were 13-19, 20-39 and 40-59. That has also resulted in fewer new Corona patients in Norwegian hospitals. A total of 62 new patients were admitted last week, compared to 89 the week before. In the capital, Oslo, the number of new hospital admissions has declined for several weeks.
Norway also has registered far fewer deaths than most coutries (a total of 436 since the crisis began in March) and 18 last week, compared to much higher levels in November. Large areas of the country also still have no or very low infection.
***Flights from the UK were due to resume from Saturday (Jan 2) at 5pm, after the Norwegian government ended a ban tied to discovery of new strains of the Corona virus in Great Britain. Everyone arriving from London and other UK airports, however, is still subject to strict quarantine and testing rules upon arrival. Flights were banned after first one and then another highly contagious mutation of Covid-19 were discovered in Britain in December. “We’re still worried about imported infection,” an official in the health ministry told state broadcaster NRK. He noted, however, that the UK flight ban could be lifted “when we have established necessary control measures and adequate testing capacity at the airports.” EU officials have also encouraged an end to the bans on UK flights.
Everyone arriving from the UK must fill out a travel registration form aimed at controlling their movements after landing in Norway. They will also receive information on quarantine rules (10 days in a certified hotel) and must fill out forms as to where the quarantine will be carried out so that local municipalities can follow arrivals’ movements. All passengers landing in Norway from abroad must also undergo mandatory testing for Covid-19 within 24 hours of arrival. The test comes in addition to demands for certification of a negative test within 72 hours of arrival.
***The Norwegian government has imposed mandatory testing for the Corona virus upon arrival from abroad. It also plans to close several border crossings. From January 2, everyone arriving in Norway from so-called “red” countries with high infection levels must submit to a Corona test, preferably at an airport- or border test station. If no such testing station is available, testing must take place elsewhere within 24 hours of arrival. Exceptions will be made for children under age 12 and people with “critical social functions,” including those commuting over the border to work in Norway, diplomats and long-range truck drivers. The goal is to prevent imported infection, not least from those returning to work in Norway after holidays abroad. Norway also plans to physically close several of its 110 border stations in order to better control the need for testing. Specific locations had not yet been decided.
***New Year’s Eve celebrations were cancelled in Trondheim, after 79 more people tested positive for the Corona virus on Wednesday. It was the highest number since the pandemic started last spring, and follows more than a week of steadily rising infection rates. It was also enough to prompt city officials to drop a traditional fireworks display from the Kristiansten fortress in the heart of the city. They don’t want to encourage any gatherings of people that could further spread the virus. Private persons were also urged to cancel New Year’s Eve parties at home, all employers are expected to maintain home offices for workers and police intend to enforce restrictions on all social gatherings.
Oslo had already cancelled its annual fireworks display at midnight on December 31. Those selling fireworks to private individuals, meanwhile, reported a literal boom in sales this week. “Folks are sick and tired of 2020 and want to celebrate the beginning of a new year,” Rikard Spets of the trade association Norsk Fyrverkeriforening told state broadcaster NRK. Sales have doubled at some retail outlets and one seller in Måløy on the west coast noted that some of his customers have stated that they want to firmly mark “the end of a terrible year” with fireworks.
***Health care personnel who work with Covid-19 patients will now be vaccinated along with the elderly in Norway’s first round of vaccinations, the state public health institute FHI announced on Wednesday. The elderly have been targeted in the first round that began this week but now all health care personnel who have close contact with Covid-19 patients will join them. FHI considers them to hold “critical positions” and must thus be protected: “It’s critical to maintain capacity within our health care services, also in relation to increased infection,” FHI director Dr Camilla Stoltenberg said at a press conference Wednesday.
***A new highly contagious mutation of the Corona virus has been found in two places in Norway. It’s believed to have literally traveled to Norway with two people who arrived from Great Britain before the Christmas holidays and was under control, but health authorities warn of a “high risk” it can eventually spread.One of the cases was found in the Corona test results of a person in Oslo and another in Kinn on Norway’s West Coast near Florø. Both were in quarantine and then placed in isolation after having developed symptoms. Norwegian health care officials appeared fairly confident that the arrival of one of the new mutants of Covid-19 was thus under control. Line Vold of the public health institute FHI told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she wasn’t surprised the new form of the virus had arrived in Norway, apparently before a ban was placed on all flights from the UK.
Dr Preben Aavitsland of FHI stressed that procedures were in place to find and contain the new strain and that FHI officials “feel we have control over the situation.” In the longer term, however, he warned there’s “an ongoing danger that the (new) virus can establish itself and lead to more cases here.” Aavitsland, who, like Vold, has become a familiar face to Norwegians during the Corona crisis, further stressed that the anti-Corona vaccines that also are arriving in Norway are expected to protect those vaccinated against the new strain of the virus also. “We’ll get evidence of that within a few weeks,” he told NRK.
***A 67-year-old resident of a nursing home in Oslo became the first person in Norway to be vaccinated against the Corona virus on Sunday. Svein Andersen said it felt “a bit strange” to “nearly become historic” as Norway took what health experts called its “first step out of the pandemic.” Andersen lives at Ellingsrudhjemmet in Oslo and his first injection of the vaccine was followed live on national TV. He said it “was a good feeling, really, almost like being the first to walk on the moon.” He was being closely monitored afterwards to check for any allergic reactions and was looking forward to finally being able to have visitors after months of nursing home quarantine.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg followed the country’s first vaccination by video link and called December 27, 2020 a sort of new “liberation day” for Norway: “When enough people are vaccinated, we will be able to do away with the restrictions we still must have now.” Solberg also called the vaccine “a victory for science” and for “the cooperation we’ve had among many countries and much of the pharmaceutical industry, to make this happen.” Raymond Johansen, leader of Oslo’s city government, was also relieved, calling Sunday “a fantastic, great day” and “the beginning of the end,” but later cautioned that “we still have many tough months ahead of us.” The pandemic “is not over,” he reminded local residents, “but today we can be glad that vaccinations are underway.”
***A Trondheim resident infected with the Corona virus violated mandatory isolation during the Christmas holidays and attended several parties, reports NRK. That landed at least 10 other people in quarantine and prompted police to have “had a serious conversation” with the offender, who’s now back in isolation. Punitive fines were pending as Trondheim remains in the midst of a serious outbreak of Covid-19. Another 44 people were confirmed as infected on Saturday plus 34 on Sunday, and a local health center, two elementary school classes, a day care center and the Falkenborg offices of state welfare agency NAV were all in quarantine. City officials also announced tighter restrictions from Saturday, including a ban on serving alcohol after 10pm, a limit of 10 social contacts per week and obligatory registration of all restaurant and bar customers and those riding in taxis.
***An outbreak of the Corona virus on the Heidrun oil platform in the Norwegian Sea has disrupted drilling operations, reported NRK on Sunday. Two more workers on the platform tested positive bringing to 30 the number sent back to the mainland. Bad weather was preventing further helicopter shuttles from the platform and drilling operations were suspended, but state oil company Equinor said production was continuing. A total of 167 people were on board Heidrun when the outbreak began. In addition to the 30 workers airlifted off the platform, because they were “close contacts” the five confirmed infected so far, another 20 “close contacts” are in quarantine on board. “It hasn’t been possible to transport them to land because of the bad weather,” an Equinor spokesperson told NRK. The entire platform was being washed down while infection tracking efforts continued.
***A visible increase in outdoor decorations this winter holiday season is believed tied to the Corona crisis. Sales of outdoor lights have soared, and experts claim it’s part of a “collective social effort” to brighten up the surroundings at the end of a difficult year. “Decorations are an expression of fellowship,” psychologist Birgit Aanderaa told newspaper Dagsavisen on Christmas Eve. “We take on responsibility to contribute to more coziness within the framework we have.”
Outdoor decorations are common in commercial districts, but Norwegians have often refrained from decorating their homes until just before the actual Christmas holidays. This year there were public efforts to start decorating much earlier, with lights going up all over the country in November on balconies, rooftops and around windows of private homes. Retail chains Clas Ohlson and Power, which sell lots of hardware, electronics and appliances, both report an “explosion” in sales of holiday lights, compared to last winter. “We see that sales are double what they were last year,” Siri Røhr-Staff of Power told Dagsavisen. Clas Ohlson reported an increase of 78 percent in strings of lights and Christmas stars, and was already running low on supplies.
Sales of Christmas trees were also way up this year, an increase tied to many more Norwegians staying in their own homes instead of traveling to relatives, friends or even abroad during the holidays. Festive decorations, psychologist Birgit Aanderaa noted, have a positive effect on people’s moods, especially when holiday lights are turned on during the darkest time of the year. “We’re creating a new form of fellowship outdoors,” she said.
***A woman who wanted to express her appreciation for health care workers in Østfold, southeast of Oslo, managed to quickly raise more than NOK 110,000 (USD 12,600) to buy holiday treats for all the employees of the local hospital and two health care centers. They were presented with fruit, cakes, cookies, nuts and other sweets on the day before Christmas Eve, to be enjoyed throughout the holiday weekend when they had to keep working. Everyone from hospital cleaning crews to doctors, nurses and ambulance staff were overwhelmed by the bounty and expressed gratitude in return that their efforts had been recognized. “This is just incredible,” one nurs from a cancer ward told newspaper Dagsavisen after Sara Johannessen Meek and her family delivered a truckload of treats. “Even though there’s been a major collective effort in Norway, it’s the health care workers who have really been caught right in the middle of the crisis,” Meek said. “They spread so many feelings of security and are on the front line.”
***Calls are rising for mandatory testing of everyone arriving in Norway, not just those coming from the UK or migrant workers. The government has resisted on the grounds such testing would be too invasive, but may soon change its mind. Everyone crossing the border into Norway is already subject to 10 days of quarantine, often at a specially designated hotel if not at home. Testing, however, remains mostly voluntary despite demands for obligatory testing at the border from the government’s former partner, the Progress Party, since August.
Now Norway’s Labour Party is also keen on obligatory Covid-19 tests at border crossings and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) editorialized in favour on Wednesday. The reason: a new spike in infection and outbreaks of the virus around the country that show the Corona crisis is far from over. State Health Director Bjørn Guldvog said on Monday that he wants to evaluate obligatory testing and Health Minister Bent Høie responded that he was positive to the proposal. Vaccinations, meanwhile, will begin on Monday (December 28), mostly at nursing homes in Oslo, Ringsaker, Hamar, Stange, Sarpsborg, Fredrikstad and Hvaler, after the first vaccines arrived in Norway on Saturday.
***Eight new cases of Corona infection have been confirmed on board a Russian trawler that’s been forced to berth in Bergen. The large fishing vessel Oma sailed into Bergen for assistance after 17 crew members fell ill and another had died. Now state broadcaster NRK reports a total of 25 people on board the vessel are infected. The vessel is being held in quarantine at the dock.
***Crisis-hit bars, restaurants and nightclubs that haven’t been allowed to serve alcohol since early November (to discourage social gatherings) are finally getting some emergency financial aid. The state government allocated an additional NOK 250 million to compensate for losses, with NOK 78.5 million of the total earmarked for eating and drinking establishments in Oslo. They won’t even have to apply for the funding, with compensation due to be automatically sent into the bank accounts of those with liquor licenses in Oslo. The money is due to start arriving next week.
***A resident of Norway who returned from the UK on Sunday has tested postive for the Corona virus. It remained unclear whether the new virus mutation is involved, but the state public health institute was investigating. Officials in Ullensvang in Hordaland, on Norway’s west coast, wouldn’t offer any details about their resident returning from Great Britain but confirmed to state broadcaster NRK that testing had been requested immediately. The person has what were described as “mild” symptoms and is now in isolation after the test result was positive.
The results will be examined by the state public health institute to determine whether the highly contagious Corona mutation has arrived in Norway. All flights from Great Britain to Norway were later halted until at least December 23 in an effort to prevent imported infection. On Wednesday (Dec 23) the ban on UK flights was extended through the New Year holiday.
***Officials in Trondheim are facing a major Corona outbreak this week after another 44 residents tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday alone. It’s the highest number since the pandemic began and follows Monday’s total of 37 that had been record-high, too. Political leaders have made face masks mandatory and urged residents to stay away from physical fitness centers, bars, restaurants and shopping centers. They were considering a new lockdown as the holidays approached, marking a major change from the days when Trondheim ranked among the least-infected cities in all of Europe. “This just shows how quickly things can change,” one official told state broadcaster NRK.
***The new Corona virus mutation in the UK that’s sounding alarms all over Europe should not affect vaccination programs about to begin, claims Norway’s assistant state health director Dr Espen Nakstad. He told state broadcaster NRK that variations of the virus have been expected. Nakstad was among the Norwegian health officials who recommended against an immediate closure of Norway’s borders to flights from the UK on Sunday. He and his colleagues are widely viewed as having advised the government well in the past, and contributed to Norway’s relatively low rates of Corona infection and fatalities. He stressed uncertainty around the new virus mutation, even though it has shown to be highly contagious in the UK.
“I don’t think all the work that’s gone into the new vaccines is wasted,” Nakstad told NRK. “We had a mutation in Denmark and we have expected that the virus will mutate. We just have to follow this closely, to see whether the new virus is even more contagious.” The government, under increasing pressure from opposition parties in Parliament to close Norway’s borders to UK flights, planned a new press conference on the latest Corona-related developments Monday afternoon, at which top health officials would take part.
*** “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” is the message Oslo officials are sending to residents of the Norwegian capital regarding Covid-19 vaccinations. They’re due to begin December 27, after Oslo receives a large portion of the now-roughly 40,000 doses expected to arrive in Norway on Christmas Eve. Residents of Oslo nursing homes will be vaccinated first, then city officials will start calling Oslo’s roughly 83,000 residents over age 65 and those receiving health care services at home. After that come those aged 18 to 65, as more vaccine becomes available. Residents will be contacted with a date and time for their vaccinations, reported newspaper Dagsavisen on Saturday (Dec 19).
***Norway’s first batch of the Covid-19 vaccine is expected to arrive on Christmas Eve, announced a relieved Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Thursday (Dec 17). That means vaccinations can begin on December 27. “It’s joyful news that the first approved Corona vaccine can come to Norway as soon as Christmas Eve,” Solberg stated in a press release. “Norway will start vaccinating at the same time as other European countries.” Plans for Norway’s national vaccination program are well underway, with all municipalities prepared to begin even earlier if possible. The EU Commission is starting up its vaccinations on December 27, 28 and 29. Norway’s first delivery will amount to just 10,000 doses, but it’s at least a start and earmarked for those most at risk in the Oslo area. “That’s the area of Norway with the highest infection rate,” said Health Minister Bent Høie.
***Health officials around Norway are bracing for higher local infection rates after natives who moved away travel home for the Christmas holidays. In Karmøy on the country’s West Coast, all those returning are being urged to test themselves for the Corona virus five days after arrival. Local newspaper Haugesunds Avis reported Thursday that Karmøy, like other communities around the country, will be maintaining high levels of preparedness to test returning residents and guests arriving during the holidays. Testing will also be available on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in addition to the week in between known as romjul.
Officials stress that it can take between three and seven days from exposure to the virus to being infected. Most people in quarantine around the country are tested during that period, while Karmøy has settled on recommending five days after arrival, especially for those traveling from areas with high levels of infection like Oslo. Rogaland is currently the only county in Norway that’s considered “green,” with an infection rate below 20 per 100,000 residents. Officials there were easing local restrictions from Thursday (Dec 17) but are prepared to reimpose them if the rate rises.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned on Wednesday (Dec 16) that Norwegians must be prepared for Corona restrictions at least until the Easter holidays. She remains worried about the prospects for a third wave of infection, even after vaccines become available. Solberg also said at a pre-Christmas meeting with reporters that next year’s summer holidays won’t be like those before the pandemic. “In the same way that the crisis has lasted for quite a while, the way out of it will take a while, too,” Solberg said.
It remains unclear when vaccinations can begin, but Solberg said it was “not improbable” that they can begin during the week between Christmas and New Year (known as romjul) after all. She confirmed that equipment including needles for injections and freezer boxes for the vaccine has been sent out to local communities around Norway.
***Norway will continue to enforce its Corona-related restrictions at least through the first half of January, Health Minister Bent Høie announced on Tuesday. Høie also said it was unlikely vaccinations would begin during the Christmas holidays. Vaccines are expected to arrive in Norway soon after they’re approved by EU authorities. Those most at risk and health care workers are first in line to be vaccinated. The rest of the population will then follow, meaning the current restrictions that were tightened in November may continue until the Easter holidays.
Authorities are most keen to ward off a third wave of Covid-19 infection. Many fear that the virus can be spread unwittingly during holiday travel and gatherings, even though all social contact is subject to strict limitations. The arrival of vaccines may also prompt some to lower their guard. That’s why regulations were tightened and why quarantine rules in particular have become so strict.
***Health authorities aim to fend off a new wave of infection imported from abroad after the Christmas and New Year holidays. They’re targeting foreign workers who’ll be returning to Norway in January, especially those from countries with high infection rates like Poland and Lithuania. They’ll be launching a major information campaign that will stress Norway’s strict quarantine regulations via text messages (SMS) in a variety of languages to the mobile phones of those arriving in the country. The goal is to come in direct contact with every individual traveler. An SMS will be sent before the Christmas holidays to all foreign mobile phones in Norway, with information about quarantine rules and warnings that it’s punishable by fine or prison to break them. A similar SMS will be sent to all Norwegian mobile phones abroad during the holidays, warning their registered owners about the quarantine rules when they return to Norway. Yet another SMS will be sent to foreign phones after the holidays, to remind them about quarantine rules when they return as well.
***Trondheim officials are asking residents to use face masks at all times after a sudden rise in infection rates and a new trend that’s unstable. The city had seemed to avoid much of the second wave of infection that clobbered Bergen and Oslo last month, but recent statistics are worrisome. “We see that not enough residents are following our strong recommendations,” Morten Wolden of the city administration told NRK after a record numer of new Covid-19 cases were confirmed on Saturday.
***Oslo city government leader Raymond Johansen is under criticism for keeping most of the Norwegian capital’s bars, nightclubs, restaurants and cultural venues closed, and then expecting the state to offer them compensation. Johansen has complained that the state could thus avert a wave of bankruptcies, but it’s been his decision to make Oslo’s Corona containment rules stricter than the government’s national rules. Johansen, who represents the Labour Party, refused earlier this week to ease restrictions that include a ban on the serving of all alcoholic drinks at bars and restaurants (see below). The ban has ruined the pre-Christmas holiday season for many eating and drinking establishments that were hoping for a reprieve, but he sees no need for the city to offer them any financial aid. He claims it’s his responsibility to address the country’s highest infection rates with the strictest regulations, and the state’s responsibility to pay for it. It’s also the state health authorities, he claims, “who have had clear expectations that we would impose strict measures to fight the virus.” That provoked Hallstein Bjercke, a city council member for the Liberal Party. “In a crisis, it’s more important than ever to take responsibility for your own actions,” Bjercke wrote in Aftenposten on Friday. He noted how many restaurants have publicly protested the ban on serving liquor, and wished Johansen would work with them instead of against them. Others, including Bengt Rune Strifeldt of the Progress Party, think local officials who tighten national rules need to offer compensation themselves to those affected.
***State broadcaster NRK reported a new Corona outbreak in the eastern valley of Gudbrandsdalen on Friday (Dec 11). Around 100 people were infected in the Fron communities, where many non-residents have holiday homes. Local health officials are urging everyone with Corona symptoms to be tested. The area is home to less than 9,000 people and several hundred were in quarantine heading into the weekend.
***Oslo officials are extending their social shutdown of the Norwegian capital through the Christmas holidays and New Year. Corona infection levels have declined, they said Thursday, but not enough to warrant easing restrictions. It means that bars, restaurants and other establishments serving food and drink still won’t be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages. Since that’s a major source of income, many restaurants and most bars will remain closed.
Limits will also continue on social gatherings, with Oslo residents urged to meet no more than 10 people outside their household in the course of a week. Even church services are being severely limited during the Christmas holidays, with no more than 20 people allowed to gather for any religious event. Alternative Christmas celebrations for the poor and those with no family or friends will be allowed but only if an organization takes on the responsibility of enforcing infection control measures.
Oslo’s regulations are stricter than the national anti-Corona measures, but city government leader Raymond Johansen said that’s because infection rates in Oslo remain much higher than the national average. He especially fears infection imported from abroad by foreign workers from Poland, for example. While they’ll now be subject to strict quarantine measures, Johansen also worries that regional traveling during the holidays can raise infection levels in Oslo. Large-scale vaccination programs are due to begin in January. Oslo officials will reevaluate their anti-Corona measures on January 7.
***Around 1,000 Norwegians who own holiday homes in Sweden are suing the state government. They haven’t been allowed to visit their properties since the Corona crisis began, and claim that’s a violation of their fundamental human rights. The class action lawsuit culminates months of complaints from many of the estimated 12,000 Norwegians who own hytter (cabins or vacation property) over the border. They’ve been subject to 10 days of quarantine upon arrival back in Norway, just like everyone else entering the country from abroad, even when they’ve driven directly to their own homes that may only be a short distance from the border.
“Most people view the quarantine obligations in practice as being a prohibition against spending the night, maintaining and using their own private property,” reads a press release from the law firm handing the lawsuit, Andersen & Bache-Wiig. “That in turn is viewed as a strong invasion of their privacy and violation of human rights, with great negative consequences for the families involved.” The lawsuit targets Norway’s health ministry and demands a temporary reprieve from the current rules until the case is reviewed in court. The government had no immediate comment on the filing late last week.
***Corona containment measures will soon be communicated in several other languages than just Norwegian and English, part of a renewed effort to better reach minority communities in Norway. “Better late than never,” Osama Shaheen, who runs the Norwegian-Arab magazine DER in Bergen, told state broadcaster NRK. Norway’s education ministry is now evaluating 29 new proposals aimed at reducing the level of Corona virus infection among immigrants and their families.
Residents and citizens of Norway born outside the country have made up 34 percent of all those testing positive for Covid-19, and are overrepresented in Norwegian hospitals and among fatalities. The highest levels of infection have been found among people from Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey and Eritrea. It’s not because they’re irresponsible or don’t care about anti-Corona measures, as some Progress Party politicians have recently suggested, but rather, according to health officials, because they often have service jobs that expose them to the public and thus put them more at risk to infection. Language problems can also be a challenge, as well as a failure or inability by some to follow the local news.
“We often talk about Arabs, or about immigrants, but not with them,” Shaheen told NRK. Now the state is being urged by an expert commission (led state integration directorate IMDi’s chief Libe Rieber-Mohn) to offer, among other things, information packages in relevant languages to employers, improve communication between health care authorities and volunteer organizations with immigrant- and religious organizations, offer more drop-in and mobile testing stations in areas with large immigrant communities and have more multi-lingual teams of those tracing infection. Health Minister Bent Høie also plans to expand the state’s Corona telephone service into more languages.
***The state has agreed to pay compensation to the family of a 90-year-old woman who died of Covid-19 while living in a Norwegian care home. Around half of all Covid-19 victims in Norway have been residents of either care homes (omsorgsboliger) or nursing homes. Hjørdis Rognås was among them, after being infected by the Corona virus while living in a local care home in Nord-Aurdal. She died March 24, with her family not allowed to visit and cut off from all contact. “We don’t know how she was really doing, we only received information from those who were with her,” Rognås’ daughter Wenche told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. State authorities in charge of compensation for patients injured or unduly suffering under medical care agreed that her family had a right to compensation since she was infected at a publicly run care home. NRK reported that two other cases have been rejected, while several more are awaiting verdicts.
***Between 700 and 800 residents of the Northern Norwegian communities of Hadsel and Andøy in Nordland County are in quarantine this week. Schools have been closed and mass testing is underway after an outbreak of the Corona virus. A total of 22 cases were confirmed by Monday and local officials were worried that infection was spreading out of control. “We think the (anti-infection) measures are beginning to work, since most of the new cases are tied to people already in quarantine,” Dr Ingebjørn Bleidvin, the local chief medical officer, told state broadcaster NRK Monday evening. Hadsel and Andøy have a combined population of around 13,000.
***State officials are facing criticism over their vaccination plan and how they’ve set priorities regarding who’ll get vaccinated first. Several doctors and politicians don’t think the elderly and those in nursing homes should have highest priority. Dr Andreas Stensvold at the regional hospital for Østfold questions why patients “who have longer time to live,” for example, are farther down the priority list along with health care personnel working directly with Covid-19 patients. He told state broadcaster NRK that other doctors have also criticized vaccinating the oldest Norwegians and those with dementia ahead of younger Norwegians who could be protected from Covid-19.
Plans announced Friday mean that around 70 percent of Norwegians in the high risk groups are due to be vaccinated within the first three months of 2021. The plan won support from the government, but Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen was also “surprised” by the priorities set. He had hoped residents of Norway’s most densely populated areas (like his city) would get top priority, to help prevent the spread of the virus. Health officials argue, however, that the elderly are at most risk for Covid-19 and opted against geographic priorities when the first 2.5 million vaccine doses arrive. Not even Oslo and Bergen have infection rates high enough, agreed Health Minister Bent Høie, to rank them higher than those most at risk.
***Infection rates and deaths among the elderly residing in nursing homes are back up at the same alarming levels as during the four worst weeks of the Corona virus crisis in March and April. Officials are imposing strict new rules all over the country, in an urgent move to reverse the trend. State health institute FHI is now requiring weekly testing of all personnel, more training on infection prevention methods, having nursing home employees stay home at the least sign of illness and making sure employees remain at least a meter apart from one another, also during breaks, in the wardrobe and meeting rooms. It’s suspected that infection at most of the nursing homes under lockdown was brought in by staff. State officials announced Friday that nursing home residents will be among the first to be vaccinated in the New Year.
***Norway can expects its first vaccine doses shortly after New Year, according to the vaccination coordinator in Sweden that’s sharing its EU vaccine allotment with Norway. “We’re talking about several hundred thousand Corona vaccine doses in January,” Richard Bergström told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Bergström said Norway can expect additional deliveries of as many as 2.5 million doses during the first quarter of 2021. He has already asked Norway to be ready for shipments to start arriving amidst high security precautions in early January.
Sweden is making sure Norway receives its Corona vaccine through agreements between vaccine producers and the EU Commission. Sweden is a member of the EU and Norway is not, but Norway has firm trade and policy agreements with the EU that ensures its access to the vaccine against the Corona virus, Covid-19.
***An Oslo doctor’s assistant was ordered jailed for violating quarantine regulations and returning to work immediately after traveling abroad. The Oslo County Court sentenced her to 24 days in prison for potentially exposing at least 153 people to Corona infection. The sentence, reports state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday, is in line with the state prosecution’s demands. The woman in her 20s was found guilty on three counts of violating quarantine, after visiting her boyfriend in England on three occasions while the country was classified as “red” with high infection rates. When she returned to Norway, reported Avisa Oslo, she went right back to work at a doctor’s office in Oslo, taking blood tests and carrying out an EKG, for example. It was “pure luck,” prosecutor Karianne Worren claimed, that there are no known consquences of her patients falling ill.
The medical assistant is estimated to have had close contact with patients in more than 153 documented cases, prompting Worren to seek a jail term. The court agreed, rejecting the woman’s defense that she wasn’t aware of the quarantine obligations she was obliged to follow. She was found to have told patients last spring that they couldn’t visit the doctor’s office if they’d been abroad, but didn’t seem to think that rule applied to herself as well. Her defense attorney sought punishment in the form of public service, but the court agreed with prosecutors that the woman’s repeated violation of quarantine rules was so aggravated that it justified a jail term. It remained unclear whether the jail term, which illustrates Norway’s tough anti-Corona regulations, will be appealed.
***Corona restrictions have cancelled Oslo’s huge New Year’s fireworks display. It’s the latest casualty of the Corona crisis, which led to a “social shutdown” in the capital last month and has cancelled most all holiday parties this month. Oslo government officials claimed they simply couldn’t see how they could maintain social distancing among spectators, who would likely gather along the waterfront to see the fireworks that annually have been set off from rafts on the fjord. They were working on some sort of alternative New Year’s celebration.
***”Drop all social contact outside your home” was the sober message delivered by health officials in the southern Norwegian cities of Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg on Tuesday. Infection rates have soared again in the region known as Østfold, even though they’ve levelled off or fallen elsewhere. The two cities hosted a joint press conference Tuesday afternoon (Dec 1), after their current Covid-19 outbreak became the largest in the country. They declared it illegal for more than 10 people to gather for any privately hosted events, and implored everyone to just stay home.
“The measures we’ve had up to now haven’t worked well enough,” Sarpsborg Mayor Sindre Martinsen-Evje told reporters. “We’re hoping now for a real collective effort to bring down the infection rate.” Officials at the state public health institute have already warned that even though Corona cases are now declining nationwide, there’s still a risk of losing control over the virus during the next six months, also after a vaccine becomes available.
***Lots of Norwegians living abroad have been moving home during the past several months because of the Corona crisis. Net repatriation of Norwegian citizens hit a record high during the third quarter, according to state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway). Some have told local media that they simply feel safer and more secure back home in Norway during the Corona pandemic, because of lower infection and death rates than in many other countries. A total of 12,042 people moved to Norway during the three months from July 1 through September 30, with returning Norwegians making up the largest single group followed by immigrants from Poland, Sweden and Denmark.
***Norway’s dominant grocery retailer and wholesaler NorgesGruppen is rewarding all full-time employees for their hard work during the Corona crisis with bonuses of NOK 10,000 each. “This is a pat on the back and a sign of our gratitude during the past year,” Stein Rømmerud of NorgesGruppen told news service E24. The bonus program is costing around NOK 150 million but the company has also logged more large profits during the pandemic, since far more people have been eating at home and they can’t drive over the border to Sweden, where prices are lower and selection wider. Around 30,000 employees of NorgesGruppen, which owns grocery chains including Meny and KIWI, will receive the extra deposit in time for Christmas.
***Norway seems to be cresting its second wave of Corona infection, with officials now registering slight but steady declines in the numbers of new cases. Assistant Health Director Dr Espen Nakstad warns, however, that the trend “can quickly swing up again, and we’re by no means out of the woods yet.” Nakstad told state broadcaster NRK that the numbers in Oslo and “most places around the country” are “over the top” of Norway’s second infection wave. A total of 282 new cases were registered nationwide between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday, 71 fewer than the day before and 124 fewer than at midnight Sunday a week ago. The number of new cases in Oslo was the lowest in two weeks.
The last time less than 300 new cases were registered nationwide was on Sunday November 1, followed by weeks of steep increases that promoted officials to react with much stricter anti-infection regulations. They’re still in force, at least until December 14, which Nakstad said is necessary “to press (the number of cases) further down.” Health Minister Bent Høie said the state government would update the status of regulations over the Christmas holidays later this week.
***Norway’s king and queen have both tested negative to the Corona virus, and could emerge from quarantine to return to their official royal duties on Friday (Nov 27). The Royal Palace announced that all staff members who’d also been in quarantine tested negative, too, and were returning to work. King Harald V and Queen Sonja, both age 83, went into quarantine earlier this month after a palace employee had tested postive for Covid-19. Crown Prince Haakon took over as regent but on Friday King Harald was able to conduct the weekly Council of State with the government. He was also scheduled to meet Norway’s defense chief for a regular audience at the palace on Monday and meet with the administrative leader of the foreign ministry on Thursday in addition to the next Council of State on Friday.
***Norwegians have been urged to drop any plans to travel abroad for the Christmas holidays. Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, who heads Oslo’s city government, doesn’t want them importing more Corona virus infection when they return. At the same time he announced extension of his “social shutdown” in the Norwegian capital, which will effectively keep bars and most all restaurants closed at least until December 14. “We must continue to avoid social contact, stay home, hold out and stay here in Norway,” Johansen said at a press conference Thursday. “This is not the time to travel to France, Spain, Somalia or Pakistan.”
***Norway’s most popular health official, Dr Espen Nakstad, urged his fellow Norwegians on Thursday to remain vigilant about infection control, even as the numbers of new Corona cases have begun to decline. He fears a third wave of infection when vaccines become available. “We can get a new infection wave if we relax too much when vaccinations begin,” Nakstad, assistant director of the state health directorate, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “As soon as we start vaccinating, people will begin to let down their guard. When we see what’s happened in Europe (during the deadly second wave of infection), a third wave is not unlikely.”
He and his colleagues are also worried about the effects of Christmas, when restrictions may be eased and families and friends may defy those remaining. Nakstad said infection can spread within families and especially to more vulnerable elderly relatives. Then comes the vaccination process: “If people think the danger is over and only 20-30 percent of the population is immune, infection can spread through the winter,” Nakstad said. Prime Minister Erna Solberg has said that she hopes vaccinations can begin in early 2021.
***Norway’s currently strict anti-infection measures will remain in place for at least another three weeks, the government announced on Wednesday. Infection levels are starting to decline, but health officials think it’s still too early to let down their guard. “We need more time, and we must see a clear decline in infection in order to consider opening up again,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said at her latest government press conference. “We therefore must live with these measures for another three weeks.”
The goal, Solberg said, remains being able “to have the most normal Christmas” as possible. Social gatherings pose the biggest risk of more infection, “and there’s no room for large Christmas parties now,” Solberg said. She understands that the ongoing uncertainty makes it difficult for families to make plans: “We hope we can ease restrictions closer to Christmas, we just have to wait and see.” She added that she hopes to be able to clarify the outlook for traditional family gatherings next week, but warned that social contact must remain limited regardless.
***More than 50 students and staff at a junior high school in Oslo have been confirmed with the Corona virus infection, forcing its shutdown through next week. The outbreak at the Apalløkka School in Oslo’s Ammerud district ranks as one of the largest in the country since the Corona crisis began. City health officials have ordered 14 of the school’s 15 classes into quarantine, along with mandatory testing of all involved. The school has a studentbody of around 400 and 50 teachers, administrators and other staff.
***All residents of a nursing home in Eidsvoll, an historically important town north of Oslo, are now confirmed to have been infected by the Corona virus. Nine have already died and most of the nursing home’s staff have tested positive, too. “This is a reminder of just how sad and serious this outbreak has become,” Dr Carl Magnus Jensen, chief medical officer in the town where Norway’s constitution was formed in 1814, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. The most recent victim was a woman in her 90s. A total of 49 people living or working at the Villa Skaar Valstad nursing home were confirmed with Covid-19.
There have also been nearly 100 cases of Corona infection in Eidsvoll as a whole, up from 30 in October. Around 70-80 are linked to the nursing home and those working there, also to an outbreak at another local nursing home. The virus has spread within employees’ households and among acquaintances. Schools and day care centers remain open in Eidsvoll, but officials have imposed stricter rules regarding use of face masks and limited public gatherings to 20 people.
***Hotel developer and operator Petter Stordalen, who controls the Nordic Choice chain in Scandinavia among other travel industry businesses, predicts an “historic” wave of bankruptcies in the hotel industry next year. With as many as 90 percent of the rooms in hotels in Norwegian cities standing empty, Stordalen claims the industry faces “one of the most demanding periods since the lockdown in March.” His remarks came during a digital meeting organized this week by the central bank, Norges Bank. Stordalen stated that unless crisis aid is improved during the next few months and into 2021, “we will see a wave of bankruptcies like we’ve never seen before in history.” His Nordic Choice chain has already felt forced to close several of its hotels in Oslo, as has the Thon Hotel chain, and prepare closures of others after a “catastrophic” decline in guests.
***Norway’s public health institute (FHI) now wants to extend Corona virus testing to everyone with jobs that still require meeting the public, for example at large employers like the IKEA furniture stores, cleaning firm ISS and the postal service (Posten). The goal is to uncover what they fear are “hidden sources” of Corona virus infection. Oslo continues to have Norway’s highest infection rate, especially in neighbourhoods where lots of people work in the service sector. FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) has proposed offering free testing for Covid-19 at various workplaces, including people without symptoms. IKEA, for example, has remained open and attracted even larger crowds of shoppers than usual, with E24 reporting that IKEA’s profits in Norway have tripled as many consumers now spend even more money on their homes since they’re spending much more time there.
Infection rates in Oslo have soared in recent weeks and are now highest in the districts of Bjerke, Grorud, Stovner, Alna and Søndre Nordstrand. They’re also home to large immigrant groups that typically work in the service sector, at factories and in public transportation. More widespread testing can help bring infection rates down, with FHI also promoting testing of people working at large shopping centers and, specifically, the Ringnes brewery and Coca-Cola, the Tine dairy coop, food producer Orkla, Oslo Taxi and Tollpost. All are workplaces that can’t simply ask employees to work from a home office. FHI is also promoting more testing at junior high schools, high schools, colleges and universities. The barriers against testing must be reduced, according to infection control experts at FHI.
***Another unusually young patient infected with Covid-19 has been admitted to Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen and was receiving intensive care, state broadcaster NRK reported on Monday (Nov 23). The new case of a person under age 17 who’s seriously ill with the Corona virua follows the death of a young child at Haukeland last week. That child was reportedly already in poor health when the virus was contracted, while the minor now seriously ill had no other underlying or chronic sickness. State Health Director Dr Bjørn Guldvog noted that fatalities from the Corona virus were rare among children “but it can happen, now unfortunately also here in Norway.” The lastest case of a seriously ill child involves a side-effect of the virus known as Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C), for which treatment is available.
***Police had to shut down parties all over the country again this past weekend, and fined around 120 people for violating Corona-related rules against social gatherings. News bureau NTB reported that police were called out to halt parties in Oslo, Tromsø, Askim and even the small town of Nannestad north of Oslo. Oslo Police reported, however, that it otherwise was quiet on both Friday and Saturday nights in the Norwegian capital, which remains under a so-called “social shutdown.”
***Officials in Bergen slightly relaxed their Corona containment measures on Monday(Nov 23), after just 26 new cases of Corona infection were registered. That gave some reason for optimism and now households with at least five family members can invite up to two people for a visit. Others are supposed to still have no more than five people in a private home. Bergen officials otherwise refused to ease other restrictions, meaning that theaters, cinemas, physical fitness centers, bars and restaurants must remain closed for at least another week.
***So much for a bit of optimism around some recent Corona statistics: Oslo registered another record number of confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus on Friday (Nov 19), and 670 more cases were registered nationwide. Among them were three more members of Norway’s national football team.
Oslo reported 241 more cases as of Friday morning. The eastern district of Bjerke continued to have the highest infection rate, not least because of an outbreak at the Årvoll nursing home and a local military college. Oslo remains hardest hit among Norwegian cities, and the city’s top government health official issued new warnings: “The fact that infection numbers are still rising underscores how serious the situation is,” Robert Steen of the Labour Party told state broadcaster NRK. “It reminds us why the anti-infection measures now in place are so strict.” Steen stressed that hospital admissions are also rising steadily, most of them in Oslo. He also warned that even stricter Corona containment measures “are constantly under consideration,” not least after infection rates in Bjerke hit the equivalent of 771.9 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents during the past week.
Three more members of Norway’s national football team, which was forced to cancel a match against Austria last weekend (see below), have also tested positive. Patrick Berg, Markus Henriksen and Marius Lode all tested positive on Thursday while in quarantine at the players’ hotel in Oslo, according to a press release from the national football federation.
***Appeals from the cultural sector to ease some of the severe restrictions on everything from theatrical productions to church concerts were turned down by Health Minister Bent Høie. He said he could understand why performers and producers want to be able to have audiences of more than 50, for example, “but the infection situation can’t allow that.” He took part in a digital meeting with various cultural organizations and wouldn’t back down on limits currently in place. It means that more than 10,000 Christmas concerts alone are likely to be cancelled, along with most all other forms of live entertainment during the holiday season. Members of Parliament continue to debate various proposals to offer more financial relief to those whose performances must be cancelled, to compensate for lost ticket revenues.
***Corona virus infection numbers were flattening out following spikes in recent weeks, but Health Minister Bent Høie warned Norwegians again “lowering your shoulders” yet. “The situation is still serious, and uncertain,” Høie said, stressing that there also are large regional variations.
There were nonetheless signs that some of the strict Corona containment measures imposed in Norway, and especially in Oslo and Bergen, are having a positive effect. The highest levels of Corona infection are still found in Oslo, Bergen and Drammen, while fatalities surpassed 300.
***Norway’s first doses of the Corona vaccine are likely to be allocated to health care personnel and people most at risk, including those with chronic illnesses and the elderly. Those are the recommendations, at least, made by a seven-member ethics commission charged with suggesting the best use of the vaccine when it finally arrives. Arrival dates remain uncertain, but recent reports of successful testing and production have raised prospects for vaccine distribution from early next year, maybe as early as January.
Norwegian health officials expect to be offered around 2 million doses of vaccines developed by Pfizer and Biontech by early spring. Both have reported how 90 percent or more of those testing the vaccine have been protected from the Corona virus. Norway’s public health institute FHI will be organizing the country’s Corona vaccination program. The external commission offered its advice this week: if infection rates remain at current levels, those with highest priority will be those with the highest risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid 19. If infection rates continue to rise, however, health care personnel should have first priority, in order to remain able to care for others.
Norway’s national nurses’ federation was relieved that its members will have priority, since they’re on the front line of the Corona battle and highly susceptible to infection. Others also urge health authorities to consider other vulnerable groups including those living with many others in the household and those working in jobs that demand lots of interaction with the public.
***Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen claims he’s well-aware that most children and youth don’t welcome stricter Corona containment measures that have cancelled all indoor athletic activities, closed after-school activity centers and raised the prospect of more frequent teaching at home instead of in the classroom. Corona virus infection levels in the Norwegian capital, however, have continued to rise despite Johansen’s “social shutdown” earlier this month. “We’re doing this (restricting interaction between young Norwegians aged 13-19) in order to avoid a full lockdown,” Johansen said. “Things can quickly go from bad to worse.”
***Norwegian health officials want to halt all international football matches, given the sharp rise in Corona virus infection all over Europe. State health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog, who effectively prevented the Norwegian team from flying off to play against Romania over the weekend (see below), thinks it’s both risky and inappropriate for football players and their management to keep traveling around the continent at a time when most all others are urged or even ordered to stay home. “I expect UEFA (the European football association) to be serious and take care of the health of their players and families,” Guldvog told state broadcaster NRK. Everyone acknowledges that lots of money and recreation are at stake, but Norway’s health minister also believes football shouldn’t be more important than public health. Criticism continues over how Norway’s national team players were allowed to fly back to their professional clubs on Sunday after the entire team had been exposed to one player who tested positive. Critics also lashed out at how an “alternative” Norwegian team was mounted to fly to Austria for another national match Wednesday evening. Both cases undermine Norway’s otherwise tough anti-infection restrictions.
***Corona containment measures continue to disrupt sporting events. Not only was Norway’s national football team barred from playing a Nations League match in Bucharest over the weekend, now the European Championships in handball have been moved from Norway to Denmark. Norwegian health authorities refused to allow the event to carry out in Trondheim in December as planned.
***Norway’s conservative government coalition is boosting Corona aid to hard-hit businesses by at least another NOK 4.4 billion, after gaining a majority in Parliament for its latest crisis package from the right-wing Progress Party. It includes suspension of Norway’s controversial airline seat tax through 2021 and more compensation for businesses suffering from infection-control measures.
They’ll now be eligible to claim compensation for up to 85 percent of their costs in November and December (up from the 70 percent initially proposed by the government) and 80 percent in January and February. They’ll also get 70 percent compensation for September and October, up from the 60 percent proposed by the government. The maximum amount of compensation per company was raised from NOK 50 million to NOK 80 million.
The goal is to ward off bankruptcies that may come in early 2021, after many businesses have been forced to close again in recent weeks. “We must secure jobs and ensure that people have a job to go back to when this crisis is over,” Sylvi Listhaug, a Member of Parliament for the Progress Party, said at a press conference Monday evening. Lower VAT cut to 6 percent will also remain in forced for businesses operating within the culture, travel and transport sectors that have been especially affected by Corona shutdowns. A new compensation package aimed at the airline industry is also under consideration. The government will also allocate NOK 400 million for programs to offset loneliness among the elderly.
Negotiations that expanded the government’s original Corona crisis package come in addition to those over the government’s entire state budget for 2021. Both involve using much more money from Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund known as the Oil Fund, which is supposed to be saved for future pension financing. Most all political parties now justify tapping the Oil Fund in order to fend off long-term economic damage from the Corona pandemic.
***Hundreds of people on Norway’s southern coast were in quarantine this week, with five schools closed and the Corona infection situation “out of control” after it first spread during a large religious meeting in Lyngdal. A fellow Christian claimed the worshippers were “very sorry” that they’d created so many problems. More problems broke out when some parents in the religious congregation didn’t want their children to be tested. “The drama led to misunderstandings, we have tried to calm everyone down and clarified how serious this outbreak is,” Lyngdal Mayor Jan Kristensen told state broadcaster NRK. “Now we have a common understanding of how infection tracking will work.”
The mayor worked through the weekend, not least to help organize massive testing and put people in isolation while they waited to be tested. Several other nearby communities in the area known as Norway’s “Bible Belt” were also involved, after residents of Lindesnes, Farsund, Kvinesdal and Hægebostad had also been exposed. Problems were compounded after rainy weather washed away the writing on much of the packaging on tests of 680 people in Lyngdal by Monday. They were told that if they hadn’t received test results within a week, they’d have to be re-tested. Around 80 people at the religious meeting were found to have tested postive by Monday afternoon. Local officials were considering filing police charges against the congregation, for violating state regulations limiting public gatherings to 50 or less.
***Norway’s national football team was accused of expecting special exemptions from anti-infection rules through the weekend, even after it gave up traveling to Romania for a final Euro2020 qualifier. Criticism continued when players exposed to the Corona virus were nonetheless allowed to travel from Oslo back to their respective clubs on Sunday.
The trouble began when one of Norway’s players, Omar Elabdellaoui, tested positive for the Corona virus. Elabdellaoui, who plays professionally for Galatasaray in Turkey, was immediately put in isolation on Friday at the Oslo hotel where the national team has been staying. Since he’d already had what’s considered “close contact” with fellow team members, Norway’s entire squad was subject to the standard quarantine of 10 days.
The national football federation NFF, however, had expected another travel exemption that would allow the team to fly on a chartered jet to Bucharest for Sunday’s scheduled match against Romania’s national team. On Saturday, state health authorities vetoed that idea, ruling that the team would violate national anti-infection rules if they traveled after knowingly being exposed to Covid-19.
NFF finally backed down, but only after Health Minister Bent Høie backed the decision by the health authorities and refused to grant the team’s appeal to travel. Høie claimed that would be “illegal,” send a bad signal to everyone else expected to follow quarantine rules and that a final match on Wednesday against Austria would break the rules, too. The Romanian match was thus cancelled, while NFF scrambled to mount a new team of un-exposed players who could still meet Austria on November 18. That was quickly accomplished and they were all being flown into Oslo, only to turn around and fly as a team to Austria on Tuesday. New managers would be on the flight too, since head coach Lars Lagerbäck and his staff were in quarantine, too.
More criticism against football officials came Sunday, when a law professor at the University of Bergen declared that allowing exposed players to travel back to their clubs on Sunday also violated anti-infection rules. “We’re talking about a large group of people who’ve been in contact with someone who’s infected, sitting on a flight with other passengers,” Professor Hans Fredrik Marthinussen told state broadcaster NRK on Sunday. NFF and Oslo health officials claimed exceptions could be made for people without symptoms to use public transport to reach a suitable quarantine venue.
***Norway’s health minister is warning Norwegians that strict Corona virus containment measures may be extended well into the month of December after all. “We must be prepared for Corona measures through the Christmas holidays,” Health Minister Bent Høie said at the government’s latest press conference on Friday. Høie stressed that it’s important not to relax restrictions too early. Even though they were imposed in early November in the hopes that Christmas celebrations could be “normal,” he’s still clearly worried about the rapid and steep rise in Corona infection in Norway. “The development (of infection rates) has gone in a direction that means we must be prepared for restrictions through Christmas, too,” Høie said. The most important thing, he said, is that health authorities don’t lose control of the Corona situation.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said there were some signs that the current restrictions, which now also include a “social shutdown” in Oslo and limits nationwide on social contact, may be working. She remains concerned, however, about rising infection rates among teenagers now. The latest figures showed that 710 cases of new Covid-19 infection were registered in Norway from Thursday to Friday (Nov 12-13), and that’s the highest during a 24-hour period so far in the pandemic. Oslo, Bergen and Drammen are currently the cities hardest hit in Norway. “I understand that the restrictions are difficult,” Solberg said, “but I ask everyone to hold out. Together we can get through this.”
***Now police may even start controlling church attendance this weekend, after new rules limiting social gatherings nationwide to just 50 people have been extended to Norwegian churches and other religious organizations. That’s because church pews or other seating in halls of worship are not considered “assigned seating” and thus don’t qualify for gatherings of as many as 200 people. “We expect that churches and other religious organizations also want to reduce infection among the public, and follow the rules that apply,” Lars Aune of the state police directorate told newspaper Vårt Land. Most disappointed are all those arranging traditional Christmas concerts in churches this month and next. Many will now need to be cancelled, like so many other events.
***College and university students in Oslo and Bergen are being asked by officials in several of their home communities to voluntarily go into quarantine if they travel home for the Christmas holidays. Six municipalities in Møre og Romsdal fear the students can bring Corona infection home with them. Molde and Kristiansund are among the cities that aren’t exactly rolling out the welcome mats for returning students. Rauma, Aukra, Hustadvika and Averøy on the northwest coast also want to keep their infection rates low, especially after Oslo, Bergen and much of southeastern Norway are now listed as red zones with high infection rates. Quarantine “is a recommendation, not an order,” Dr Cato Innerdal, chief medical officer in Molde, told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. He noted that Molde is among cities that has retained control over infection and wants to hang on to it. He also thinks most returning students will try to travel home early to comply with the request, and avoid subjecting grandparents to any Corona exposure over Christmas Eve dinner.
***Oslo’s largest and most affluent suburbs, Bærum and Asker, are now joining the Norwegian capital in prohibiting restaurants, cafés and bars from serving alcoholic beverages. They’re also ordering the closure of physical fitness centers, swimming halls, bowling alleys and other public meeting places, to hinder the spread of the Corona virus. The new restrictions mark a complete reversal from local politicians’ earlier decision against following Oslo’s “social shutdown” last week. They later met lots of criticism and then the mayors of Bærum and Asker (both from the Conservative Party) received telephone calls Tuesday evening from Health Minister Bent Høie, also from the Conservatives.
Høie was concerned about the situation, Asker Mayor Lisbeth Hammer Krog told state broadcaster NRK, especially over how lots of Oslo residents were flocking over the border to Bærum and Asker to work out at still-open fitness centers. Now both Krog and Bærum Mayor Lene Conradi agree that there’s been “too much mobility,” even after the Conservatives’ Prime Minister Erna Solberg asked all Norwegians nationwide to just stay home for the next few weeks. “There were simply too many who weren’t staying home,” Krog admitted to NRK. The new bans on such social activity were taking effect immediately.
***Covid-19 researchers are turning to tran, Norway’s cure-all cod liver oil, to find out whether it may help people ward off the Corona virus. The researchers at Oslo University Hospital want 70,000 Norwegians to test tran in what may be the largest clinical study in Norway ever. Daily doses of tran have been obligatory for children in Norway for decades, and are often swallowed by adults as well. The cod liver oil, which lately has come in a variety of flavours and capsules to help overcome its decidedly fishy flavour, is believed to ward off everything from the common cold and winter blues to heart disease.
Now it will be the center of attention in The Tran Study, launched Tuesday after an earlier study last spring indicated that those taking tran had a lower Covid-19 infection rate. Researchers now want to find out whether “normal intake” of tran, billed as rich in Omega-3 and the vitamins A, D and E, can actually work as a preventive measure against the Corona virus. They also hope to find out whether tran can dampen the literally ill effects of Covid-19. Researchers intend to recruit as many as 70,000 Norwegians under the age of 73 nationwide, with some getting actual tran and others a placebo. The study is being partially financed by Norwegian food producer Orkla, which sells the Møllers tran brand that was already getting lots of free publicity.
***Border control was being boosted this week, after Norwegian authorities sharpened entry requirements as part of Corona containment measures. Norway’s Home Guard (Heimevernet) was called in to help police along the borders to Sweden in the Norwegian counties of Innlandet, Trøndelag and Nordland. Home Guard soldiers also assisted in border patrol tasks from March to June, shortly after the Corona crisis began.
***Everyone arriving in Norway from Denmark is urged to be tested for the Corona virus, after an outbreak of the virus among mink at Danish fur-farming businesses. “We want everyone who have been in Denmark during the past two weeks to be tested and go into quarantine for 10 days,” Assistant Health Director Dr Espen Nakstad stated in a press release over the weekend.
The UK has gone further, banning entry to anyone coming from Denmark. The virus mutation found in Danish mink has been found to spread from people to the animals and back to people, reported state broadcaster NRK.
Nakstad also urged those tested after having been in Denmark to report their situation to their local authorities in the municipality (kommune) where they live. “It’s very important that we don’t have any spreading of this new virus from mink in Denmark, which we fear can reduce the effect of a vaccine,” Nakstad said.
Norwegian health officials were jubilant, along with colleagues around the world, after a new vaccine was reported on Monday to be 90 percent effective. More testing remains, but the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech is due to be delivered to the EU to Norway via Sweden, hopefully in early 2021. Stock markets rose on the news, as did oil prices on Monday.
***Most Norwegians seem to be following tougher new Corona virus containment measure imposed, or about to be put in force, by state and local officials. Not everyone is cooperating, though, with police in Trondheim having to shut down a party that attracted more than 20 guests. “There was music and noise coming from an apartment,” Svein Aakervik, operations leader in Trøndelag, told state broadcaster NRK. “Police went to the address (about 1am on Friday) and met more than 20 people in the apartment. No one was taking infection restrictions into consideration.”
Local newspaper Adressa had reported on the party shortly after Prime Minister Erna Solberg had appealed to the nation in yet another press conference, asking Norwegians to “just stay home” until infection rates decline. The vast majority are doing so, according to a survey by NRK and random interviews immediately following Solberg’s remarks. Excessive partying in Trondheim has led to the closure of the city’s main student union, Studentersamfundet, near the campus of NTNU. In Oslo, meanwhile, city leaders have ordered a halt to all serving of alcoholic drinks and the closure of all cultural and social venues where the public gathers, except libraries.
***Norwegian police are taking tougher new Corona containment measures seriously indeed. They sent out a press release Thursday afternoon warning that violations of Corona regulations can now result in heavy fines. The announcement from the Oslo Police District came just hours after Prime Minister Erna Solberg had announced another new crackdown that basically calls on Norwegians to mostly stay home. Her government rolled out new nationwide restrictions on social gatherings, public events and entry into Norway from abroad that police clearly expect the public to respect.
Violations and especially repeat violations of quarantine rules, along with negligence and behaviour that can spread infection, will be logged and result in fines of as much as NOK 20,000 (USD 2,100). Repeat offenses will be fined more, the police warned. Norway is now in its second wave of the Corona crisis, with hundreds of people testing positive every day. State officials are trying to slow down the spread of infection and retain control, not least to ward off any breakdown in health care services.
***Opposition politicians in Parliament thanked Prime Minister Erna Solberg for addressing Parliament on Thursday, to brief them on the Corona situation in Norway and her government’s tougher anti-infection measures. All agreed that it’s important to try to halt the recent infection spike nationwide (see below). They also took the opportunity to make some demands, not least for more state aid to hard-hit businesses since, as Labour Party MP Hadia Tajik noted from the podium, “it looks like this (the Corona crisis) will last for many more months.” The Center Party’s Marit Arnstad stressed that dealing with the Corona crisis “is the government’s responsibility” while also requesting programs to help offset loneliness especially among the elderly. “And no one must die alone,” Arnstad said. MP Siv Jensen noted that her Progress Party had proposed tougher entry requirements into Norway, including proof of negative Covid-19 tests, as early as August while also urging everyone to follow the Corona regulations. “There is all reason to be worried,” Jensen said.
***Bergen and Oslo registered another record number of Corona infection cases on Wednesday. Infection rates were also high in Tromsø, Trondheim and Stavanger, while Sørlandet Hospital in Kristiansand had to boost preparedness after a local choir’s practice session left members singing the blues.
Officials all over Norway were pleading with their residents to be more careful, cancel all free-time activities and limit all social contact. A practice session of the choir Nordvesten in Farsund was found to be the source of infection among nearly 30 people living in Farsund and Lyngdal. More cases were expected after choir members brought infection home and likely exposed others.
The infection situation was much worse farther north along the coast in Stavanger and especially in Bergen, which registered 82 new Corona cases since Tuesday. Local officials are now having to consider more restrictions or even closure of schools and day care centers as the city struggles with an infection rate of 238 confirmed Corona cases per 100,000 residents. Oslo, meanwhile, logged another 161 cases of residents testing positive for the Corona virus, a new record just a day after the old one. The Norwegian capital ended up registering 1,885 new cases of Covid-19 in the month of October.
***Norwegians who own holiday homes just over the border in Sweden still can’t visit them, unless they go through 10 days of quarantine upon arrival back in Norway. Both Sweden’s and Norway’s infection rates have risen sharply in recent weeks, keeping the border between the neighbouring countries effectively closed. Those with hytter in Sweden who haven’t been able to visit their properties since March can only make a day trip for necessary maintenance. Some health officials argued last week that an exception could be made for overnight stays, but the ominous infection situation in Norway prompted the government to delay any relaxation of current rules.
***Norway registered its highest number of new Corona cases in a 24-hour period since the pandemic began. Not as many Norwegians are as seriously ill now, however, than they were in March, according to the state health directorate. A total of 704 new cases of people testing positive to the Corona virus were registered from Monday to Tuesday (Nov 3), 101 of them in Oslo. That’s up from around 30 new cases a day reported as late as August. More than 1,000 new cases have been registered in just the past two days, since Sunday.
The numbers confirm the trend we have seen since the summer holidays,” Dr Espen Nakstad, assistant state health director, told state broadcaster NRK. He noted that the infection numbers rose to around 100 new cases a day in September, then 500 a day by the end of October. “This is a trend we don’t like,” Nakstad said. “It’s quite similar to what we’re seeing in Europe, even though it’s not rising quite as quickly.”
The Norwegian government confirmed it will tighten Corona restrictions yet again later this week. Politicians at both the state and local levels are trying to avoid a lockdown or curfews like those imposed in countries elsewhere in Europe.
***The ongoing spread of the Corona virus, coupled with uncertainty over when a vaccine will be available, has prompted calls for Norway’s state compensation and financial support to continue at least until Easter. The travel industry has already been granted an extension of its emergency aid through February.
Norwegian government officials announced late last week that they’re adding nearly NOK 3 billion in funding to hotels, restaurants and other businesses mostly shut down by the Corona virus. Local municipal governments can also expect billions more in funding from the state to compensate them for extraordinary Corona expenses and revenue loss. Most of the money will likely come from Norway’s sovereign wealth fund that’s been fueled by oil revenues over the years, and otherwise meant to fund pensions for future generations.
The head of Norway’s national employers’ organization NHO, Ole Erik Almlid, still doesn’t think all the state aid is enough. He warns that the Corona crisis will last much longer than most people have expected, and that emergency aid will be needed through next year in order to fend off a rash of bankruptcies and more job losses. He wants the aid to apply to a much wider range of businesses: “The travel and entertainment industries are hard hit. We see a need for more general aid as well, because many others are hit hard, too.”
***Face masks are now highly recommended for everyone working inside Norway’s Parliament. Parliament President Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen wants Members of Parliament to also use masks while inside the Parliament’s main chamber, even though plexiglass dividers have been set up around MPs’ seats. She also wants face masks to be worn when MPs are chatting together, with reporters or others inside the Parliament’s main hall. “The top priority for us is to hinder the spread of infection, and to secure the Parliament’s work,” Trøen told news bureau NTB. She has also cancelled the Parliament’s traditional Christmas lunch inside the historic building in December.
***There was another big rise in Corona cases in Oslo from Thursday to Friday, with 137 cases registered heading into the weekend. That’s up from 102 the day before, while more Corona drama was spreading in Drammen and Stavanger, where hospital staff had to be sent into quarantine.
Fully 944 cases of Covid-19 have been registered in the Norwegian capital during the past 14 days. The numbers remain modest compared to other countries, but mark a major increase in local infection levels, both locally and nationally. The nearby city of Drammen was also struggling with a sharp rise in infection levels, with around 100 new cases reported on Friday. The city’s main hospital that also serves much of the sprawling Viken County also had to send several staff members into quarantine after they were exposed to patients with Corona infection.
In Stavanger, meanwhile, a clinic chief at the Stavanger University Hospital tested positive for Corona. That forced the hospital’s entire top management group into quarantine including hospital administrator Helle Schøyen, reports local newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad.
***With face masks now obligatory on public transportation and when Norwegians can’t stay a meter apart, competition authorities have been studying face mask prices. They rose sharply when the Corona crisis first set in last spring. The price increase sparked reaction, noted the authorities at Konkurransetilsynet, so they decided to chart how prices rose.
They concluded that local pharmacies did not exploit the crisis to price face masks “unreasonably high,” even though prices quadrupled in some cases. “At the same time, the pharmacy chains’ margins narrowed,” wrote the competition authorities in a press release Thursday. “That means the price increase did not lead to gains for the pharmacies.” Higher retail sales prices were tied to higher wholesale prices charged by foreign suppliers. Face mask prices have since delined somewhat, but the authorities say they’ll continue to monitor the supply and demand situation in the months ahead.
***New cases of Corona infection in Norway rose by fully 79 percent in the past week, with steadily more of the infection coming from abroad. Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian public health institute FHI, called the increase “considerable,” while noting that most of the new cases are in Oslo. “This shows that it was correct to impose a higher degree of restrictions like the government did on Monday,” Stoltenberg stated in a press release on Wednesday.
She cited increases in most all Norwegian counties and all age groups. Infection rates were highest in Oslo and lowest in Agder on the southwestern coast. FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) reported that most of the infection occurred in private homes, at private parties and at schools and universities.
“The plan now is to avoid a new wave of infection, gain control over the spread of infection through the measures now imposed and continue to track down infection sources, conduct widespread testing and target areas where infection has occurred,” Stoltenberg said. “We must control the increase we’re now seeing as quickly as possible.”
***Never before had Bergen registered so many new cases of Corona infection in just one day. With 77 new cases from Monday to Tuesday, city officials announced a string of tougher measures aimed at halting the spread of Covid-19, as other cases sparked concern all over the country.
Private gatherings in Bergen will be limited to no more than 10 people, only 50 can gather at public events if there’s no assigned seating, and face masks will be obligatory on public transportation and inside public places like stores, shopping centers, bars and restaurants. That’s just some of the measures due to take effect from midnight Wednesday.
Elsewhere in Norway, one of the nuns at the Lunden Cloister in Oslo tested positive for the Corona virus after visiting Poland. She’s one of hundreds testing positive after returning from Poland, and joins at least 344 confirmed cases among airline passengers landing in Norway. The vast majority are workers from Poland, who now face tougher quarantine restrictions.
The City of Hammerfest in Northern Norway continues to top infection rates in Norway, with the equivalent of 244.6 cases per 100,000 residents, even though Hammerfest’s population is far below that.
Two members of the King’s Guards in Oslo have also tested positive. That’s led to curfews for two units of guards stationed at Camp Huseby in the capital, where three employees were also confirmed with the Corona virus. Several others are in quarantine.
***Two Norwegian sports stars have tested positive to the Corona virus, including the country’s newest football comet Jens Petter Hauge. The 20-year-old was just signed by AC Milan, has scored his first goal and has no symptoms, but now he’ll be held in isolation at home. Alpine skier Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, the reigning World Cup winner, was also in isolation this week after a positive Corona test. He was routinely tested after arriving home from the World Cup opening in Sölden, even though he reportedly has followed all routines that are strictly applied to the national ski team. Kilde has mild symptoms and was in isolation, but told Norwegian media he was optimistic that he’d quickly recover.
***Parliament won’t release the plans it had for pandemic preparedness or its internal evaluations of how to handle the Corona crisis, not even to the Corona Commission charged with examining Norway’s response to the pandemic. That’s led to charges of secrecy by the country’s elected representatives.
The Parliament’s president, Tone Wilhelmsen Trøen of the Conservative Party, refused a request for documents from the Corona Commission. State broadcaster NRK reported Monday that Trøen, whose position ranks second only to the monarch in Norway, also questioned whether it was within the commission’s mandate to examine the Parliament’s role and actions during the Corona crisis,
Trøen wrote in her response that the commission “has no authority over the Parliament.” She further wrote that preparedness plans and internal evaluations are routinely withheld from the public as a security measure. Her office found no reason to alter that practice, with Trøen pointing to constitutional regulations. At least one law professor disagrees with her interpretation, and criticized a lack of willingness for more openness.
The Corona crisis has clearly affected the Parliament, with meetings and voting held with only half of all Members of Parliament present, several cases of Corona infection among MPs, quarantine for others, cancellation of the weekly questioning of the government and closure of the public gallery during the first several weeks of the crisis, and installation of plexiglass between MPs seats.
***The city of Bergen has broken a dubious record for new confirmed cases of the Corona virus, after 57 residents tested positive just in the last day Oct 23). City officials scolded those knowingly breaking rules imposed to hinder the spread of infection: “Straighten up!” demanded Dr Trond Egil Hansen, the city’s chief medical authority.
Bergen officials also warned that they’d be imposing new stricter local Corona containment measures, not unlike how the state government is also cracking down following Corona outbreaks all over the country. The leader of Bergen’s city government, Roger Valhammer of the Labour Party, called the record number of new cases “disturbing,” adding that he was “extremely uneasy about the time ahead.”
More than half of those now infected are in the 20-29 age group, with Valhammer confirming that most of them were infected at parties and other private social gatherings. Some of the new cases have also been tied to visits to local bars. “Many have only had mild symptoms or hardly any, so it took time before they tested themselves,” Valhammer said. In the meantime, they likely infected others when they failed to remain at a distance of at least one meter. Elderly people are now especially at risk (see below). “If we’re going to be able to keep Bergen open, people have to stop violating the rules,” Valhammer said. “I can’t say that clearly enough: you have to stay at least a meter apart from everyone else, always.”
***Corona infection in Norway has reached the elderly again, and that’s why hospitalizations nationwide have more than doubled in the past week. “We’ve seen a rise in infection in Norway since August, but until now, most of the infection has been among young Norwegians,” Dr Espen Nakstad, Norway’s assistant state health director, told news bureau NTB. “Now we’re seeing that infection has spread to older Norwegians, and more of them need to be hospitalized.” If infection rates continue to rise, and young people don’t observe social distancing, Nakstad fears more serious illness and more deaths. Most Corona-related deaths have been among people aged 80-89, and 52 percent of all deaths have been men.
***More than 250 people were sent into quarantine in Norway’s inland city of Gjøvik on Thursday (Oct 22), after 16 residents tested positive to the Corona virus. The new outbreak has occurred among municipal employees, and they were asked to work from home. A local health care center was closed and officials were scrambling to track sources of infection. All other businesses were also asked to have employees work from home where possible.
There have also been other new cases of the Corona virus in the area around Gjøvik known as Toten. It’s a largely rural area that hadn’t been hit hard before. Eastern- and Western Toten are, along with Gjøvik, viewed as a residential and working region, though, so officials claimed it was “very important” to limit infection in the entire area as soon as possible.
***Justice Minister Monica Mæland came out swinging on Wednesday against Norwegians who drop quarantine and return to work right after returning from countries with high Corona virus infection rates. She warned of criminal consequences if they’re found out. “It’s unacceptable,” Mæland told state broadcaster NRK, referring to those who risk exposing not only themselves but others to the Corona illness Covid-19. “Everyone knows the rules. They know how they’re supposed to handled. If you travel abroad, you go into quarantine. It’s just that simple.”
Mæland is the latest and highest-ranking Norwegian official to scold those who aren’t following the rules. Her remarks come after the health and welfare director in Trondheim, a city now struggling with a high infection rate, called people who ignore quarantine rules “terribly egotistical” (see below). As Norway’s top political official in charge of police and the courts, Mæland could also remind anyone violating quarantine rules that they face being reported to police and hit with criminal charges. She thinks relatively few people have willingly violated quarantine rules, “but we must follow through on this with police charges and punishment.” She added that she hopes that won’t be necessary.
State health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog added that the vast majority of infection in Norway in recent months can be blamed on quarantine violations. “It’s very unfortunate if people don’t follow quarantine rules,” he told NRK.
***Health authorities worry that too many Norwegians are starting to ignore Corona virus containment measures again. The leader of the infection control unit in Trondheim called it “terribly egotistical” when some people have traveled home from “red” regions and countries and gone straight to work.
“Some people have failed to inform where they’ve been, gone to work and then tested positive,” Helge Garåsen, health and welfare director in Trondheim, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. He denounced how they then have exposed many others to the virus as they intend to “keep living normally” themselves. Trondheim is in the midst of another outbreak after Corona virus infection spread at two local local and exposed more than 1,000 people, who remain in quarantine. Seven more bars and restaurants are affected as well, after many people moved among them last weekend.
The northern county of Troms og Finnmark is also struggling with Corona outbreaks, including one tied to the Finnmark Hospital in Hammerfest (see below). There have also been outbreaks tied to local bars, and then another large fishing boat arrived in Tromsø with several crew on board ill with Corona symptoms. Test results showed 13 of 14 crew members negative, but they all need to stay in quarantine. Nine people have also tested positive for Covid-19 at the Sør-Tromsøya nursing home, one of them an employee who’s also a student at the University of Tromsø. That’s set off infection tracking there as well.
In Oslo, meanwhile, another 53 cases of Corona were reported overnight. That’s 23 more than in the previous 24-hour period, with most of the cases concentrated in the Frogner and Bjerke districts of the capital. Oslo residents are now widely using face masks when riding on public transport, however, thus abiding by local regulations imposed earlier this month.
***State officials announced more financial aid to businesses in the travel industry that have lost more than 40 percent of their revenues during the Corona crisis. They’ll be eligible for state compensation through the rest of this year, said Trade Minister Iselin Nybø at the government’s press conference on Tuesday. Hotels around Norway have been especially hard-hit after almost all international tourist arrivals ended and Norwegians went back to work after the summer holidays. One hotel in Lofoten was reporting occupancy rates of only 15 percent so far this autumn, with its owner taking up loans to pay bills.
***A Corona outbreak in the northern city of Hammerfest kept expanding over the weekend, with its local hospital, Finnmarkssykehuset, hit hard. Around 90 hospital employees have been forced into quarantine after 12 tested positive for Covid-19. Another 60 people in Hammerfest were also in quarantine in the city, which has a total population of just over 11,000.
Massive testing was underway as officials worked to control the outbreak. A total of 17 residents had tested positive as of Monday morning, most of them with ties to the hospital that has had to postpone many operations and treatments and currently can only admit people needing emergency care, along with children and women about to give birth. Other hospitals were standing by to assist, but all are located far from Hammerfest because of the vast distances in Northern Norway.
Hammerfest Mayor Marianne Sivertsen Næss told state broadcaster NRK that infection tracing measures have been underway for several days. One man in Trondheim has also been traced to the Hammerfest outbreak, after being in the city earlier this month, flying home on the 11th and recently testing positive. Everyone on his flight is also being contacted by personnel at the state public health institute FHI.
***Authorities in Bergen planned to boost imspections of local bars, restaurants and nightclubs over the weekend, in an effort to better enforce Corona containment measures. Other cities may do the same, after the numbers of new cases of Covid-19 infection continue to rise. Bergen registered 31 new cases from Thursday to Friday (Oct 16), some of them difficult to trace. Most of those testing positive are young adults and one works at a local nursing home. That forced quarantine of 17 residents and several other employees.
City officials warned there would be lots more inspections of eating and drinking establishments to make sure infection control measures were followed. If not, the bars and restaurants involved can be shut down. All establishments are also urged to register the names and phone numbers of all guests, to ease infection tracking efforts if needed. The crackdown comes after more than 800 people in Trondheim were ordered into quarantine after several new cases of Covid-19 infection were traced to one single bar that was quickly closed (see below). Several of those now quarantined were complaining on Friday that the bar should have closed much earlier than it did.
***More than 1,000 people in Trondheim were in quarantine this week, fully 800 of them after they visited a bar called “Lille London” last weekend and may have been infected by a particularly contagious strain of the Corona virus. Alarms rang when several people tested positive to the virus and infection control trackers found they’d all separately visited the bar. Around 100 people were intially ordered into quarantine but then 700 more were asked to quarantine themselves as well.
“This is a variant of the virus that’s more contagious than we’ve seen earlier,” Trondheim’s chief medical officer, Dr Tove Røsstad, told state broadcaster NRK. Most of those in quarantine are in their 20s and none has become seriously ill.
The bar itself sent out a warning that after a guest on October 7 tested positive, an employee did, too, but had worked three days last week. The bar has since been closed down for a thorough wash.
***All operations and medical treatments have been postponed at the Finnmark Hospital in Hammerfest, after two employees tested positive to the Corona virus. They’ve been placed in isolation and it remained unclear Thursday (Oct 15) how they were infected. More tests of employees were planned and infection-tracking procedures were underway. Hospitals in Kirkenes and Tromsø were alerted in case some patients may need to be transferred.
***Fully two-thirds of Norwegians support the government’s Corona containment measures, according to a new survey conducted for the state health authorities who advise the government. A third, however, struggle to maintain social distancing.
Dr Bjørn Guldvog, state health director, said he was “very encouraged” by the survey results and told state broadcaster NRK that he also wanted to thank Norwegians for their support and cooperation since the Corona crisis began.
Nine out of 10 people questioned were following state health authorities’ advice and believe it’s important to be tested if they developed Corona-like symptoms. Eight out of 10 said they would stay home if they fell ill, also if they only had mild symptoms.
A third of all questioned, though, found it difficult to stay at least a meter away from people not in their immediate family or household. Guldvog responded that it nonetheless remains important to limit all social contact until infection levels decline to a level when it’s possible to ease restrictions.
***So many people working at Norway’s gateway airport in Oslo stand to lose their jobs that state welfare agency NAV is setting up an office at the airport to handle applications for unemployment benefits and offer advice to job seekers. In addition to all the laid off airline employees, thousands working at OSL Gardermoen in restaurants, shops, bars, lounges, security, baggage handling, cleaning services and ground control face losing their jobs now, too. The airport recently expanded to meet ever-growing traffic at the time, but now almost everyone at OSL faces an uncertain future. Passenger counts have fallen by more than half, according to the state-owed airport operator Avinor, which doesn’t expect to see 2019 traffic levels return until 2024.
***A new mutation of the Corona virus has been found among passengers who set off on a fateful bus tour of Southern Norway last month. Fully 38 of the 40 on board wound up testing positive to Covid-19, but none became critically ill or died even though nearly all were senior citizens and thus at risk.
State broadcaster NRK reported Tuesday that the state public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) has now determined that all the passengers on the infamous tour (see below) were infected with a strain of the virus that hasn’t been found in Norway before. It has, however, in several other European countries and Australia. Eight of the 38 were treated in hospital but the others never became seriously ill.
“We don’t know what this new mutation means, but so far it doesn’t look like people get any sicker.” Others working in hotels and restaurants where the bus passengers stayed and ate have also been found with the new mutation, and all on the bus are now participating in a research project at Stavanger University Hospital that’s trying to determine why so many people were infected and why so few became seriously ill. The oldest passenger infected was 88.
An outbreak of the Corona virus at three schools in Lillehammer has also been traced to those on the bus, which had stopped in the former Olympic host city. They’re ill with the same mutation of the virus that now has infected 19 Lillehammer residents and sent 300 people into quarantine. It all stems from one administrative employee at the hotel where the bus group stayed, and spread from there. Bus tour passengers are also believed to have infected people in Røros, Dovre, Molde, Førde and Kvam.
***Bergen has registered 112 new cases of Corona infection during the past week, fully 35 of them tied to people who all visited the same bar on the same evening. City officials reported 20 new cases of the virus on Tuesday. Most of the 35 infected at the same bar were linked to guests who’d been at a birthday party earlier in the evening and wound up at the bar. “This shows how important it is to social distance,” Dr Karina Koller Løland, in charge of infectious disease in Bergen, told NRK.
***Immigration officals have halted deportations of illegal aliens in Norway because of the Corona crisis. Those found to be living in Norway without authorization can most likely stay for now, since repatriation has become difficult “even with countries with which we normally cooperate,” Arne Jørgen Olafsen of the Norwegian police unit dealing with immigration issues told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
His unit was supposed to forcibly return around 500 illegal immigrants back to their homelands or their first port of entry in Europe if they arrived as asylum seekers. Only around 120-135 will be returned this year, however. “It’s incredibly demanding to deport people now, both because of strict quarantine rules and airlines that aren’t operating as normal,” Olafsen said. Fully NOK 90 million of the NOK 100 million his unit was granted under this year’s state budget will be returned to the state treasury, he said, because police haven’t spent the money allocated to finance flights for those being deported and their police escorts.
***48 asylum seekers residing at Norway’s main arrivals center at Råde in Østfold were placed in quarantine for the next week after one of them tested positive for the Corona virus. They won’t be allowed to leave the large center, where families and individuals sleep in indoor tents. “We have a confirmed infection for the first time,” Knut Jostein Berglyd of immigration agency UDI, which runs the center, told state broadcaster NRK. Efforts to trace the source of infection and anyone else who may be infected were underway.
***Two large groups of Asian workers, some of whom were brought to Norway by Norwegian farmers to pick strawberries during harvest time, have been left stranded and face losing the money they earned because of Corona quarantine regulations. Several other workers, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia, ended up stuck on board a tugboat in Western Norway and hadn’t been paid since March 1.
The Vietnamese strawberry pickers were flown to Norway early last summer after farmers including Marius Egge in Lier, southwest of Oslo, chartered air transport to ensure a source of reliable and relatively cheap seasonal labour. Even though the Vietnamese workers accept less pay than Norwegians, some of them have told newspaper Klassekampen that they expected to earn as much money in the summer season as they’d be able to save at home over two years.
The strawberry harvest was poor, however, they had to pay for the flights the farmers arranged and Klassekampen reports that now the Vietnamese authorities have restricted their repatriation because of an alleged lack of mandatory quarantine capacity in a Hanoi hotel that’s also expensive. The Vietnamese workers stand to not only use up all the money they earned in the Norwegian farmers’ fields but also go into debt.
Klassekampen reported that the farmers who arranged for the Vietnamese workers to come to Norway and their national organization Bondelaget are “discussing” who’s responsible for the hundreds of stranded farm workers. A farmers’ representative claimed the farmers aren’t legally responsible for seasonal workers once their contract has ended, which was August 31 for several of those still stuck in Norway. Some farmers have offered shelter while others have had to rely on help from the local Vietnamese community in Oslo until they can finally travel home.
Meanwhile, in Langevåg on Norway’s West Coast, 13 crew members on board a tug boat that arrived in Norway in September were effectively stuck on board because of both Corona restrictions and because they had no money. They hadn’t been paid by the vessel’s Greek owner, Diavlos Salvage & Towage Ltd, since March, so it was arrested by Nowegian authorities. State broadcaster NRK reported that Diavlos claimed it had financial difficulties because of the Corona crisis, but officials of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) called their situation “a form of modern slavery” since they were trapped on board with no funds to travel home. Then the vessel ran out of diesel, making it uninhabitable.
The ITF ultimately managed to help the crew obtain compensation, however, through maritime insurance that clicks in when a shipowner is deemed as abandoning a vessel. The crew received four of the seven months’ of pay they were owed plus transport home. The vessel, still tied up at Langevåg, will now be sold at auction, with proceeds earmarked to cover the crew’s remaining claims and the insurance firm’s outlay.
***Oslo officials will not ease Corona restrictions when state officials do on October 12, because of another city-wide spike in virus infection. They’re concerned that another 80 people in Oslo tested positive to the Corona virus on Thursday, 33 more than the day before and including 10 students at the University of Oslo’s historic Blindern Studenthjem (dormitory). Now all 200 students living there are in quarantine.
The infection at the dormitory is tied a visit by an infected non-resident last Monday. The college dorm later organized a party that reportedly was attended by around 70 students, some of whom also were likely infected. State broadcaster NRK reported that the students had received permission to hold the party from a local medical official, who now regrets his decision. “If we’d known anyone was infected we would have said ‘no’ to the party,” Dr Tom Sundar told NRK Thursday afternoon.
Party time is now officially over in Oslo, according to city government leader Raymond Johansen. Of the 408 new cases reported nationwide over just the past two days, more than half (239) are in the age group 20-29. Even though they may not fall seriously ill themselves, they remain contagious and can infect all others around them including those who are far more at risk.
Oslo city officials called an emergency meeting Thursday morning (October 8) to consider whether to tighten local infection control measures. State officials recently announced an easing of Corona rules nationally but Oslo’s are already tougher and they’ll be extended because of high infection levels in the capital. Johansen urged “as little social contact as possible” in the weeks ahead and mandatory use of face masks, while bars will continue to close at midnight. He also urged residents to drop any plans for Christmas parties known as julebord.
***New cases of Covid-19 infection keep rolling in, from the West Coast up to Northern Norway. The northern city of Tromsø was hit hard once again by an arriving ship with infected crew members on board. Just two months after having to deal with a Hurtigruten vessel where both passengers and crew were infected and sick, local newspaper iTromsø reports that a Russian fishing trawler docked with 24 of 34 people on board testing positive to the Corona virus. Three were showing symptoms and all were put in isolation at a former nursing home in Tromsø. Those testing negative were put in quarantine at another location.
At the other end of the country in Agder on the south coast, Evje Ungdomsskole was closed for 10 days after a student tested positive. Local officials were tracking the source of infection that has worried both school employees and parents. In nearby Grimstad, an employee at the Frivolltun nursing home also tested positive but no infection was registered among residents uet. Three were put in isolation.
An additional 19 people were also confirmed with the Corona virus in Bergen on Wednesday (Oct 7), the highest number in more than two weeks. Bergen had a Covid-19 outbreak last month but had brought it under control. Now there’s another, with most of those testing positive in the age group 20-29.
***Infection numbers are alarming officials in Oslo once again, not least because they’ve already been rising sharply in recent weeks (see below). The capital’s medical team monitoring them reported the biggest overnight increase in the past week-and-a-half, when infection rates were already sounding alarms.
A total of 54 new cases were registered in the Norwegian capital in the 24 hours from Monday to Tuesday (Oct 6). Now more men are testing positive than women, with Oslo accounting for fully a third of new nationwide Covid-19 infection logged overnight. Oslo officials are nonetheless registering more public skepticism to Corona containment measures.
Infection rates are also troubling small communities, including the mountain holiday retreat of Trysil in eastern Norway. It recorded two deaths in the past week, both of them elderly residents, one of whom received home health services.
The Corona outbreak in Trysil has been traced to health care workers who help residents in their homes, and began even before Trysil attracted visitors during the current annual autumn holidays when schools are closed. All home health care workers are now using full protective gear aimed at limiting the spread of infection. Around 125 municipal workers were in quarantine this week along with another 100 in self-imposed isolation. By Thursday, all 150 employees of Trysil’s home health care unit were in quarantine: “It’s a lockdown,” declared Trysil’s chief medical officer Dr Hanna Rydlöv.
***Another casualty of the Corona crisis has emerged, with owners of pet kennels now complaining that their business has all but disappeared. Since hardly anyone is traveling anymore, they don’t need to take their dogs or cats to kennels while they’re away. “We’ve lost around NOK 500,000 in revenues up to now and received NOK 80,000 in state compensation,” one kennel owner told state broadcaster NRK Tuesday morning. He’s now using empty kennel space to service and store bicycles, in an attempt to drum up new business.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg sent “get-well” wishes to US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania on Friday, after both tested positive for the Corona virus. She cautioned against using their infection as proof that Trump has handled the Corona crisis poorly. “I don’t think we should gloat over people getting sick,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I think this is difficult, no matter who gets sick.”
She was referring to commentators and critics who have claimed that Trump has done a poor job of controlling the Corona virus in his country, and hasn’t taken it seriously enough. Trump has also mocked many, including his opponent in the upcoming presidential election Joe Biden, for using face masks and avoiding crowds.
“I send get-well wishes to Donald Trump and everyone else who is infected by Corona,” Solberg told NRK. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic and this is an example of how contagious the virus is. That’s why we’ve imposed so many Corona containment measures.”
***Several neighbourhoods in Oslo are still reporting high infection rates of more than 100 confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents. Among them are Frogner, Gamle Oslo, Grorud, Grünerløkka, Sagene, St Hanshaugen and Stovner.
Oslo’s sudden spike in Corona cases has prompted several neighbouring towns to go ahead with stricter measures aimed at preventing the spread of infection. Face masks are now mandatory on public transportation in Nordre Follo, Lørenskog and Asker among other areas.
Oslo’s face mask order was extended to all those working in nursing homes and other health care facilities, in order to protect residents and employees. Residents aged 20 to 29 (now the age group with the highest rate of infection) have also been asked to refrain from visiting anyone at a nursing home or hospital.
Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen, OSL, has also imposed a face mask order, reports website flysmart24. Face masks will be required if people are unable to meet social distancing requirements of at least one meter.
***Threats have been lodged against some employees of Norway’s public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet), prompting FHI to call in the police. Researchers tie the threats to some members of a Corona-weary public who feel they’ve lost control over their own lives.
FHI employees have been on the front lines of the Corona crisis for many months, through their weekly press conferences, recommendations and warnings about travel. Their recommendations often become official regulations, and aren’t always popular with people who’ve ended up losing their jobs during the crisis or simply want to visit their holiday homes in Sweden or Spain. FHI has confirmed to newspaper Aftenposten that some FHI employees have thus been the target of threats: “We have had more of this (threats) now than earlier,” wrote Gun Peggy Knudsen, assistant FHI director, in an email to Aftenposten.
Knudsen noted, however, that “it’s not unnatural” to see an increase “in a situation where many people can experience both fear and anxiety.” Knudsen didn’t detail the nature of the threats, but called them “unacceptable,” adding that FHI routinely reports such concrete threats to police when they’re viewed as credible. All FHI employees were informed as early as last summer that since the institute is so exposed in the media now, “it can attract people who can threaten or be behind unwanted incidents. We are working on how we can further boost security.”
***The University Hospital in Stavanger was on heightened alert Tuesday after an employee in its intensive care unit tested positive to the Corona virus. That sent 130 other employees into quarantine, and prompted the cancellation of operations.
The employee developed symptoms on Saturday and has stayed home since then. She had worked both Thursday and Friday last week, so hospital officials were tracking everyone she came in contact with. It remained unclear how she was infected.
The hospital has transferred patients needing intensive care to hospitals in Haugesund and Bergen, while the intensive care unit at the hospital in Stavanger was being washed down. All patient visits were also halted, and hospital adminstrators believe they had the situation under control. All patients were also being tested and put into isolation.
***Face masks will now be mandatory, not just recommended, on all public transport in Oslo and probably in most of the greater Oslo metropolitan area. Health Minister Bent Høie says he’s been “extremely worried” about rising Corona infection levels in Oslo, and that they’ll spread outside the capital.
Høie wasn’t satisfied with the Corona containment measures in Oslo, claiming at a press conference Monday (Sept 28) that he didn’t think Oslo’s city government had cracked down hard enough. Oslo officials had said they wanted to wait for new test results from the weekend before setting in stricter measures, and Høie was skeptical, even suggesting that Oslo officials may lose control of the infection situation.
He and state health officials also wanted Oslo to limit private social gatherings to no more than five people, and to halt entry to bars and restaurants after 10pm. Oslo city government leader Raymond Johansen refused to go along with that, but did agree to the face mask requirement. Johansen also ordered all bars and restaurants to register their guests (to make any necessary infection tracking easier later), while indoor gatherings will now be limited to no more than 50 people if they don’t have assigned seats. Face masks will also be used in connection with home health care for the elderly.
After earlier disagreement between Høie and Johansen, Høie said Monday night that he was now satisfied with Oslo’s Corona restrictions and hoped neighbouring municipalities would adopt them as well. He held an emergency digital meeting with political leaders of smaller municipalities around Oslo, at which new containment measures would be discussed. Those summoned were from Hole, Lier, Asker, Bærum, Nittedal, Lunner, Gran, Gjerdrum, Frogn, Lørenskog, Lillestrøm, Rælingen, Ås, Nesodden and Nordre Follo.
Bærum Mayor Lisbeth Hammer Krog told state broadcaster NRK that it was a “constructive meeting” aimed at streamlining Corona regulations. “Lots of our residents work in Oslo, we have two metro lines into the city, and I fully support use of face masks on board,” Krog told NRK. Other measures also appeared likely to be adopted.
***Two nurses in the intensive care unit for newborns at Rikshospitalet in Oslo have tested positive for the Corona virus. Three babies also tested positive and were then put into isolation, while 25 employees were sent into quarantine, reported TV2 on Sunday. Those in quarantine include both doctors and nurses, but hospital officials said there still was enough staffing to meet demand. “We’re very lucky, because there are relatively few patients admitted right now,” Dr Tor Einar Calisch told state broadcaster NRK. “We can handle this.”
***There’s no Corona-related bans on hytte visits when thousands of Norwegians take off on Friday for a traditional week of autumn holiday. State health officials have announced that everyone could head for their much-cherished holiday homes “with good conscience,” and they now recognize that it also can be good to get people out of cities where Covid-19 infection levels have risen.
With schools closed this week in southeastern Norway and next week in western Norway, Dr Bjørn Guldvog of the state health directorate hopes there will be less demand for public transport. That can also hinder the spread of infection, he said.
A controversial ban on hytte visits, to relieve any demand on local health care services in small communities, spoiled the Easter holidays for many. Many Norwegians spend the autumn holidays in the mountains, and now local communities are encouraging visits: “We welcome all guests,” stated the mayor of Hol near Geilo. Others admitted that their local retailers and other businesses that cater to the tourism market couldn’t tolerate another loss of business like that over Easter.
Folks heading for the mountains must brace for some stormy weather, though, that can include lots of strong winds, rain and snow. All motorists were urged to have winter tires on their vehicles, after storm warnings were posted from Saltfjellet in the north to Trøndelag and Møre og Romsdal in the south.
***A bus tour of Southern Norway ended with at least 33 of 40 participants testing positive for the Corona virus. Most of the tourists, all of them retired Norwegians, are from Nord-Jæren in Rogaland on Norway’s west coast.
The ill-fated bus tour was supposed to be a welcome break from months of Corona isolation. It ended with such serious consequences that four mayors in Rogaland held another press conference Tuesday evening, to express concern for how risky such gatherings can be. By Friday, hotel personnel along the bus’ route in Kvam and Norheimsund were also testing positive.
Alarms first rang when health officials in Sandnes, just south of Stavanger, were alerted that one of their residents had fallen ill and been admitted to hospital in Bergen with Covid-19. “We found out that she’d been infected while traveling on the bus tour,” Dr Hans Petter Torvik, chief medical officer in Sandnes, told state broadcaster NRK.
All the other passengers were then informed and tested as soon as the bus arrived in Stavanger. From there, they were driven directly to their homes in Stavanger, Sandnes, Sola, Randaberg and Hå, and put in quarantine in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading further beyond their group.
By Tuesday evening, test results showed 31 of the 40 had also tested positive for Covid-19, and that number rose to 33 on Wednesday. Health officials are now following up with all the hotels and restaurants where the group stayed during the trip that began on September 15. NRK reported that their route went from Stavanger east to Skuleskard and Vikersund, then north through Gudbrandsdalen to Trollstigen and back southwest again to Førde, Norheimsund and Åkrafjorden. Six employees at the Scandic Sundfjord Hotel in Førde were also put in quarantine but none had tested positive as of Wednesday morning.
It remained unclear how the infection got on board the bus, but doctors speculate one of the passengers was infected without knowing it or having any symptoms. Then it spread quickly in the closed environment on board.
“We had perhaps relaxed a bit too much because we’ve had little infection in our area,” Sandnes Mayor Stanley Wirak of the Labour Party said at the press conference. “This just shows how quickly things can change.”
***Fully 90 percent of Corona-related deaths in Norway have involved patients who also suffered from a chronic illness, according to new statistics from a state registry that compiles cause of death. That can help clarify why some Covid-19 patients become so ill and die, while others don’t.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that state public health institute FHI has gone through statistics compiled in the registry (Dødsårsaksregisteret) during the first three months of the Corona pandemic. The numbers are preliminary and can vary as more reports regarding cause of death are registered, but the trend appears clear: of the 236 Corona-related deaths in Norway from March through May, 215 of those dying had another chronic illness in addition to testing positive for the Corona virus.
“We can say that the most important factor leading to the deaths of all 215 was Covid-19,” Dr Marianne Sørlie Strøm of FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) told NRK, “but we can’t say how much the other causes of death have contributed.”
Most of the deaths (83) were among people in the age group 80-89. There were 32 deaths in the age group under 70. The total number of deaths in Norway during the same March-May period, 10,217, wasn’t higher than the roughly 192 deaths per 100,000 residents registered during the same time period in 2019. It was, in fact, a bit lower, at 190. Fewer Norwegians died last spring from flu, noted FHI, perhaps because of the Corona containment measures that kept many people at home and thus also protected them from flu infection.
Most of those infected with Covid-19 who died during the three-month period had either heart or lung ailments. Several had more than one chronic illness in addition to Covid-19, according to FHI.
***Oslo officials are cracking down on residents’ social lives, in an effort to stop the spread of Corona infection in the Norwegian capital. As of noon on Tuesday (Sept 22), a new slate of Corona restrictions will take effect. The crackdown comes after all districts of Oslo were charted as red on Monday, meaning that they’ve all registered more than 20 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents during the past two weeks. Despite strong appeals from both state and local officials, Oslo residents haven’t all been respecting social distancing and few wear face masks.
That’s about to change. Oslo’s city government now wants everyone who needs to use public transport to wear face masks. With Oslo currently caught in a new bus strike, many local residents and commuters are crowding onto other modes of public transport like the tram, metro and trains. If it’s not possible to stay at a distance of at least one meter, riders must use a face mask.
Oslo residents are also now being asked to use face masks in grocery stores, shopping centers and all other locations where it’s not possible to maintain a meter apart from others. “I think it’s now extremely important that people understand how serious this is,” said Robert Steen, the city’s top politician in charge of health care issues. “We can perhaps think that we took a vacation from the virus this summer, when we had very low infection rates in Oslo. We were down to three new cases a day. Now we’re up to 50 a day and that’s a much higher number.”
In addition to using face masks, the city is prohibiting social gatherings of more than 10 people, even in a private home. Restaurants and bars are being urged to register all their guests, to more easily enable infection tracking later, and everyone who can work from home should stay home.
City officials are still evaluating whether to also limit all public gatherings to only 50 people in Oslo. “We will be evaluating all types of gatherings in the weeks ahead,” stated the head of Oslo’s city government, Raymond Johansen.
***All travel to Denmark should be avoided unless it’s absolutely necessary, Norway’s foreign ministry confirmed on Friday after the country’s Corona virus infection rate shot up again, especially in the Copenhagen area. More than 400 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were registered overnight, the highest level since April.
Estonia was also listed as a “red” country, meaning that all travelers returning from Estonia and Denmark must go into quarantine for 10 days from midnight Friday, Sept 18. Most of Europe is now “red” again as well, requiring quarantine upon arrival, but Norway’s public health institute FHI lifted quarantine restrictions for those arriving from Iceland. Latvia, Lithuania, most of Finland and now much of Sweden are also exempt from quarantine rules.
***Alarms are ringing again in Oslo after a sharp increase in confirmed cases of the Corona virus, and another confirmed death. Dr Espen Nakstad, deputy director of Norway’s state health department, says he’s now worried about rising infection rates in Oslo and fears the Norwegian capital may become “the reddest city in all of Europe” if this week’s trend continues.
“I don’t think folks in Oslo fully understand how serious this is,” Nakstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday (Sept 18). “Infection numbers are high. It looks like people are having as much contact with one another as if we were in a normal situation. Many aren’t good enough at holding a meter’s distance.”
Nakstad, who has emerged as Norway’s most popular and trusted health official since the Corona crisis began, said he’s now much more worried about the situation in Oslo than in Bergen, where an outbreak spiked earlier this month but is now under control. Nakstad claims the situation in Oslo is not under control, and that infection can spread rapidly.
“We don’t see any signs that infection levels are declining,” Nakstad told NRK. “There are still lots of local outbreaks around the city (see below).” He urged all Oslo residents to pay attention to social distancing and stay home if they feel ill or experience any symptoms such as congestion or fever, claiming that the virus remains dangerous even though fewer Covid-19 patients have needed hospitalization and deaths have declined.
“We have no evidence that the virus has become milder or less contagious, and there’s still no treatment,” Nakstad said. He noted that Norway’s first infection wave that hit in March and April was probably much higher than registered because only those who became seriously ill were tested at the time. “Now we’re picking up more cases, also those with mild symptoms,” he said, warning that young Norwegians (aged 20-20) now account for the most cases, and they can easily infect older people.
***Corona restrictions are being eased for members of the Norwegian and Serbian national football teams, allowing them to face off in Oslo at a European Cup qualifying march on October 8. No spectators will be allowed into Ullevaal Stadium and UEFA protocol must be observed, but the match can finally play out after being postponed in March. If Norway beats Serbia the Norwegian team will go on to meet either Israel or Scotland, marking the first time Norway could make it into the finals of men’s football since 2000.
***More young Norwegians are testing positive for the Corona virus, according to Norway’s public health institute FHI. The median age is now 29, compared to 40 when the Corona crisis hit in March, with the majority of new Covid-19 cases in Oslo found in the age group 20 to 29.
Outbreaks in southeastern Norway and in Bergen on the West Coast continue to raise concern. FHI notes, however, that Norway’s overall infection rates remains relatively low.
The biggest concentrations of Corona infection in Oslo has most recently been found in the Alna district on the city’s east side, with 42 new cases reported so far this month. Next came the district of Gamle Oslo, just east of downtown, with 38 cases, followed by the Frogner district on the city’s west side with 32.
There’s also been a big jump in testing, after criticism that Oslo officials weren’t managing to test enough residents with suspicious symptoms. More testing also leads to more confirmed cases: 464 were registered in Oslo in August, while the total has already hit 316 in the first two weeks of September. That indicates September’s total will thus exceed the total in August.
***The Norwegian government will grant parents even more paid days off from work if rising Corona infection levels force new closures of schools or day care centers this fall. “Parents will get more ‘child care days’ off as needed,” promised Labour and Social Welfare Minister Torbjørn Røe Isaksen.
Norwegian parents already can take up to 20 days off from work to stay home with sick children. In June they were granted an additional 20 in connection with the Corona pandemic. The days off come in addition to a minimum of 21 days of paid holiday every year. Now parents will be eligible for more, even if they’ve already used up their 40-day omsorgsdager (child care) quota. “Parents shouldn’t have to worry about child care because of any closed schools or day care centers,” Isaksen said at Tuesday’s government press conference. He also urged employers to continue to be flexible about the use of home offices.
With infection levels rising lately, government officials are clearly planning for the effects of any stricter Corona containment measures they may feel a need to re-impose. Isaksen and Health Minister Bent Høie also urged all Norwegians to follow quarantine rules, warned that infection can most easily spread in confined spaces like small rooms or on the bus, and that infection is currently rising most among young Norwegians. The risk of local outbreaks remains high, warned Line Vold of the state public health institute FHI.
***Norway’s hard-pressed hospitality industry is bracing for another major setback, as rising Corona infection levels boost fears of stricter containment measures. Hotels have lost most all bookings for courses and conferences this autumn, foreign visitors still face quarantine rules, and now Norwegian companies are even dropping their traditional Christmas parties called julebord.
“We’re seeing more concern for bankruptcies,” warns the travel industry’s national employers’ organization NHO Reiseliv. While restaurants and even some hotels enjoyed better times this past summer, bookings for meals, hotel rooms and other gatherings simply aren’t rolling in like normal.
“Given the pandemic we’re all caught up in, I understand that many people are reevaluating whether they’ll have their julebord this year,” chief executive of another employers’ organization, Virke, told state broadcaster NRK. “We also have rules for how many people can gather.” Gone are the days when companies could invite hundreds of employees for a year-end bash.
Restrictions already apply and may get tougher. That makes it difficult to plan any parties. Companies also don’t want to risk any employees getting sick. It’s a serious problem for restaurants and catering companies, where julebord season can account for a more than a third of their annual revenues.
Hotels may have to close, or shut down entire wings or floors of rooms. They also rely on large gatherings of people, especially during the run-up to the Christmas holidays. Oslo hotels have had the lowest occupancy levels in the country, and now stand to lose lots of conference and social bookings. “Oslo is the epicenter for the crisis we’re going through,” Morten Thorvaldsen, CEO of Thon Hotels, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN).
***More than half of quarantined Norwegians violate the terms of their isolation, according to a new survey. Those aged 50 and over are the worst offenders, even as a new wave of infection has left Prime Minister Erna Solberg refusing to ease Corona restrictions and maybe even toughening them.
The survey was conducted by the public health institute FHI and the University of Bergen, a city where a rash of infection has led to tighter restrictions (see below). State broadcaster NRK reported that the survey included 1,704 people who’ve been in quarantine, and only 42 percent claimed to have followed all the rules. Only a quarter of those in quarantine but with no symptoms of Covid-19 followed all the rules, which include staying home from school or work, not using public transport and avoiding all socializing. Fully 76 percent of those aged 50 to 69 admitted to breaking the rules at least once.
Norwegians’ dugnad (collective effort) to limit infection began to slack off as early as May. That’s when the government began to ease its shutdown declared on March 12, but now Solberg isn’t ready to ease rules any more. “We see that infection numbers are rising and we’re still not on firm ground,” Solberg said at an afternoon conference on Thursday. “We can’t ease up yet.”
She also warned that “firmer measures” are ready to be put in place if infection rates don’t start to fall. The size of public gatherings can be reduced, more people may be required to work from home, and there may be more digital instruction in the schools.
***Corona infection fears have forced cancellaton of the country’s annual national football championship for men, known as Cupen (The Cup). It’s the first time since the war years from 1941-44 that the cup competition among all top-league clubs won’t play out before King Harald at the national Ullevaal Stadium in Oslo. Terje Svendsen, president of Norway’s football federation NFF, said it just wasn’t possible to plan for it given all the Corona restrictions. There will be a national championship for top women’s clubs, however, because final play has been limited already and there are fewer professional women’s football clubs. The two best will now be the ones facing off at Ullevaal late this autumn.
***Bergen became the new Corona capital of Norway on Wednesday, with a Corona-related death and a rash of Covid-19 infection, not least at the city’s main Haukeland University Hospital. City officials responded with strict new containment measures that were quickly branded as “a catastrophe” for the bar and restaurant business.
The new report of a Corona-related death, the first in several weeks, involved an elderly resident of a nursing home in Bergen, Domkirkehjemmet. It was the first death from Covid-19 in Bergen since May 13 and the first nationwide since August 20. The victim reportedly was infected with Covid-19 last week.
City officials, meanwhile, were already cracking down with new Corona containment measures. Private gatherings have been limited to just 10 people, down from 20, and public gatherings can only have a maximum of 50 participants, down from the state limit of 200. All employers in Bergen are being urged to reinstate home office provisions for all employees, to reduce the need for commuting. All bars and restaurants were ordered to maintain lists of all guests, to enable eventual infection tracking if needed, while everyone using public transportation was asked to use face masks. Health care institutions are restricting visitors again.
All new restrictions will be in force for at least the next 10 days. “We see that we now have the highest number of confirmed cases (of Covid-19 infection) since the pandemic began,” stated Beate Husa, Bergen’s city government leader in charge of health issues, at a press conference Tuesday evening. City government leader Roger Valhammer stressed that Bergen “is now in a situation where we have to limit the spread of infection. We have to crack down on this outbreak.”
‘Terrible:’ By Wednesday morning, neighbouring communities were urging their residents to avoid going into Bergen, while bar and restaurant owners were in despair. “This is a catastrophe for the business,” complained Gard Haugland, who owns several restaurants in Bergen. “I don’t want to blame anybody, but this is terrible.” Bars have already been losing business after the state ordered all to stop serving at midnight.
Bergen’s Covid-19 outbreak has been traced mostly to large parties held by students returning to local colleges and universities for the fall semester. No charges have been filed against any party organizers, unlike in Sarpsborg in Southern Norway where city officials have reported organizers of a large religious celebration to police. All instruction at the University of Bergen and business school NHH, meanwhile, has reverted to digital platforms.
***With hundreds of new cases in the past two weeks, Norway has been re-classified as a “red country” for the first time in months. It’s recorded more than 20 new cases for every 100,000 residents, and that puts it off limits for traveling in or out without quarantine.
A major outbreak in Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad in the south (see below) plus a spike in the numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Bergen is behind the overall rise in infection. It’s disappointing news for all those hoping that Corona restrictions would soon be eased.
The outbreaks in the south and west were said to be under control. At the same time, state health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog noted that people “should have good reasons for traveling to Bergen, given the increase in infection there. It’s not illegal, but everyone must be careful.”
Among the more serious cases were the confirmed infection of 10 employees working in seven divisions of Bergen’s Haukeland university hospital. Around 76 others have been put in quarantine and 42 new cases of Corona infection were report Tuesday afternoon. Bergen officials have responded by setting up a new crisis staff and restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people at a time.
***A major outbreak of the Corona virus in Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad is sending Norway’s overall infection rate up and left nearly 2,500 people in quarantine. Local officials were considering closing all schools in Sarpsborg. Local newspaper Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad reported that the teachers’ union and city officials are discussing closure of schools, with day care center leaders also worried. “We’re getting a lot of feedback from (day care) employees that everyone is afraid of getting sick on the job,” Stine Alsterberg Larsen, who represents day care center workers, told the paper.
The sheer numbers of those already sick are worrisome, with more than 200 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among both adults and children. There also have been major outbreaks in Bergen, involving several university students, with 78 new cases reported during the weeken. state broadcaster NRK reporting Monday morning that Norway’s infection rate is now going up just as neighbouring Sweden’s is going down.
***Norwegians seem to be completely ignoring warnings from state government officials not to organize or attend large parties. Police were once again busy throughout the weekend responding to complaints of noise and excessive drunkenness in residential neighbourhoods all over the country. Police broke up parties that involved up to 50 or more participants, reports news bureau NTB, since Corona containment regulations limit private gatherings to just 20. Violations were reported from Agder in the south to Sørreisa in the north, along with Ålesund, Molde and Bodø in between. Health Minister Bent Høie was clearly disappointed, and chided the partygoers by saying that “my advice is that you should be able to wake up on Sunday and think that you haven’t done anything you regret. If you have been at a party where it wasn’t possible to stay a meter apart, you should be extra careful when you meet others later, and get tested if you develop any virus symptoms.”
***Norway’s justice minister issued a stern warning to Norwegians to refrain from crossing the border to go shopping in areas of Sweden that recently have had a reduction in Corona infection levels. They’ve gone from “red” to “yellow,” meaning there won’t be any quarantine restrictions upon arrival back in Norway from early Saturday. “But there aren’t any ‘green’ areas,” Justice Minister Monica Mæland warned, where there’s no risk of Covid-19 infection. “To those of you thinking about driving over the border to shop, we still advise against any trips out of the country that aren’t strictly necessary.”
Lots of Norwegians crossed the border when restrictions were earlier eased in Swedish regions including Värmland in the southeast. Prices and taxes are so much lower in Sweden, and selection better, that many just couldn’t resist the temptation of stocking up on everything from beer to coffee and sweets. Covid-19 cases went up in Southern Norway afterwards, though, and now some health care employers in areas of Norway close to the border are declaring mandatory testing of any workers who’ve been to Sweden. They were also threatening on Friday to cut workers’ pay if they have to go into quarantine.
Most of the rest of Europe remains “red” on the Norwegian authorities’ map and thus requiring quarantine on arrival in Norway. Only Finland, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Hungary and much of central- and northern Sweden are now yellow, plus some areas of Denmark.
***Health authorities extended their face mask recommendation when riding on public transport in Oslo for another week on Friday (Sept 4). The decision was made after the state public health institute FHI studied the public’s use of face masks. “Our conclusion is based on this study and other information we have, and we see no reason to change the recommendation we have made,” Frode Froland of FHI said at Friday’s government press conference on Corona issues. “We have advised the health ministry to maintain the face mask recommendation.”
***Cruises around Svalbard will be banned at least until November 1, Health Minister Bent Høie announced on Thursday. He blames the ban on the risk of Corona virus outbreaks on cruiseships, like the one on Hurtigrutens MS Roald Amundsen in July. “Major resources are demanded to limit an outbreak of infection on board a cruiseship,” Høie stated in a press release. He also cited a range of “practical challenges” that can be particularly difficult to meet in a remote community like Svalbard, where health care and emergency services are limited.
Regulations to lower the risk for an outbreak similar to Hurtigruten’s are thus needed, Høie stated, just days after the Norwegian Maritime Authority scolded Hurtigruten’s lack of preparation and poor response to its own emergency on board. Hurtigruten officials have earlier apologized and admitted to making mistakes after initially withholding information about Corona on board the Amundsen. NewsInEnglish.no later revealed that Hurtigruten also had cases of Corona on board its other “expedition” ship, MS Fridtjof Nansen, last spring, leading to the death of a passenger in April.
Other cruiselines, meanwhile, accuse Hurtigruten of spoiling the cruise season around Norway for all of them. State broadcaster NRK reported recently that they’ve also complained to Høie that cruise restrictions, which also have forbidden passengers from going ashore, amount to “collective punishment” for Hurtigruten’s mistakes.
***Covid-19 cases have spiked in both Fredrikstad and Sarpsborg in southern Norway, after 42 people active in the same religious community tested positive to the Corona virus in the past few days. Several hundred others have been ordered into quarantine. “Were taking this very seriously,” Dr Anne Kristine Nitter, chief medical officer in Fredrikstad, told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday (Sept 2). She said local officials were expecting more cases tied to a recent religious event in Sarpsborg that led to an outbreak.
There’s also been an outbreak tied to a family gathering that involved people who’d also been at the religious event. Nitter said the participants were so far “cooperating very well with us” and helping trace everyone who’s been in contact with those who’ve now been confirmed as infected with the potentially deadly virus. Details of the religious event weren’t released, out of consideration to those involved.
***Oslo officials, criticized for insufficient Corona testing, now claim that 35,000 residents will be able to be tested every week. A new Corona preparedness plan will enable testing of 5 percent of the population a week at four new test centers at Bryn, Lindern, Skullerud and in Groruddalen, in addition to those already in operation. Critics worry, though, about testing conducted by volunteers and people without health care education, along with private health care providers. Labour union leaders also fear some city employees may be transferred over to testing operations. Others think part-time city workers could have been asked to work full-time with testing before the city hired in private clinics.
***Public health authorities are recommending that some borders effectively be reopened to Sweden, by removing quarantine requirements. The state public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) thinks infection levels in the Swedish regions of Värmland, Örebro, Gotland, Västernorrland, Jämtland and Västerbotten have fallen enough to allow visits without demanding quarantine of 10 days upon return to Norway. FHI is also recommending that the government remove quarantine restrictions for those returning from Sjælland in Denmark.
At the same time, however, state broadcaster NRK reported that FHI has now determined that Corona virus infection levels have risen so much in Italy during the past week that it’s become a “red” country on FHI’s map. So have the Vatican, San Marino and Slovenia, meaning that anyone arriving in Norway from the four new red areas of Europe must sit in quarantine for 10 days.
FHI officials are also closely following infection levels in Slovakia, Estonia and Lithuania, where they’ve been rising quickly. FHI continues to evaluate the infection situation in the EU and the European Economic Area, of which Norway is a member. Exceptions to quarantine rules are only made for countries with fewer than 20 confirmed cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks.
***Keen to halt troublesome private parties that have been spinning out of control, city officials in Oslo and Bergen want state officials to let bars resume serving drinks until well after midnight. “Folks don’t go home when the bars close (now at midnight),” claims the head of Oslo’s city government, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party. He and his Labour Party colleague in Bergen, Roger Valhammer, think state efforts to limit private partying by allowing bars to reopen (but only until midnight) have created new problems.
Johansen’s call to allow serving until 3am is a complete reversal of his govenrment’s order to close all bars when the Corona crisis began in March. Now, he told state broadcaster NRK, “we’re in a situation where many folks are sick and tired (of Corona restrictions) and have become too relaxed about regulations.” Johansen’s call to reopen bars also comes in the wake of a potentially tragic rave party illegally held Saturday night in an abandoned but sealed bunker that organizers had broken into. A total of 27 party-goers ended up at Oslo University Hospital with carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator brought in to power the music system. Three remained in the hospital’s intensive care unit on Monday.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg says it’s too early to ease Corona containment measures any further right now. At her government’s press conference heading into the weekend, Solberg said the infection risk remains too high. Norway is “on somewhat safer ground,” Solberg said on Friday, but even though the rise in infection rates after the summer holidays has fallen back, the country still isn’t ready to open up any more. She called the current Corona situation in Norway “fragile.”
Her government will make a new evaluation in mid-September, and still hopes to gradually open up society more. “We hope it will be possible,” Solberg said, “but we of course can’t guarantee that now.”
Most borders will thus remain effectively closed, no intercontinenal flights will be starting up to North- or South America, for example, and restrictions will still limit how many people can gather at any one time. Most countries in Europe including Germany have reverted to being “red,” meaning that anyone arriving in Norway is subject to 10 days of quarantine.
***Norwegians still aren’t keen on face masks, according to the numbers of those seen using them on public transport this week. The masks are officially encouraged by the government when riding on buses, trams and trains, but surveys by state broadcaster NRK indicate usage varies widely.
On one metro train (T-bane) in Oslo between Blindern and Majorstuen, only 16 of the 49 morning commuters on board were wearing a face mask. On a train platform in Sandvika, west of Oslo, 11 of the 21 people waiting wore a mask. Many of the informal counts conducted by NRK on 10 different trains, buses, boats and the metro both Monday and Tuesday morning showed less than half using masks.
“I get irritated when I see how few are using masks during the commuter rush,” Nora Margrethe Våge, a commuter at the Sinsen metro station, told NRK. She said she wears a mask as a sign of solidarity, and tries to use public transport as little as possible. One young man told NRK he wasn’t wearing a mask because he thinks they’re too expensive and aren’t needed. The government nonetheless continues to urge face mask use on public transportation, and extended the period during which it’s recommended by a week, through September 6.
***Norway’s black metal band Mayhem is blasting a lack of state financial aid during the Corona crisis. It’s losing around NOK 3 million after having to cancel a year of concerts around the world, because only concerts held in Norway itself qualify for Corona crisis aid. Morten Bergeton Iversen, a member of Mayhem, also notes how the band’s crew has lost “lots of money” too, calling it ironic since the state has been promoting Norway’s black metal bands abroad for years. Despite all the efforts to export Norwegian music, the millions of kroner in state compensation for cancelled concerts don’t apply to those held abroad. “We have fans around the world and there’s a lot of interest in Norway because of Mayhem,” Iversen told state broadcaster NRK. “Since we play in a black metal band, we always have a dark view of the future, but we hope the authorities can give us a little light.”
***Sweden will help Norway secure Corona vaccine through its membership in the European Union (EU). Since Norway isn’t an EU member, it isn’t formally included in European vaccine agreements, but neighbouring EU member Sweden promises to help secure the vaccine dosage Norway needs.
With infection levels rising in recent weeks, hopes are also rising that a vaccine will soon be available to help get the world out of the grips of the Corona crisis. EU member countries are divvying up vaccine quotas among themselves this week and the EU Commission has already entered into purchasing agreements with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. It’s in talks with three other producers to deliver Corona vaccine to the EU’s roughly 450 million residents.
Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are among countries excluded from the EU’s quota-sharing, since they’re not EU members. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports, however, that Sweden, where AstraZeneca has a large base, will acquire extra doses of the vaccine “to sell on to Norway and Iceland,” according to Richard Bergström, who’s handling negotiations for Sweden. “That’s the practical way we’ll handle this.”
Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie confirmed Sweden’s help, which in turn was made possible after other EU members agreed to give up around 3 percent of their vaccine quotas to help the European countries that have trade agreements with the EU but aren’t members. “We have good friends in the EU system,” Høie said, who clearly includes the new president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen of Germany. She spoke with Prime Minister Erna Solberg recently and claimed that “we stand by Norway in the fight against the Corona Virus.” The vaccine is expected to be available early next year.
***Yet another weekend of loud partying, along with around 400 complaints about it called in to police all over the country, is worrying Justice Minister Monica Mæland. She’s in charge of the Norwegian police, and wishes it wasn’t necessary for them to have to enforce Corona containment measures. “We are all very concerned,” Mæland told state broadcaster NRK on Monday. “We’ve seen rising infection levels the past few weeks and we all need to work together to control that. We’re in a serious situation (because of the Corona pandemic) and need to do all we can to hinder the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, partying contributes to the spread of infection.”
Mæland said she wishes local police districts didn’t have to divert resources to controlling partying youth, “but police have to monitor this and they have to crack down on activity that contributes to higher infection risk.”
***Trade and Business Minister Iselin Nybø of the Liberal Party wants business and the travel industry to stop referring to the Corona virus situation as a “crisis” and instead get used to living with it. She warned that there isn’t more crisis funding on tap, despite calls for more emergency packages that could help hotels, restaurants, and other hard-hit business survive until the next summer holiday season. Nybø responded that businesses now need to “be creative” and find new solutions: “This is the new normal, and we must find out how we shall live with it.” The Norwegian government has already provided hundreds of billions of kroner worth of crisis funding.
***Nearly 4,000 residents of Lofoten were told to go into self-imposed quarantine on Friday after confirmation of five new cases of the Corona virus in Vestvågøy. Four schools and a day care center were also closed, but the orders applying to all their children and youth, and their parents, were eventually lifted later in the day after Mayor Remi Solberg of the Labour Party could tell state broadcaster NRK that “we now have control to such a degree that we can lift the general quarantine and reopen the schools and day care.”
Newspaper Aftenposten, meanwhile, reported on Friday that despite recently rising infection levels in Norway, the country is nowhere near a new second wave of infection. Ten municipalities registered an increase in infection earlier this month including Oslo, Indre Østfold, Sarpsborg, Frogn, Lillehammer, Trondheim, Lindesnes, Bergen, Haugesund and Tromsø. Nearly 80 other municipalities have no infection at all, even including popular holiday destinations like Risør on the southern coast and Fyresdal in Telemark.
State and local officials reacted quickly when infection rates started climbing in August, stressing that the Corona pandemic is far from over and containment measures remain in force. Testing has increased and infection levels are flattening out again, Aftenposten reported.
***Norway has begun offering free Covid-19 testing upon arrival at several airports, but only around 10 percent of arriving passengers have taken advantage of the offer. “It’s not realistic to test everyone arriving in Norway,” said Health Director Dr Bjørn Guldvog at Thursday’s government press conference on the Corona situation, “but it’s possible to test more than today.” The state is thus proposing earmarked funding to cover local municipalities’ testing costs of setting up test centers at border crossings, harbours and some airports. Complaints continue that testing capacity in Oslo, Bergen and other cities is too low, and that waiting times are too long.
***Norwegian culture and sports have received a big boost, after the government minister in charge of both areas announced more emergency financial aid during the Corona crisis. Abid Raja is offering NOK 900 million to cultural enterprises and NOK 1 billion to sports. “This is very good news,” Tone Østerdal, who heads an organization of concert arrangers, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “We’ll finally have a greater degree of predictability.” She was one of many reacting with renewed enthusiasm for Raja’s new plan to save cultural life in Norway at a time when no more than 200 people can gather at a time. That has caused huge financial problems for everyone from the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra to plays at the National Theater.
Athletes and sports organizations are also set to get more financial relief, as Raja announced state aid to make up for the loss of ticket income and revenues from fundraisers, flea markts and other activities stymied by crowd control. Organizations will be able to apply for compensation for up to 70 percent of lost revenues. Raja said another new stimulus package will be available from January 1, after discussions with local players over what’s needed.
***Finland closed its border to Norway on Wednesday, with the exception of small border communities in the far north where people live and work on both sides of the country line. Authorities in Finland cited rising Corona virus infection in Norway and several other countries, including Germany, Greece, Malta, Denmark and Iceland. The new border rules take effect from August 24. Anyone arriving in Finland from Norway and the other countries mentioned will now be subject to 14 days of quarantine. Free movement will still be allowed for those living on the Norwegian and Swedish sides of Finland’s northern border.
Finland had opened its border to Norway on June 15. Norway is also tightening up its borders because of rising infection rates both at home and abroad. The Norwegian foreign ministry confirmed Wednesday evening that four more countries will be “red” (and therefore trigger quarantine after traveling to them) from August 22: Great Britain, Greece, Ireland and Austria. The city of Copenhagen will also be red because of higher infection levels.
***Norwegian authorities issued warnings this week about a new type of Corona swindle that aims to gain access to their targets’ credit card information. The state health directorate reported that the swindlers are calling people to tell them they’ve been exposed to the Corona virus, and that their credit card information is needed in order to have a virus testing kit sent to them. “This is a scam,” state officials wrote on social media. “Testing is free in Norway. Only local municipal officials try to trace virus infection, the directorate stated, “and they will never ask for your card information.”
***Demand for Corona virus testing remains much higher than testing capacity. There were long lines of both people and cars when a new drop-in testing station opened Wednesday morning at Laksevåg in Bergen, reports state broadcaster NRK, and police had to be called in to direct traffic. Around 100 cars were sent home, without their occupants getting tested. Many have already been waiting several days, also in Oslo, which lacks adequate testing capacity.
***Norwegians seem to be losing confidence that their fellow citizens are following Norway’s official infection control measures. A new survey has also registered concern that infection is rising. The survey, conducted by research firm Opinion, indicated that only 16 percent of Norwegians questioned are confident that people are following Corona containment measures. Fully 65 percent responded that they don’t think most Norwegians are following the official advice on how to avoid exposure to the virus.
Those lacking confidence rose by 12 percentage points just since July, and 36 percent since May. Of the 56,000 Norwegians questioned, 46 percent said they’re concerned about rising infection rates, up seven percentage points from March. Only 26 percent are not worried. Opinion’s poll registered that that the level of concern in Norway has thus never been higher.
***Another new poll of 10,000 Norwegians showed, meanwhile, that 55 percent are positive towards use of face masks, while 18 percent were negative. As of this week (from August 17), face masks are now recommended for those using public transport.
***A government decision to extend Norway’s furlough period for laid-off workers from six months to a year was being described this week as “generous,” and as another Corona relief measure made possible by the country’s large sovereign wealth fund (the Oil Fund). It means the state will now cover the cost of jobless benefits for up to 52 weeks for all those whose jobs are believed to have “temporarily” disappeared because of the Corona crisis. Employers can thus bring more of their employees back to work if their business operations “return to normal” by next spring.
The government gave in to massive pressure from both employers’ and labour organizations along with opposition parties in Parliament, to allow employers to simply lay off workers rather than terminate them. “Since the state is paying the bill, it’s understandably popular with such generous programs for both employees and employers,” editorialized newspaper Aftenposten. Around 100,000 people in Norway remain on furlough while others already have returned to work.
***As hundreds of thousands of children and youth trooped back to school on Monday, even more were heading back to work, still mostly from their home offices, though. State officials want as many workers as possible to keep working from home, in order to reduce crowds on public transport and contain the spread of Covid-19, but the leader of employers’ organization Spekter wants more people back in the office. Anne-Kari Bratten raised concerns that too many workers may be sneaking away from their duties if not physically present in an office, controversially telling newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that time spent in the home office seemed especially popular on Fridays and Mondays.
The Spekter leader’s comments set off a wave of criticism from media commentators, who claimed Bratten was casting unfair suspicion on workers and all but defying the advice of medical experts. They further claimed that Bratten was vastly underestimating the quality of work done from home and merely trying to give employers more control over their employees.
While she warned against the home-office trend, researchers think it’s here to stay. Arild Steen at Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) has noted how digitalization of society has made “a quantum leap” during the Corona crisis, to such a point that major telecoms firm Telenor is now allowing employees to freely choose their place of work in the future. While infection control is an important consideration, many employees also value the time saved by not commuting, while also missing their colleagues.
***Face masks are now being recommended by Norwegian health officials for everyone riding on public transportation in Oslo and nearby Indre Østfold. The Norwegian government has gone along with the recommendation, making it the first time government officials have promoted use of face masks since the Corona virus crisis began. “From Monday (August 17, after Norway’s traditional summer holiday season ends) it will be more crowded on the bus, the trams, metro and trains,” Health Minister Bent Høie said at another government press conference heading into the weekend. “We therefore recommend the use of a face mask (called munnbind) on public transport in areas where infection has risen and it’s difficult to remain a meter apart from others.”
It won’t be mandatory, but the government also recommends using a face mask when commuting to and from Oslo and in populated areas of Indre Østfold. The face mask recommendation does not apply to children under the age of 12, and all those under age two should not use a face mask, Høie said. The new face mask recommendation will remain in force over the next 14 days when it will be re-evaluated. Høie acted on the advice of experts at both the state health directorate and the public health institute FHI.
***Norway’s annual upcoming Birkebeiner foot race in the mountains around Lillehammer has been cancelled, leaving the Birken organization that runs it unable to arrange any of its three major sporting events this year. They collectively attract around 30,000 people, and Birken boss Eirik Torbjørnsen blamed the recent increase in Corona virus infection. “In just a few days the situation has gone from a minimal spread of infection to an uncertainty that will characterize the rest of the autumn,” Torbjørnsen stated in a press release. “In light of that it’s unfortunately not the time for large sporting events.”
His organization arranges the traditional long-distance Birkebeiner ski race over the mountains from Rena to Lillehammer and later expanded to include a bicycle- and foot race. The ski race was cancelled and the upcoming Birkebeinerløpet had already been postponed from June to the first weekend in September, with nearly 6,000 runners expected. Birken reported that a total of 3,700 had already registered, but now the risk of Corona infection is too high. Neither it nor the bicycle race will now be held. “We have been optimists along with the rest of our society,” Torbjørnsen told state broadcaster NRK, “but now things are changing very quickly. This has been a difficult year for us.”
***Officials in some Norwegian towns warned Tuesday against travel to the Oslo area, because of rising infection rates. The mayor of Farsund on the southern coast wants to put people returning from Oslo in quarantine, while the chief medical officer for the newly merged county of Innlandet advises against travel both to the capital and other areas with high infection rates. “Infection levels are rising and we have experienced great complications in tracking down infection sources over municipal borders,” Dr Kjetil Egge, based in Hamar, told state broadcaster NRK Tuesday afternoon. Farsund Mayor Arnt Abrahamsen of the Labour Party went even further: “Yes, I want people who have been in Oslo to think twice and go into quarantine if necessary. They don’t need to travel up there (to Oslo) and then bring back potential infection to Sørlandet and Farsund.”
Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen, also from the Labour Party, announced new local measures on Tuesday to combat the rising infection levels. They include stationing security guards in city parks to discourage large outdoor parties, with police ready to issue NOK 2,500 fines to those caught drinking alcohol in a public place. “A beer can be very expensive,” said Johansen at a press conference where he also called on state officials to make the use of face masks mandatory on public transportation. Johansen also promised to boost Corona testing capacity after criticism that the city wasn’t meeting state requirements.
Newspaper VG reported that the Corona situation in Oslo and Indre Østfold is now worse than in some areas of Sweden. FHI draws the line for safety at 20 infected people per 100,000 over the past 14 days. Right now Oslo has 22.49, and Egge in Hamar blames travel to Europe this summer when infection rates there increased as well.
Knut Storberget, a former justice minister who’s now county governor for Innlandet, advises against travel of any kind at present: “We’re still facing a global pandemic that risks taking many human lives.”
The US State Department, meanwhile, lowered its highest-level global health advisory to avoid all international travel and is now advising citizens to merely “reconsider” travel to Norway because of the Corona virus. An email from the US Embassy in Oslo to registered US citizens in Norway on Tuesday noted that Norway “has resumed most transportation options” including airport operations and reopening of borders, without mentioning how travelers arriving from many countries are still subject to 10 days of quarantine. Travel restrictions remain for all areas outside of the European area, including the US, while the embassy’s reference to “improved conditions reported within Norway” does not reflect all the recent outbreaks and rising infection levels during the past week.
***A majority of Norwegians are now positive towards the use of face masks in Norway, and they think Corona containment measures have been eased too quickly. The state is expected to issue a recommendation later this week on use of face masks, but they’re still not expected to become mandatory. While 54 percent of those questioned in a new public opinion poll don’t object to using face masks (called munnbind in Norwegian), 23 percent are negative to their use. The number of those in favour has risen by 21 percentage points just since research firm Opinion’s such poll on face masks in May. Complaints have risen over the cost of face masks sold at Norwegian pharmacies (around NOK 10 each) and health officials are putting strict demands on home-sewn masks to make sure they’re effective and be washed after every use.
***More cases of Corona infection keep emerging around the country. A large and popular Burger King restaurant at Telemarksporten in Porsgrunn had to close after an employee tested positive for the Corona virus. Local authorities are trying to trace all the contact he had with people both at work and personally. Officials in Haugesund were also trying to track down everyone who visited the bars Ravinowitz, Bytunet and Dikselen after two bartenders tested positive for Corona.
***Airport officials in Bergen opened up a new free Corona testing center at the city’s Flesland International Airport over the weekend, but only one of the 149 passengers on a flight from Amsterdam accepted the offer. “Many may have been afraid they’d test positive and don’t want to spoil their holidays,” an exchange student from the Netherlands told newspaper Bergensavisen. Other passengers claimed they just wanted to get through the airport as quickly as possible. The test center will add to the city’s testing capacity, which faces new demands from state health authorities.
***A doctor in Oslo has unleashed a torrent of criticism against even some of her own patients, because of how they’re ignoring Corona containment measures and even lying about their health. “Folks just don’t seem to care anymore,” Dr Kari Lise Jacobsen Eidjar, a general practitioner, fumed in a commentary in newspaper Aftenposten. “Are people really ignorant, or just egotistical and thinking only about themselves?” She cited examples of patients who haven’t even mentioned possible exposure to the Corona virus before they’ve been sitting in her waiting room and attended to in the laboratory, thereby exposing other patients, her staff and herself in the meantime. She wrote about another male patient who had been at a party and was later ordered into quarantine, but took her call while he was out shopping after having eaten in a restaurant. “It just seems like people don’t care whether they expose others to Corona infection, as long as they can do what they want,” Eidjar wrote.
***Norway’s government is putting the brakes on efforts to gradually re-open the country, following 260 new cases of Corona infection during the past week. Face masks still won’t be mandatory, at least for now, but the government advises against all travel that’s not strictly necessary, and all bars and restaurants will be banned from serving alcohol after midnight nationwide. Those are some of the new measures announced by Health Minister Bent Høie at the government’s press conference Friday afternoon. “I think most people have understood that the summer break is over,” Høie said. “Now we have to roll up our sleeves again because we have a job to do.”
A sharp rise in cases of Corona infection in Norway (on a Hurtigruten ship, on an oil platform and after various large social gatherings that violated social distancing rules) “has shown how vulnerable we are,” Høie said. “It shows how easily this dangerous virus can spread in our society. There’s still low infection in Norway, but the increase is disturbing.”
Anyone traveling to Norway from a so-called “red” country (where infection rates remain high), will now be required to wear a face mask until arriving inside their own home, where they’ll also be subject to 10 days quarantine. He did not issue any recommendation to use face masks in Norway but warned one may come, especially for those using public tranport. Høie also encouraged ongoing and more use of home offices, and he said the government won’t be increasing the numbers of people allowed to gather (maximum 200) any time soon.
***Norway’s foreign ministry is strongly advising against any travel now to France, Monaco, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, after Corona infection levels there rose and they went from being “green” countries to “red.” Everyone arriving in Norway from red countries must undergo 10 days of quarantine. The government has also closed off the Swedish regions of Skåne and Kronoberg again because of rising infection rates there. At the same time the Swedish regions of Dalarna, Sødermanland, Uppsala and Västerbotten were opened.
***Everyone on board the cruiseship SeaDream 1 has tested negative to the Corona virus, a huge relief not only for passengers and crew but also for its Norwegian shipowner and local authorities in Bodø. That’s where the vessel was placed in quarantine this week after a passenger on an earlier cruise tested positive for Covid-19 in Copenhagen. All passengers were isolated in their cabins on board as health care officials from Bodø and the local hospital, Nordlandssykehuset, began mass testing of all passengers plus the vessel’s 85 crew members Wednesday morning. Results released late Wednesday night allowed local officials to characterize the vessel as “Corona-free.”
Another cruiseship, Hurtigruten’s MS Spitsbergen, was also subject to Corona testing of everyone on board Thursday morning, following the uproar over Corona infection on Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen that the company tried to cover up. All three of Hurtigruten’s ships used for so-called “expedition cruises” are now under strict testing orders, and results came up negative. All crew members on board the Viking Star cruiseship, meanwhile, were also being tested in Ålesund after one colleague tested positive and was placed in isolation. The vessel had no passengers on board.
***A renewed crackdown on cruise traffic was announced at a government press conference on Monday. Cruise tourists on board are bound to be disappointed, along with crew members on the ships and tourist-related businesses who cater to them both on land. Health Minister Bent Høie, angry and disappointed over how Norway’s own Hurtigruten tried to withhold information about Corona infection on board one of its ships, said he and health officials have found it necessary to limit temporary permission for cruiseship tourists to go ashore while in port. Passengers and crew members on board ships with more than 100 people on board will no longer be allowed to disembark in Norwegian harbours.
The renewed restrictions come just weeks after cruiseships have been mounting a comeback. Høie cited a rise in Corona infection after travel restrictions were eased in July. Everyone working on board ships of all kinds in Norway must also go through 10 days of quarantine before reporting for duty. Norway has been working hard to allow crew changes both at home and abroad, but officials are also concerned about keeping vessels free of the virus.
***Some of the relatively few foreign tourists in Norway this summer say they’re surprised over what they consider to be little regulation in the midst of the Corona pandemic. Hardly anyone wears a face mask in Norway, they note, nor do people always remember to stay at least a meter away from one another. Norway opened its borders to visitors from several countries in Europe on July 15. “It’s quite busy on the streets here, and it feels a bit strange to be in crowds again,” one tourist from Belgium told state broadcaster NRK. “We’ve been in isolation for a long time, and aren’t used to it.” Two other tourists from the Netherlands said they think Norwegians are sitting too closely together in restaurants, while Ricardio Castellanos from Spain wore a face mask while visiting Oslo’s Frogner Park. He said he was also surprised so few Norwegians do, not even security guards.
***Face mask use in Norway remains under constant evaluation, according to Line Vold of the state public health institute FHI, but hasn’t yet been deemed necessary. Until an outbreak on board a Hurtigruten ship last week, most new cases of the Corona virus in Norway have been tied to foreign travel. She said 56 Norwegians were infected while abroad during the past two weeks.
***No one can take a summer holiday from the Corona virus, nor should anyone feel “Corona shame” if they test positive, Health Minister Bent Høie said at a government press conference on Friday (July 31). Høie is back from some summer holidays himself, and concerned about several new but expected outbreaks of Covid-19 around the country. The southern city of Moss has registered more than 20 new cases in the past week (see below), while both Haugesund and Sveio in Western Norway have registered 17 new cases. One of those infected was ill enough to be admitted to hospital.
Høie repeated recent claims by other top state health officials that the Corona crisis is far from over, and they don’t think Corona containment measures can be lifted until well into 2021. “Our days won’t be like they were before, not for a long time anyway,” Høie said “The last week has shown us that we can’t take a break from the Corona virus,” and that was before an outbreak on board a Hurtigruten cruiseship that had resulted in 40 people testing positive as of Sunday night (August 2).
Norway’s health minister denounced, meanwhile, what he called “a hard exchange of words” lately targeting those who have traveled abroad, crossed the border to go shopping in Sweden or those viewed as sitting or standing too close to one another in restaurants or on public transportation. “Shaming others has never helped against contagious diseases,” Høie said, drawing parallels to tuberculosis 100 years ago and the AIDS crisis 30 years ago. “Anyone who fears being infected should not be ashamed, they should be tested. That’s the best way of showing responsibility and preventing the virus from spreading.”
***Norwegians should get used to new ways of greeting one another, says state health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog. NRK reported Friday (July 31) that he thinks handshakes and hugs need to be permanently replaced: “There are other nice means of greeting,” including a simple thumbs-up sign in addition to nodding with a hand held over one’s heart, or bumping elbows. While several Corona containment measures have been relaxed, Norwegians are still supposed to stay a least a meter apart from one another, wash hands frequently and refrain from handshakes and hugging. That’s not easy for many, and Guldvog was quickly criticized for urging a new “greeting culture” that could turn Norway “into a much colder society.”
***Norway’s public health institute worries that too many Norwegians have become too relaxed about the risk of exposure to the Corona virus. “It looks like some folks think the pandemic is over, or don’t understand that it’s still important to keep at a distance from one another,” Dr Preben Aavitsland of the state health institute FHI told state broadcaster NRK. Aavitsland referred to a rash of new cases of people testing positive to Covid-19 in Moss (see below), with at least 16 of them all infected at a wedding reception held at local community center.
“We’re going to have more of these outbreaks like we’ve seen in Moss,” Aavitsland warned. “This will repeat itself in other towns.” That’s because people have begun traveling again, some of them abroad, and many are so tired of all the restrictions that they don’t bother to follow them so closely any more.” State assistant health director Dr Espen Nakstad also says he thinks it’s “sad” that people “have begun to relax too much.” The restrictions, he claimed, “are the best insurance we have against the spread of infection.”
Two more cases emerged in Trondheim, meanwhile, one involving someone who has been abroad while the other was in contact with someone who’s been abroad. A employee at St Olavs Hospital also tested positive on Tuesday, and the city’s so-called “Corona telephone” received around 300 calls from worried residents, “an all time high,” according to the city’s chief medical officer Dr Tove Røsstad.
***The total number of burglaries at homes and holiday homes has declined dramatically during the Corona crisis, reports state broadcaster NRK. Police and insurance companies note that far more people are both home and, now, back at their hytter, while travel restrictions have made it much more difficult for professional thieves to get their loot out of the country. Break-ins reported to one insurance company between April and July were down 37 percent over the same period last year, while the theft of cars and boats was down 16 percent.
***The Corona crisis has affected the Norwegian language, writes the former editor of the Norwegian encyclopedia, Store norske leksikon. It remains unclear how long some of the new words and terms that have popped up will survive, but Petter Henriksen thinks several are here to stay. Henriksen notes in a commentary published in newspaper Aftenposten how the Corona (spelled korona in Norwegian) pandemic has led to behavioural changes but also changed the language. New words, many of them compound words, emerged quickly and he listed quite a few: koronakropp (literally “Corona body,” referring to how many people gained weight during the shutdown), smittekurve (infection curve), søringkarantene (quarantines in Northern Norway imposed on people from Southern Norway) and klappeaksjon (the practice of applauding health care workers from balconies and elsewhere outdoors). As project leader for Det Norske Akademis dictionary, Henriksen needs to keep track of what should be included in it. While søringkarantene went out of use as soon as quarantines in the north were lifted, he notes that even the word pandemi (pandemic) was largely unknown to many Norwegians in pre-Corona times. It’s likely to stick around, he said.
***Norway’s southeastern city of Moss was on alert this week after 21 more people suddenly tested posted to the Corona virus. Fully 13 are believed to have been infected at the same private party. “We’re facing a local outbreak of Corona in Moss,” Mayor Hanne Tollerud said at a press conference on Monday. “This is serious, and a reminder that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Eight of those infected can be traced to travel abroad to so-called “green countries” in Europe, where infection rates were believed to be under control. Several “green” countries, however, are turning to “red,” meaning that infection rates are higher than 20 per 100,000 residents. Two other cases of Covid-19 infection in Moss involved employees at a local health care center where 26 people live. One resident also tested positive and another 20 employees were put into quarantine, reported news bureau NTB.
***A total of 28 people were in quarantine in Stavanger on Friday after an employee at the local University Hospital tested positive for the Corona virus. Hospital officials said the employee had not been infected at work nor been traveling abroad. “We have a good overview over the situation and are taking the infection prevention steps necessary to prevent exposing patients,” stated Ketil Helgevold, acting hospital administrator, in a press release from the regional health authority Helse Stavanger. Hospital officials also claimed there was no need to close off any wards or reduce the number of beds available. The employee’s test results came back positive on Thursday and everyone believed to have been exposed was being contacted by hospital officials and put in quarantine. None had shown any symptoms of Covid-19 as of Thursday night, reported news bureau NTB.
***Football clubs in Norway are clamouring for permission to allow more than just 200 spectators at matches. After league play was finally allowed after the Corona shutdown, both players and not least club managers are yearning for more fans in the stands, and ticket revenue in the till. The Lerkendal stadium in Trondheim, for example, home of the Rosenborg football club, has capacity for more than 21,000 people that can use 24 entrances and seats at several levels. Club leader Tove Moe Dyrhaug wants to be able to have at least 2,500 spectators at matches, contending that they could be accommodated even under the toughest Corona infection measures. Newspaper Aftenposten reported this week that state health and government officials, however, aren’t making any exceptions in the limits on crowd gatherings, at least not yet. They insist on easing restrictions gradually, to keep Norway’s infection rate among the lowest in the world, and won’t allow gatherings of more than 500 people until September at the earliest.
***Seniors in Norway have been adapting to digital meetings and visits with family during the Corona crisis much like everyone else, and defying stereotypes of digital skepticism or ignorance while at it. A new survey, conducted by the state institute for social research (Institutt for samfunnsforskning), shows that nearly 90 percent of employees over age 50 think it’s easy to use digital communications equipment. Those in younger age groups thought it was more difficult for them than the seniors themselves. “Corona has set off a bit of a digital revolution in the way we work,” wrote researcher Anne Skevik Grødem in newspaper Dagsavisen, “and it doesn’t look like it’s been any tougher for older workers than others. It also can be that they’re tired of their younger colleagues, and not least their bosses, going around and thinking that it’s difficult for the ‘elders’ to work with new technology.”
***Suicide prevention centers are reporting an increase in the numbers of “acute” conversations they’re having with distressed Norwegians calling in for help. Some experts tie the increase to the Corona crisis and all the uncertainty it’s created. Newspaper VG reported that calls doubled between June 15 and July 15, compared to the same period last year. “This can be connected to the Corona situation,” Leif Jarle Theis, secretary general of the humanitarian service Kirkens SOS, which handles many of the calls. He told VG that difficult situations can seem even more difficult now, while places to go and things to do “that earlier were safe suddenly aren’t anymore.” Loneliness is another factor, and people with mental health problems or troubled relationships can feel that life now has become too difficult to live. “It’s enormously sad to see that many people are in such despair that they’re close to taking their own lives,” Theis told VG, “but we think it’s good that they call us. I hope that helps them hold out longer.”
***Norwegians could start traveling abroad again on July 15, and visitors from European countries with low infection rates can now travel to Norway, but there haven’t been any large crowds at Norway’s gateway airport, OSL Gardermoen north of Oslo. Most Norwegians seem to be up in the mountains, or elsewhere on the road. While many Norwegians did book last-minute trips south during the July summer holidays, after the government relaxed travel restrictions again, there were no long lines at OSL and local tourism officials have only noticed a slight increase in bookings from Europe.
Several of the Norwegians questioned by NRK at OSL refused to reveal their names or say where they were going. One family confirmed they were flying to Nice, but didn’t want their photo to be taken because even though it’s now allowed to travel abroad, it’s not recommended. Asked whether they felt ashamed to be traveling, the mother in the family said “yes, a bit, but now we’ve been following all the rules for so long and think it’s okay.” The family also owns a holiday home in the South of France and wanted to check on the property.
***Hordes of Norwegians have otherwise been descending on popular destinations like Gaustatoppen. So many tourists wanted to climb up the unique summit in Telemark on Thursday that police reported chaotic traffic and parking conditions below. They were considering towing away cars that were illegally parked along the lone road under the summit.
Chaotic conditions were also reported at Preikestolen in Rogaland, even without all the foreign tourists who generally trek up to its top. “We had to ask some folks to leave and come back later,” one local official at the overfilled parking lot told NRK.
***Norwegians have been streaming to amusement parks this summer, but are often met by limited admission because of Corona-related limits on capacity. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that Tusenfryd, a large amusement park just south of Oslo, has sold out all the tickets it’s allowed to sell every day except one since the park re-opened on June 13. That’s still far from enough to make up for losses incurred when it had to remain closed for seven weeks in April and May, and visitor totals are still only half of last year. There’s also lots of ticket demand at the Hunderfossen amusement park in Øyer and Dyreparken (the zoon) in Kristiansand, but only a limited number of tickets that can be sold. “It’s quite frustrating,” Per Arnstein Aamot at Dyreparken told Aftenposten. “We would much prefer to open the gates and let in many more visitors.”
***Still-closed borders to Sweden are raising suspicions that the Norwegian government just doesn’t want its citizens to do their shopping there, where prices are much lower than in Norway. Agriculture Minister Olaug Bollestad rejects the insinuations, claiming the closed borders are solely aimed at preventing the spread of the Corona virus, and says she also wonders why coffee is twice as expensive in Norway as in Sweden. “It’s not just the state (with its taxes and regulations) that’s behind it,” Bollestad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) while visitng a grain producer near the border. “The grocery store chains must be part of the discussion as to why Norwegians want to go shopping in Sweden.”
The long-standing debate over border trade was renewed after the mayor of Årjäng, just over the southeast border to Sweden, told local newspaper Smaalenenes Avis that he thinks “an important reason why (Prime Minister) Erna (Solberg) keeps the border closed is to hinder the trade leakage to Sweden.” Up to 90 percent of the business at Swedish shopping centers near the border disappeared after Corona containment measures closed the borders, not least to Sweden.
Mayor Daniel Schützer said he could understand the border closings in the beginning, but stresses that most all border areas now have low Corona infection rates. He thinks the borders should thus reopen to “normal traffic.” Bollestad insisted the border trade debate has nothing to do with the government’s decision to keep borders closed. State health officials also claim that all travel restrictions are based solely on infection rates, which remain high overall in Sweden.
***Not a single Covid-19 patient in Norway remained on a respirator as of early this week. Only six Corona-related patients are in Norwegian hospitals nationwide, all of them in the southeastern portion of the country. The low infection numbers and the few people needing hospitalization were especially welcome with Norway’s traditional summer holiday period in full swing. Hospital admissions usually decline during the summer months, but those needing Corona treatment would be admitted and preparedness levels remained high.
***More passengers are now being allowed on board Oslo’s public transport services. Several seats that were blocked off have been made available again on the Norwegian capital’s metro, tram and bus lines. Passengers can now sit next to each other again, instead of having a meter between them. “By sitting shoulder to shoulder, it’s possible to limit facial contact,” stated a press release from the transport system Ruter. “That’s important for limiting infection.”
State health officials have approved the increased ridership after infection rates have consistently fallen for weeks. Passengers will still be encouraged to remain at a distance from one another, and that seating is preferred to standing. The new measures will allow mass transit capacity in Oslo to increase by as much as 70 percent. Only the first few rows of seats will continue to be blocked off and the bus or tram’s front door locked, to protect their drivers.
***Seven bars in Oslo have been shut down by city health officials, after inspectors determined they weren’t complying with Corona virus containment measures. There’s been a lot of concern that young Norwegians, keen to party in fine summer weather, are no longer paying attention to the ongoing need for social distancing. Newspaper VG reported that public records revealed the closures of three bars in May and June: Vålerenga Bar, Malecon and Uvisst. Newspaper Aftenposten followed up by reporting four more closures this week: Tukthuset at Youngstorget, Sandaker Kro, Pöbel and Dojo.
Victoria Marie Evensen of the Labour Party, who serves as the top city politican in charge of business regulation, told state broadcaster NRK that closures and revocation of liquor licenses can occur “at any time, if we see that it’s necessary.” The bars involved had not provided for seating that kept customers at least a meter from one another, while guests were also allowed to move freely around the locale and order drinks at the bar. “The city government is following the situation closely,” said Evensen. She and other Oslo politicians, however, have been criticized themselves for allowing bars to remain open until 3am, clearing the way for late-night rowdiness and drunkeness.
***The leader of the rural-oriented Center Party is criticizing the state government for not adapting or easing Corona containment measures on a regional basis, in line with local infection rates. Trygve Slagsvold Vedum can’t understand why small communities with low infection rates should be subject to the same Corona restrictions that apply in Norway’s larger cities. “Norwegians are quite obedient,” Vedum told newspaper Aftenposten,” but when bars have reopened and people are mingling again, while children in small towns aren’t allowed to play football, I’m afraid public confidence in our authorities will decline.” Vedum also wants large football stadiums like Lerkendal in Trondheim and Bislett in Oslo to be able to admit far more people than the 200 currently allowed. He also wants the government to open the border to Sweden for those who have holiday homes they haven’t been allowed to visit for months. The government is due to issue to new guidelines for travel and border crossings on Friday afternoon.
***Anyone still comparing the Corona virus to common flu would be wise to consider the ordeal of wealthy Norwegian investor Per G Braathen and his Ellen. Both fell seriously ill with Covid-19 while at their holiday home near Chamonix in March, while Braathen also had to battle to save all his travel-related businesses.
Braathen, a 59-year-old heir to the late founder of Norway’s former domestic airline Braathens SAFE, shared his frightening Corona experience with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last weekend. He described how he and his wife first thought they’d caught a cold but rapidly felt worse, developed chest pains and high fevers. Then Ellen had problems breathing.
They wanted to avoid being hospitalized, but after five days of the high fevers that wouldn’t break, and having to shake Ellen to keep her from passing out, they called for help and Ellen landed in intensive care. Braathen could return to their holiday home, but suffered delirium along the way and lost eight kilos from all the sweating and loss of appetite.
“When we finally got home (to Norway, driving all the way because airports had closed) and saw how people weren’t all taking this virus seriously, I couldn’t believe it,” Braathen, who’s always had good health and been active in sports, told DN. “This is nothing to joke about. Those who compare it to influensa are making a mistake. It’s so important to keep this virus under control.”
Braathens, who has invested proceeds from the sale of the family’s airline to SAS in 2001 in various travel ventures, also had to struggle for the survival of his travel businesses, which include the Ticket travel bureau chain, the high-end tour operator Escape Travel, a Swedish charter airline and the large zoo and amusement park Dyreparken in Kristiansand. He also leads the board of Scandic Hotels. Many of its 18,000 employees had to be laid off when the hotels closed, the airline was grounded and most all travel was cancelled. He’s held it together, though, and has been gradually reopening in line with Norway’s strict Corona containment measures.
“It was definitely right for Norway to shut down,” Braathens says now. “I’m no expert on medicine, but the crisis isn’t over. It’s scary what this virus can do.”
***The Corona crisis will have a lasting effect on energy use, claims the Norwegian classification society and risk management firm DNV GL. There’s been such a change in travel patterns and energy use so far that new and ongoing habits are likely to reduce future energy needs, according to a new DNV GL study. In its new energy report entitled Energy Transition Outlook, DNV GL researchers have determined that the economic and behavioural consequences of the Corona crisis and Covid-19 pandemic will lead to an 8 percent reduction in the energy demand for 2050 that was predicted in DNV GL’s earlier pre-Corona prognosis.
Carbon emissions have also declined, but more radical cuts are needed in order to meet climate goals. DNV GL thinks emissions peaked last year but Corona effects alone will be minimal: “We’re at a critical crossroads,” DNV GL’s chief executive, Remi Eriksen, told news bureau NTB. “We have the technology needed to fulfill the ambitions of the Paris Agreement, but we need smarter solutions that can scale up these technologies much more quickly.” The Corona crisis has, according to DNV GL, at least shown that it’s possible to implement measures quickly and on a large scale.
***UPDATED: Some small but popular holiday communities in Norway claimed they wouldn’t be able to handle any outbreaks of the Corona virus this summer, and will send any visitors falling ill back home for testing. In the coastal community of Kragerø, for example, Mayor Grunde Knudsen of the Center Party told state broadcaster NRK that Kragerø has inadequate capacity to be testing tourists from Oslo for example, even though all owners of holiday homes in the Kragerø pay local property tax. Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of the state health directorate, however, has since contradicted Knudsen: “All municipalities are required to test and treat people if they’re sick,” Nakstad told NRK. He stressed that no one on holiday can be forced to travel home for testing.
In the southern city of Kristiansand, meanwhile, health care officials are more concerned about quickly testing anyone with respiratory ailments. The city also has a plan to put those testing positive in special hotel rooms if necessary.
***Covid-19 patients often seem to struggle with confusion and memory loss, according to medical personnel at Haukeland Hospital in Bergen. Doctors now think the virus is affecting patients’ brains, and they’re calling the phenomenon “Covid brain.” Dr Marianne Aanerud told news bureau NTB that many patients don’t seem to realize how ill they are. They often deny being short of breath despite equipment showing they have serious oxygen losses. Other Covid-19 patients haven’t been able to remember their national ID- or telephone numbers, or how to use their mobile phones. Doctors say the patients, both young and old, suffer a form of delirium. When the hospital has followed up on them at home, several can’t remember the doctors who treated them or what happened while they were in the hospital. “They clearly have memory loss, and are surprised, but most have become themselves again,” Aanerud said.
***Corona-related travel restrictions continue to ease, with Denmark announcing on Wednesday that Norwegians will no longer have to book multiple overnight stays at the same location. Norwegian officials, meanwhile, want to be included in an EU overview of Corona regulations and travel advisories. Since Norway isn’t a member of the EU, it’s been left out of the so-called “Re-Open EU” overview introduced last week. As a member of the EU’s European Economic Area, though, and encouraged by the EU to open borders in line with other EU countries, Norway thinks it should be included. “Norwegian authorities have therefore contacted the EU Commission,” said Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide in response to a question from a Labour Party MP.
***Norwegians remain skeptical to more foreign tourists being allowed into Norway. While the hotel industry is clamouring for an end to restrictions, so it can fill empty hotel rooms, a new survey conducted by research firm Opinion found that only 15 percent of Norwegians in general are positive towards allowing visitors from abroad into the country this summer. Fully 75 percent don’t want more tourists,.
***An outbreak of the Corona virus at an elementary school outside Oslo has spread, with 22 people now testing positive for Covid-19. Local officials in Lillestrøm told newspaper VG that more testing is being carried out on a “large scale.” The outbreak is centered at the Sagdalen School in Viken County, and started when seven people, both children and adults, tested positive. VG has also reported an outbreak at Solheim School in nearby Lørenskog. Lillestrøm and Lørenskog are now registered as the only municipalities in Norway where infection rates are rising. None of those infected has fallen seriously ill, but health officials are concerned that Norwegians are forgetting that the Corona pandemic is far from over.
***Health care officials were challenged this week after a doctor and a nurse from Sweden were hired in to work at Norwegian hospitals in Nordfjord and Sandnessjøen without first being tested for the Corona virus. Tests taken later showed they were positive, and at least one other nurse in Nordfjord has been infected as well. The hospital in Sandnessjøen, Helgelandssykehuset, now insists it’s beefing up its routines, stressing that all Swedish staff will be tested upon arrival in Norway, and they won’t be allowed to work until test results are in hand. State health authorities had earlier exempted Swedish staff from being tested, even though Corona infection rates in Sweden are high. “Our practice was in line with the state rules that applied,” a spokesman for Helgelands Hospital told news bureau NTB. Officials at the hospital in Nordfjord are also sharpening their rules, and a Norwegian nurse infected by her Swedish colleague was quickly sent into quarantine at home. Now state health officials are demanding mandatory testing of all health care personnel from Sweden who are needed to avoid staff shortages in Norway.
***Oslo may shut down the taps once again, after yet another rowdy weekend in the Norwegian capital. Norway’s popular health official Dr Espen Nakstad was visibly disappointed that Norwegians behaved as badly as they did, with hardly any social distancing and even quite a few street brawls. “What’s the most unfortunate is that folks didn’t pay any attention to our appeals, and clearly didn’t care about infection control measures,” Nakstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Saturday. His comments came after a wild Friday night, which Oslo police described as the “most hectic” party night in Oslo since before the Corona crisis began. City officials in Oslo were quick to warn on Sunday that they may simply order bars to close, and they weren’t alone. Police in the northern city of Tromsø also reported lots of unrest, as did police in the southeast and eastern districts of Norway.
***Norway will open its borders to most European travelers from July 15, as long as the infection situation is “under control” and barring any new Corona virus flare-ups. Norwegians will also be able to travel to most EU/EEA and Schengen countries, but may still face quarantine upon arrival back in Norway. “We’re reserving our rights to quarantine for people coming from countries with high infection rates,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Most other European countries are opening their borders from July 1, but “we’re consciously waiting,” Solberg said, adding that then she and her government colleagues will be able to gauge the effects of more movement of people around Europe. Solberg also stressed that even though the government is easing travel restrictions now, they can be tightened up again quickly. That’s what’s already happened with Gotland, the island in the Baltic that was the only area of Sweden that met Norway’s standard for infection rates. It no longer does, so travelers from Gotland once again face 10 days quarantine in Norway.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg cautioned that it thus remains risky for Norwegians to book holidays outside Norway, and more local restrictions may be re-imposed elsewhere as well. She noted how Germany, for example, has closed two regions because of Corona outbreaks, and Spain has closed one region. “If you want a predictable summer holiday, you should plan to spend it in Norway,” she said.
***The Corona virus came to Norway and other Nordic countries from more than just Italy and Austria. New research traces its arrival to locals and visitors arriving from Spain, Great Britain and the US, and earlier than first believed. Norwegians returning from skiing holidays in the alps of Northern Italy and Austria got most of the blame for bringing the Corona virus home with them in late February and early March. A preliminary analysis from Norway’s public health institute traced the origin of most cases of Covid-19 to Italy and Austria, but updated information from a genetic data base now shows more “genetic groups of the Corona virus” in Norway than the four from Italy and Austria, adding Spain, Great Britain and the US to the sources of origin.
***Children will be able to start playing contact sports again from August 1, after the government removed the one-meter social distancing regulation for children and teenagers. That means all those younger than 20 will soon be able to play football, handball and other sports that bring them close together. The change came after a meeting on Tuesday between the president of Norway’s athletics association, Berit Kjøll, and the government minister in charge of sports and culture, Abid Raja. League play is thus expected to resume as normal after the summer holidays, provided Corona infection levels remain low.
***Norway now has the strictest Corona containment measures in Europe, after many countries have loosened crowd regulations, opened borders and eased travel restrictions. Many Norwegians are growing impatient with all the rules, resulting in an assault on a security guard who tried to enforce passenger limits on an Oslo city bus, where one-meter social distancing still applies. Others can’t understand why Norwegians are now being welcomed back to other countries around Europe, while only arrivals from Iceland, Finland and Denmark are welcome in Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten examined border rules now in effect, and after Poland and Hungary partially opened their borders, Norway remains the strictest regarding its own citizens. They still face 10-day quarantine and a lack of travel insurance coverage if they travel anywhere other than Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Norway’s tourism business is also suffering mightily because of the restrictions, with a new wave of hotel job cuts expected this summer.
***While Norwegians chafe at the travel restrictions still imposed on them, a national political commentator thinks it’s “irresponsible” for airlines SAS and Norwegian Air to even offer flights to areas of Europe still not cleared by Norwegian health authorities. The airlines will soon start flying again to the Canary Islands, Greece, Italy and other traditionally popular holiday destinations, but Norwegians still face quarantine restrictions upon return. Flights to Malaga, London and Paris, for example, also defy the foreign ministry’s travel warnings, notes commentator Kjell Werner of media group ANB. “The Corona pandemic is not over,” Werner wrote heading into the weekend. “If travel-hungry Norwegians are willing to risk infection, that’s their choice, but it’s worse that the airlines are competing to fly these passengers.” The head of Oslo’s city health policy, Robert Steen of the Labour party, also appealed to city residents to heed the ministry’s warnings: “If there’s a summer when you should stay home, it’s this one.”
***Norway has registered its highest number of new Corona infection cases in the past five weeks. Public health institute FHI tallied 32 new cases on Wednesday (June 17) alone, and Health Minister Bent Høie has appealed to Norwegians to pay more attention to social distancing. It was the highest number of new cases on a single day since May 8. FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) reported them on Thursday and noted that the numbers are expected to swing after government officials eased Corona restrictions and the country started opening up again. Norway registered 300 cases in a day back in March, when the crisis first hit.
The infection rate remains low, but Høie issued another appeal for Norwegians to remain at least a meter apart from one another to keep the potentially deadly virus from spreading. He’s worried that one out of every four Norwegians has admitted to being less vigilant in recent weeks, not least because of warm summer weather that has prompted many to flock to beaches, parks and outdoor cafés that have reopened. “Many people think it’s awkward to speak out when someone gets too close to them, but we should in fact begin to do so,” said Høie, noting that “a meter hasn’t become shorter.”
***After another weekend with lots 0f partying and crowded beaches, the popular state health official Dr Espen Nakstad is also asking especially young people to sharpen up and follow social distancing rules. “We’re especially worried about young adults who don’t seem to care about the infection control measures,” Nakstad told news bureau NTB this week. “They need to sharpen up and think more about the Corona situation when they’re out partying or in other social settings.” He said that 20-year-olds are most often seen out on the town and not following Corona virus containment measures.
***Foreign workers in Norway on specialist visas are caught in an especially difficult situation during the Corona crisis. Many have lost their jobs, don’t qualify for unemployment benefits and can’t travel home. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) profiled the plight of oil industry worker Deepak Kumar, a geophysicist who moved from India to Norway with his wife and son in March 2019 to work for oil exploration company EMGS in Trondheim. He had been granted residence permission on the grounds that his competence was needed by the company.
DN reported that at the end of March, however, EMGS (Electromagnetic Geoservices ASA) terminated all employees as a result of the oil price dive and the Corona pandemic (external link to EMGS’ website). If he’d merely been laid off, Kumar and others would have qualified for benefits, but not after a termination. He can also only take on a new job if it’s in the same field that applies to his specialist visa. With Norway’s oil exploration segment in crisis itself, the job market for Kumar is difficult indeed.
His family’s situation is compounded by India’s own Corona crisis, strict travel restrictions and a lack of commercial airlines flying to India. The Indian government has arranged some transport home for Indians stranded abroad, but only from hubs like Frankfurt, and passengers can only take carry-on luggage with them. Kumar and his family would have to leave everything else behind, after selling much of what they had before moving to Trondheim.
Many foreign workers in the oil and offshore industry also ran into problems during the last oil price collapse in 2014, and the companies that hired them have no legal obligation to help them. The Norwegian government has proposed giving laid-off foreign workers, including many in the hard-hit travel industry, better unemployment benefits from May 4 to October 31, since they may be called back to their jobs. That will help, but not those terminated like Kumar.
***Sweden’s foreign minister is unhappy that other countries including Norway still won’t open their borders to Sweden without imposing 10 days of quarantine. Ann Linde warns that closed borders can damage traditional cooperation, especially among Sweden’s fellow Nordic countries. “Closed borders risk inflicting deep wounds,” Linde, who represents Sweden’s Labour Party (Sosialdemokraterna), told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter over the weekend. Her criticism came just as all the other four Nordic countries re-opened their borders to one another on Monday, but not to Sweden, where Covid-19 infection rates remain much higher than in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie stressed that maintaining Swedish border restrictions is a matter of health policy, not foreign policy. “It’s the infection situation that’s most important here,” he told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). The Norwegian government’s goal, he added, “is to open as much of the Nordic area as possible.”
***Unusually warm weather over the weekend resulted in Norwegians flocking in parks and on beaches, and gathering for summer parties. There were also many more people riding on public transport systems. Health authorities quickly expressed concerns that people were dropping their guard and no longer exercising the one-meter social distancing rules still in effect. They now fear a new wave of infection: “When the threat is lower, it’s quite natural that people lower their guard,” Dr Preben Aavitsland of the state public health institute FHI told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), “but the virus can exploit that. The epidemic is far from over.”
***Norwegians can now resume travel to and from all the Nordic countries without having to undergo quarantine upon arrival back in Norway. Restrictions still apply to Sweden, where infection levels remain high. Only the Swedish island of Gotland is now considered safe enough to visit. Many Norwegians had hoped to be able to drive over the border to regions where they have holiday homes or enjoy shopping, but state health director Dr Björn Guldvog said travel even to Strömstad in Bohuslän, for example, would be too risky. Norwegians will now also be able to travel to and from Finland, Iceland and Denmark including Åland, the Færøe Islands and Greenland. Finland is also reopening its borders to Norway (see below) and Norwegians will now also be able to stay in Copenhagen, after Danish authorities reversed their initial ban on overnight stays in the capital.
***Public swimming pools and training centers could reopen from Monday (June 15), as long as operators can verify that they have clear anti-infection measures in place. The Norwegian government has earlier eased restrictions on public gatherings, with up to 200 people allowed to assemble from June 15. Health Minister Bent Høie stressed that even though Norway has control over the Corona virus, it’s critical that people remain vigilant also as the country continues to open up.
***There’s been a dramatic decline in the use of cash in Norway since March, because of fears of spreading the Corona virus. Nokas, the cash-transport company that fills automated teller machines, for example, reports a decline of 40 percent in April compared to the same month last year. Earlier year-t0-year declines averaged 6-7 percent as Norwegians embrace the use of bank and credit cards. FinansNorge, the trade association representing financial institutions, told state broadcaster NRK this week that it thinks cash will ultimately disappear in Norway since increasing numbers of merchants are refusing to accept cash and also view it as a security risk. That’s in defiance of Norges Bank, Norway’s central bank, which stresses that cash remains legal tender and all merchants are obligated to accept it. Enforcement of that may resume as the virus infection rates wane and if consumers start objecting to the fees many banks charge when cards are used for small amounts.
***Finland will reopen its borders to Norway and several other countries as of June 15. The border openings will especially make life easier for residents of Tanadalen in Northern Norway and Finland who regularly move back and forth over the border. They’ve been complaining that the border closures disrupted their lives and culture (see below) and were no longer necessary because Corona virus infection rates in the area are still so low. Finland also opened its borders to citizens of Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Denmark and Iceland. It’s still restricting travel between Finland and Sweden, however, because of Sweden’s high infection rate. Norway also restricts travel to and from Sweden, and demands any Norwegians returning from Sweden to spend 10 days in quarantine. Norway and Denmark have already announced that they’ll allow travel between the two countries from June 15. Complaints are rising, however, over Norway’s ongoing restrictions to other countries, also in Northern Europe. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that Germany is maintaining its own travel restrictions to Norway because Norway’s borders are still closed to German visitors. Norwegian tourism officials are urging the government to end the practice because Corona containment measures in Germany are similar to Norway’s and, not least, because German tourists are important for Norwegian business.
***Norwegian grocery retailers have been raising prices during the Corona crisis, with food and drink now 5 percent higher than a year ago at this time, according to state statistics bureau SSB. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that the overall consumer price index rose to 1.3 percent, up half-a-percentage point from April. Norway’s core inflation rate, which doesn’t include the price of electricity and fuel, rose to 3 percent in May, the highest level since August 2016. SSB noted that food prices fell a bit in May, but otherwise reported that food and beverages logged their biggest price increase in six years. Norway’s weak krone caught much of the blame, since it raised the price of agricultural imports by 12.1 percent during the past year, while Norwegian food prices were up 3.3 percent in the same period.
***New cases of Corona infection in Oslo tripled last week, to 81, and accounted for 75 percent of all new cases nationwide. The increase came even before statistics could be made available from testing conducted after the weekend’s large demonstrations against racism and police brutality, which gathered large crowds far in excess of what’s allowed under Corona containment measures. Line Vold of the state public health institute FHI told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), however, that the increase in Oslo did not come as a surprise. “We expect to see swings in the infection numbers, and it’s too early to say whether this reflects an overall increase,” Vold told NRK. There was a total of 112 new infection cases in 19 municipalities nationwide last week. That means 337 municipalities reported no new cases of Covid-19 at all, with the infection rate still viewed as low compared to many other countries.
***Residents of Tanadalen, the far northern valley that extends from Finnmark in Norway across the border to Finland, are demanding the border be reopened. They’ve written to government leaders of both Norway and Finland, complaining that the border closing, aimed at reducing Corona virus infection, is instead only hindering familes and friends from getting together and thus causing personal distress. Cross-border business is also struggling in an area where Corona infection has been minimal. “We are one people with the same culture and language,” Ellen Ravna, a Norwegian who lives on the Finnish side of the border, told state broadcaster NRK. The border closing was defensible when there was so much uncertainty around the Covid-19 illness, she said, “but now it’s a completely new situation. There hasn’t been any infection here in Utsjok or in Tana. Border crossings should not lead to strict control any longer.” Prime Minister Erna Solberg was supposed to have a meeting with Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin on Tuesday, but it was postponed.
***Prime Minister Erna Solberg has joined those expressing concern over the thousands of people who gathered for demonstrations on Friday and during the weekend. It was difficult to maintain social distancing and the gatherings risked spread of Corona infection, but Solberg noted that “infection is now low and engagement in these issues is high.” Debate continues to swirl over whether all the thousands of people taking part in demonstrations against racism and police brutality should quarantine themselves for the next 14 days. Demonstrations in Oslo, for example, mostly defied state Corona containment measures that still apply, and the conservative Progress Party’s leader Siv Jensen called that “unacceptable and irresponsible.” Health care workers in Stavanger were told to stay home from work on Monday if they took part in the major demonstration held during the weekend, as were employees of the housing organization Obos.
***Oslo continues to register the most cases of confirmed Covid-19 infection in Norway. Of 59 new cases during the first week of June, 41 occurred in Oslo, by far the largest city in the country. Infection rates overall continue to decline, however, despite the gradual reopening of schools, day care centers, dentists, restaurants and many other businesses over the past six weeks.
***Around 320,000 fewer patients received treatment or underwent operations at Norway’s hospitals in March and April this year, compared to the same months last year. Corona infection concerns and extra capacity devoted to Covid-19 patients took precedence over everything from knee operations to even cancer treatments, and most hospitals still aren’t operating at full capacity. There’s a large backlog of cancelled operations that must be rescheduled, but newspaper Aftenposten reported that nearly 18 percent of them at the Aker University Hospital outside Oslo were cancelled by patients themselves, because didn’t want to enter a hospital during the height of the Corona crisis.
***Restaurants are still struggling after the government shut them down along with much of the rest of Norway in March. Now, with payments for taxes and employee holidays looming in a week or two, there’s concern Norway may see a rash of restaurant bankruptcies. After losing all their business in March and April, many have reopened but they still can’t serve all the guests they’d like to. Corona virus containment measures mean they can only serve fewer guests in order to comply with social distancing regulations still in place. And that means far less revenues.
***Norwegians generally embrace vaccines, but more skepticism to a new Covid-19 vaccine has surfaced in a new survey. While 89 percent of Norwegians believe vaccines are safe, 72 percent say they’ll be vaccinated against the Corona virus when a vaccine becomes available. The survey, conducted by research firm Kantar for the Norwegian research council Norges Forskningsråd, shows a higher degree of skepticism towards a Covid-19 vaccine. “We still haven’t established enough knowledge about how good a vaccine will be against Covid-19,” John Arne Røttingen of the research council told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday, “so we hope we’ll get that knowledge and maybe, in a year or so, we’ll all be able to make more informed choices.”
***Summer jobs have been hard to find for young Norwegians keen to work and earn some money during the summer holidays. Some businesses are booming during the Corona crisis, however, and would seem to need help. Not only is the boat business sailing ahead this spring, building supply companies, florists, paint producers and gardening firms are reporting brisk demand. Norwegian paint producer Jotun, which operates internationally, hasn’t managed to produce enough since Corona virus containment measures kept people at home and prompted them to launch home improvement projects. Nine out of 10 companies surveyed by employers’ organiztion Virke in Oslo alone, however, are turning down all applications for summer jobs. Most note that when so many of their workers already are laid off, they need to make them a priority.
***Face mask use remains a topic of disagreement in Norway, where health care officials still don’t think it’s necessary for the public at large to wear them. A new survey conducted by Opinion AS showed that one-third of Norwegians are positive towards wearing face masks, but many more are negative. “Folks have divided themselves into three groups of being positive, neutral and negative,” Ola Gaute Aas Askheim of Opinion AS told news bureau NTB. Survey results showed 33 percent positive, 37 percent negative and 31 percent saying they could go either way. Few face masks are seen on city streets in Oslo, where health care officials have also urged they be reserved for health care professionals. Passengers on board the few airline flights operating around Norway are mostly required to use them, however.
***The government’s latest Corona crisis relief package now offers more funding for the cultural sector and new climate measures, but reaction is mixed. A total of NOK 1.85 billion has been earmarked for sports, volunteer organizations, artists, musicians, authors, actors and film makers, while NOK 3.6 billion has been set aside to stimulate restructuring to a “greener” economy. “Better late than never,” Hans Ole Rian, leader of the artists’ organization Creo told newspaper Aftenposten, while Tone Østerdal of the Norwegian concert organizer NKA said she was generally satisfied. Østerdal still fears many players in the cultural sector who lost an estimated one-third of their income when the country was shut down in March are still being overlooked. That was an earlier complaint as well, but now compensation is being extended until August 31. An extra NOK 100 million is also meant to ensure that musicians, authors, artists and actors can continue to work and receive pay, while another NOK 200 million will be offered to museums and cultural institutions. NOK 850 million in extra aid, all coming out of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund known as the Oil Fund, will also go to organized sports and volunteer organizations, while even Norway’s three tall ships Christian Radich, Statsraad Lehmkuhl and Sørlandet will receive funding to offset losses from cancelling sailing trips and training.
***Climate measures are also du to get a proposed NOK 3.6 billion, aimed at making Norway’s economy less oil-dependent and more climate friendly. Fully NOK 2 billion will go to energy agency Enova, which helps businesses develop and introduce greener energy systems within hydrogen, battery technology and offshore wind power. An extra NOK 1 billion was earmarked for research projects and NOK 600 million for other measures that Abelia, the national organization for technology and research firms, called “very positive.” Another national employers’ organization, Virke, was critical and complained not enough support is being offered to the retail trade that’s a big source of jobs. Greenpeace also complained that climate measures were being offered “crumbs” compared to an estimated NOK 100 billion likely to be offered to the oil industry. Environmental organization Bellona agreed, claiming that some climate measures were “good,” but the sum of money being offered was “much too low.”
***The government has rejected a recommendation from a group of economists that advised ending cash support for ailing businesses hurt by Corona virus containment measures. Prime Minister Erna Solberg said current crisis assistance will continue through August. “There are still businesses struggling because of the international situation, for example in the travel- and tourism industries,” Solberg told state broadcaster NRK Friday morning (May 29). “Without help to cover ongoing costs, we’ll see that more businesses that could have remained strong in the future won’t make it.” The expert group of economists, formed to evaluate the economic effects of the government’s Corona containment measures, had claimed that Norway’s low infection rate will result in lower costs, and businesses should rather get incentives to start hiring again.
***The government’s expert group of economists thinks Solberg’s current strategy in addressing the Corona pandemic should continue, and its recommendation to fully re-open schools and day care centers was quickly implemented. The commission has earlier concluded that the government’s Corona containment measures imposed on March 12 have cost the Norwegian economy around NOK 24 billion a month, though, and the commission believes it’s important to avoid new invasive measures if the Corona virus flares up again. Restrictions on activities within culture, athletics and the restaurant business, along with demands for use of home offices and reduced opening times for schools and day care “cost society the most” and may not have the infection control desired.
***Vehicle traffic on roads through Oslo has returned to levels even higher than when the government shut down most of the country in March. Newspaper Aftenposten cited results from several traffic measurement stations around the capital, where public transport is also running but still limiting the numbers of passengers on board trams, buses and trains. Traffic was expected to be especially heavy on highways out of the capital Friday afternoon (May 29), as Norwegians headed off on the last three-day weekend of the year until Christmas. The annual pinse holiday on Monday is traditionally used for opening up summer homes and putting boats back on the water.
***The Norwegian winner of the Iditarod dog sledding race in Alaska last winter is finally on his way home to Norway. After being stuck in the US for three months because of Corona virus travel restrictions, Thomas Wærner is finally ready to travel from Fairbanks on June 1 and land at the Sola airport in Stavanger the next day. His wife, five children and their 35 dogs in Nord-Torpa have been looking forward to his arrival.
*** State public health institute FHI reports that Norway is unlikely to be shut down to the same extent as it was in March in the case of new virus outbreaks. Government officials didn’t always follow the advice of FHI experts, who didn’t think it was necessary to close schools and day care centers. Now they probably will, even though state health director Bjørn Guldvog told newspaper Aftenposten that he still thinks it was correct to initially resort to drastic measures, which helped officials bring the virus under control.
***It’s high season for conferences and festivals in Norway, but all have had to resort to digital platforms this year because of restrictions on public gatherings. The highly traditional cultural event Festspillene in Bergen has nonetheless attracted audiences online and now the annual Litteraturfestivalen (Literature Festival) in Lillehammer hopes for the same. It opens Friday, with best-selling author Maja Lunde holding the opening lecture since she won the festival’s Bjørnson Prize this year. Lunde is best known for her international bestseller Bienes historie (The History of Bees) and will be speaking about “who we are in meeting the climate crisis.” Other authors appearing on the weekend program include Linda Boström Knausgård, Vigdis Hjorth, Lars Mytting, Lars Saabye Christensen and Jo Nesbø.
*** A high school on the West Coast was closed again this week after someone who’d tested positive to the Corona virus attended a party on May 16 along with several students from the Kvam High School in Hardanger. Some Kvam students have since shown signs of Corona symptoms and local authorities have shut down the school, for at least three days. “Even though the outbreak appears limited, we’re taking this seriously,” local mayor Torgeir Næss told state broadcaster NRK. Authorities have also decided to close the local health care center.
***Norway can boast among the world’s largest declines in Covid-19 cases, according to its latest Corona-related statistics. Infection levels in Norway are now so low that public health institute FHI estimates only 15 of 12,000 randomly tested residents of Norway would yield a positive result. Statistics released at midnight Sunday (May 24) showed yet another reduction, to 38, in the number of Norwegians currently hospitalized nationwide after testing positive for the Corona virus. That’s down from 41 on Thursday, and 325 in late March, when there also was heavy demand on intensive care units. Nor were there any new reports of Corona-related deaths during the long holiday weekend. “We have more control than we have had,” Espen Nakstad, assistant health director, told state broadaster NRK Monday morning. He remains cautious, however: “We must be prepared that we won’t get rid of the virus any time soon. That means we can’t lower our shoulders yet.”
***Drive-in Id celebrations were successful when Muslims in Oslo ended their fasting during Ramadan over the weekend. Around 250 cars full of festive celebrants made their way to what was billed as a “drive-in Id” at the large parking lot at Tryvann, in the hills above Oslo. There they were treated to circus artists, ice cream for the children, songs and speeches. Ongoing Corona virus containment measures put a damper on traditional large gatherings that often are compared to Christmas Eve for Christians. State broadcaster NRK also offered special live coverage of Id celebrations around the country Sunday evening, which attracted more than 300,000 viewers.
***Museums in Norway have joined the legions of companies and public institutions demanding Corona-crisis aid packages. Admission fee revenues disappeared when museums closed around the country in March, and the outlook remains poor since foreign tourists won’t be traveling to Norway this summer. The KODE art museum complex in Bergen, including the historic home of composer Edvard Grieg, warned last week that it faces bankruptcy by October unless the state boosts its funding. Prime Minister Erna Solberg promised that a new crisis package looms: “We’re working hard to find solutions for institutions like KODE.”
***Inmates at Bergen Prison are demanding reductions in their jail terms because of the Corona isolation they’ve undergone since March. They claim it feels like their jail terms have “doubled,” because of extra confinement in their cells. The strict isolation measures were imposed to keep prisoners separated and healthy but inmates are not appreciative. They’re used to being able to attend classes or work at a prison job every day until at least 2:30pm, and then have “free time” to meet other prisoners, work out or play ping pong. Justice Minister Monica Mæland of the Conservative Party dashed hopes of jail term reductions, though. “Many people are deeply affected by this crisis, also prisoners,” Mæland told NRK, “but I don’t think that means they can get a reduction in the prison terms they’ve received for crimes they’ve committed.”
***Charter tour operators Ving, Tui and Apollo are the latest to cancel all the package tours they’d sold or still hoped to sell this summer, after the Norwegian government opted to maintain restrictions on travel outside Norway until at least July 20. Many borders may not open until after that, making prospects for summer holidays abroad dim indeed. The three tour operators all noted on their websites that they’d decided to cancel their travel packages that usually include flights, ground transportation and hotels, through August 20. That’s currently set as the date when travel to and from European destinations may resume, pending a new evaluation due on July 20.
***Public transport systems in Oslo are cracking down on how many passengers can travel by bus, tram or metro at any given time. The metro system is blocking off seats and standing areas, to limit the number of people on board. Sporveien, which runs the Norwegian capital’s mass transit system, has started marking seat- and standing areas that will cut the number of passengers on the metro line (T-banen), for example, from 450 to 130. Trams that held 200 will only be allowed to carry 59 passengers. Commuter trains will also be marking off seats to reduce the numbers of people allowed on board. “We see that more people are out traveling again, but estimate there will still be 30 percent fewer than normal (since many still work from home),” Gina Scholz of state railway Vy told newspaper Aftenposten.
***Grocery store clerks don’t seem to be unduly at risk for Corona infection. Large grocery chains in Norway report surprisingly few cases of employees testing positive to the Corona virus. NorgesGruppen, the highly profitable conglomerate that owns the Meny, Kiwi, Spar, Joker and Jacobs chains of grocery stores among other businesses, reports only 0.15 of its employees have tested positive for the virus. The stores have strict Corona measures in place, in an effort to keep both employees and customers at a distance of at least one meter from one another.
***State plans for new massive Corona virus testing have been put on ice, reports newspaper Aftenposten. Local governments were supposed to step up testing to at least 5 percent of their residents, but health officials don’t think there’s a need for so much testing any longer. Recent testing has resulted in few confirmations: 57 of the 11,471 tested in the past week. “Given the situation now, it’s enough with testing 1.5 percent every week,” Health Director Bjørn Guldvog told Aftenposten on Monday (May 18). That would amount to around 100,000 people.
***Only a small percentage of Norwegians have been infected by the Corona virus so far, Norway’s public health institute (FHI) announced Monday. That means the infection hasn’t spread much but it’s more deadly for those who do become infected. A new French study has prompted FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) to recalculate how many Norwegians are suspected of being infected, and slash the number. While they earlier thought around 1 percent of the population carried the virus, they now think the real number is between 0.58 percent and 0.73 percent (32,000 to 40,000 Norwegians).
***Grandparents can finally spend time with their grandchildren, after the government continued to ease Corona containment rules. They’ll also be able to spend summer holidays together, after months of not even being able to meet for dinner or other casual visits. The government maintained foreign travel restrictions but cleared the way for summer holidays in Norway on Friday. Elders were warned that those over age 65 are more vulnerable to Corona infection, however, and should re-evaluate visits and holidays if the infection rate starts rising again.
***Critics are urging a new evaluation of the massive project to rebuild Norway’s government complex, which was heavily damaged in a terrorist attack in 2011. They claim the Corona virus crisis has made the project’s open office landscapes less attractive, and could raise infection danger. Others argue that the success of home offices in recent months reduces the need for office space for all the 5,000 government workers in ministries that are due to be reassembled on the redeveloped site of the former complex. The ministry in charge of the project has asked for a new evaluation from the state property owner Statsbygg. Controversy also continues to swirl around plans to demolish the damaged Y-blokka building best known for its artworks by Pablo Picasso.
***Norway has registered a low death rate from the Corona-induced Covid-19 illness. When the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in mid-April that more than 6 percent of those infected with the Corona virus had died, the number in Norway was 2.62 percent. Newspaper Aftenposten reports that the actual percentage may be lower, because of a new survey in Norway showing that only a small portion of the population, around 2 percent, has actually been infected with the virus. Researchers at Norway’s public health institute FHI say the death rate from those infected was actually around 0.2 percent. The initial death rate of 2.62 percent remains low compared to other countries, including Sweden at 12.25 percent and Denmark at 4.91 percent. In China and the US, around 5.5 percent of those known to be infected have died. The global average is 3.4 percent, according to WHO.
***Museums in Norway are beginning to reopen but fear this will be a very bad year because of the sudden and sharp decline in paying visitors. Nor has any emergency money come their way from the state government, which has been funding crisis packages amounting to hundreds of billions of kroner. None has been earmarked yet for museums, with the Teknisk museum in Oslo telling newspaper Dagsavisen that it’s now living off its reserves. It’s been closed since March 12, when the government shut down most of the country, but aims to reopen on the last weekend in May.
***The Norwegian government has withheld several reports, notes and letters tied to the Corona virus crisis, pulling them from the public record “out of consideration for internal handling.” Critics are demanding more openness about how decisions on Corona containment measures were made. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that the material withheld involves decisions that closed schools, assessed local governments’ capacity to handle the virus, measured supplies of protective gear for health care personnel and what consequences the containment measures had on state health care services. Debate has already arisen over how the government didn’t always follow health care professionals’ advice, usually for political reasons. Concerns are rising that the openness and cooperation that characterized Norway’s initial official response to the Corona outbreak are now overshadowed by political issues.
***Norwegian Air and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) will both demand use of face masks on all their flights starting next week, but not Norway’s domestic carrier Widerøe. It claimed it was simply following the Norwegian government’s official recommendations that don’t include obligatory use of face masks. All passengers above the age of six who travel with SAS and Norwegian Air will need to provide their own facemasks and wear them onboard on all national and international flights between May 18th and August 31. EU authorities are demanding the same.
***Prime minister Erna Solberg has had video meetings in recent weeks with fellow government leaders of seven other countries with low levels of Corona virus infection. The goal is to share experiences and even open a “secure holiday corridor” this summer. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that Solberg has been talking with the leaders of Greece, Denmark, Israel, Austria, Singapore, the Czech Republic and Australia. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is keen to welcome Norwegian tourists back to Greece, where tourism is a vital contributor to the Greek economy. Norway will be coordinating its own border openings and easing of travel restrictions with the EU.
***Frustration over restrictions during the Corona virus crisis were reportedly behind an incident at the Sem Prison near Tønsberg on Tuesday afternoon. News media reported that eight inmates barricaded themselves in an area of the prison and resorted to vandalism before police brought their uproar under control. Several patrol cars were sent to the prison to calm down prisoners whom state broadcaster NRK reported were frustrated by having to spend longer periods of time in their cells, where they no longer are allowed to bring items purchased from a prison kiosk.
***More Corona-related deaths were registered during the weekend, with newspaper Bergens Tidene reporting on Monday that a 41-year-old man is among the casualities. He’s the youngest to die in Norway so far. His death brought the country’s death toll to 224 on Monday afternoon, up from 217 on Friday.
***Schools reopened on Monday, at least partially, and the government later announced a further easing of infection rules that allow children up to age 10 to have physical contact while playing sports. Adults must continue with what Health Minister Bent Høie calls “Corona training,” which involves maintaining a distance of at least a meter between them and training groups limited to a maximum of 20 people.
***Foreign travel restrictions may remain in place at least until June 15, following news Friday that the EU recommends continuing a ban until then on arrivals from outside its outer border. That includes Norway, with Health Minister Bent Høie promising new travel recommendations on Friday. Norwegian government officials are in the process of easing Corona virus containment measures, but wouldn’t say when restrictions on traveling in and out of Norway might be lifted. Travel currently is allowed, but everyone arriving in Norway from abroad has been subject to a 14-day quarantine. That’s set to be reduced to 10 days, but the government stated that Norwegians “must be prepared that the travel quarantine rule can remain in place through the summer.”
***Even Norway’s stave churches are being hit hard by the Corona virus crisis. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that tour group cancellations have poured in, cutting deeply into the income needed to help preserve the historic wooden churches from early Middle Ages. Eight of Norway’s 28 remaining stave churches are owned by the private association Fortidsminneforeningen, and only three have been profitable including the Borgund stave church in Lærdal. It was supposed to open in mid-April but that’s been postponed until late May. The closure, along with loss of visitors, means losses not just for the church but also for local shops, hotels and cafés. Only around 300 people live in Borgund, with the church its major tourist attraction. “The 2020 season is looking like it will be extremely bad,” Ola Fjeldheim of the association told Aftenposten.
***Less than 1 percent of Norwegians have been infected with the Corona virus or have been ill with Covid-19, and less than 2 percent in Oslo alone, according to new analyses from state health officials. With so few resistant to the disease, experts warn, a new outbreak could occur at any time. “It would be naive to think that this (the Corona crisis) is over with the round we’ve just been through,” said assistant health cirector Geir Stene-Larsen. In Oslo, which has been the Corona epicenter in Norway, bloodtests from 397 people chosen at random showed only 2 percent to be carrying Corona antibodies. “That makes us vulnerable to a new outbreak,” Dr Per Magnus, project leader at the state public health institute told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday.
***Cities and towns around Norway lack enough protective clothing and equipment for health care workers to carry out the increased Corona testing announced last week. More testing is supposed to be made available, the health ministry promised, but newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday (May 7) that’s easier said than done: local governments including Oslo can’t meet requirements to test 5 percent of their residents every week. Oslo has, along with Bærum, Nordre Follow, Ullensaker and Lillestrøm, sent an appeal to the ministry for more help in acquiring and paying for the equipment needed.
***Passenger restrictions will continue to apply on trains, trams and buses in Norway, even as they return to more normal schedules. Only 50 percent of capacity can be used, with passengers also expected to remain a least a meter apart while on board. Passengers will need to spread out, and may even be asked to get off if the mode of transport on which they’re riding becomes too full.
***Inadequate testing capacity may have led to more Corona-related deaths than necessary, especially at nursing homes, reported newspaper Aftenposten. Local governments that run nursing homes in Norway claim that it took too long before nursing home patients were tested, and state health director Bjørn Guldvog tends to agree. Around 40 percent of all Corona-related deaths in Norway have occurred at nursing homes in Oslo, Bergen, Kristiansand, Drammen and Bærum. When the local officials were asked to clarify, they offered several reasons as to why they didn’t manage to halt infections. The lack of testing was among them. “I think testing capacity may have played a relevant role,” Guldvog told Aftenposten. The nursing homes also lacked enough nurses, and classic Corona symptoms of high fevers and respiratory ailment aren’t always reflected in elderly patients. They’re more likely, Guldvog noted, to involve intestinal trouble and anxiety.
***As Norway continues to gradually reopen, cinemas, bars and restaurants will be among popular spots back in business from Wednesday as long as they only cater to 50 customers or less. They’ll have to stay a meter apart from one another as well. The City of Oslo is ending its ban on serving alcoholic beverages from Wednesday as well, but the social distancing requirements remain in place. There’s to be no bellying up to the bar and patrons will have to order food as well as drinks. Labour Party politician Trond Giske, meanwhile, complained on Tuesday that he think it’s more important to start allowing football matches than movies: “Top league football is a business that needs help like all others.” While health officials have approved of football training sessions, government officials remain restrictive and claim football can’t be favoured over other sports.
***Grandparents can finally meet their grandchildren again, after state health officials further relaxed some of their Corona containment measures on Monday. Relatives are still advised, however, to meet outdoors and refrain from any hugging. Anyone with a respiratory ailment should still stay home. Otherwise grandparents and grandchildren can meet as long as they wash their hands and keep at a distance. The latter is likely to be the most difficult.
***Norway’s digital May Day celebration last week attracted around 15,000 supporters who took part in online parades and tuned in to hear speeches and appeals throughout the day. It was much less than the tens of thousands in Oslo alone who traditionally attend rallies and march through town, but organizers were satisfied. Corona containment measures put a stop to all the ordinary events and they tried to make the best ut of it: “This digital celebration fell into a string of so many things that are cancelled because of Corona,” Kirsten Helene Teige of the labour organization Norsk Tjenestemannslag told newspaper Klassekampen. “All our fellowship was reduced to us sitting alone with a computer. We hope for a normal celebration next year.”
***Cash support being handed out by the government to Norwegian businesses hurt by the Corona crisis isn’t helping as many as predicted. National employers’ organization NHO reports that fully 40 percent of businesses questioned in a recent survey reported that they’re receiving “little or no help,” for example taxi drivers who haven’t been allowed to claim fixed expenses such as car loan payments. The government is already cutting a NOK 10,000 deductible in half, to NOK 5,000 for businesses not ordered to close by state authorities. That should boost the amount of cash aid they can claim. NHO is proposing a series of further “improvements” to the crisis assistance.
***Marching bands around Norway are the latest to ask the state for financial assistance, after the flea markets and bazaars that usually fund their activities during the springtime have all been banned. The money is needed for uniforms, instruments and other operations, with local musikkorps claiming they’re in “deep economic crisis.” Their performances have also been disrupted, with parades cancelled both on Friday’s May 1st public holiday and, not least, on the 17th of May. Earlier emergency aid offered by the Ministry of Culture didn’t help marching bands at all, since they only offered compensation for lost ticket revenues. Marching bands don’t sell tickets and rather raise their funds from hosting flea markets or selling waffles at other public events that also are cancelled because they exceed crowd limitations. Other volunteer organizations like local athletics clubs have also complained that state aid packages haven’t addressed their needs.
***Calls by the Greens Party for a new “Corona tax,” aimed at reducing withdrawals from Norway’s Oil Fund to finance Corona relief packages, have not had a warm reception. The Greens (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG) voted at their annual meeting over the weekend (conducted online) to impose at least a new temporary “crisis tax” of 5 percent on income over NOK 700,000 (USD 70,000) a year. The goal is to help finance the emergency aid packages being handed out to laid-off workers, closed businesses and many others, and take the pressure off the Oil Fund. “The Corona crisis will be extremely expensive, but the Oil Fund belongs to future generations,” stated the Greens deputy leader Arild Hermstad. “If we use way too much of its money to address the crisis, it will hurt the young. We think those who earn the most should contribute more.” Not even the Greens’ usual allies on the left side of Norwegian politics are keen on the idea. “I see what the Greens are trying to do, but this looks like a pure attack on income,” Kari Elisabeth Kaski of the Socialist Left party (SV) told newspaper Klassekampen. She also questioned imposition of “temporary” taxes, and claimed the Oil Fund can be tapped in crisis situations. The tax proposal thus isn’t expected to win much if any support in Parliament.
***Despite all the economic gloom and doom that’s been predicted by various analysts and economists, the head of Norway’s biggest bank is confident Norway will ride out the Corona crisis and emerge in good shape. DNB chief executive Kjerstin Braathen stressed in a recent commentary in newspaper Aftenposten that Norwegian authorities “have strong financial muscles and are willing to flex them.” She also noted how Norway has good welfare programs that reduce the effects of rising unemployment, and that there’s lots of mutual confidence within Norwegian society, across party lines, business and labour organizations. “We also have very solid banks with capacity and capital to support business,” Braathen wrote. Norwegian banks “are an important part of the solution, and have the capacity, competence and technology to help customers through a difficult time,” Braathen claimed.
***Trams and buses in Oslo are being subjected to some stricter Corona containment measures, now that they’re getting back to more normal route schedules and more people need public transport as the city starts to reopen. After noticing that some rush-hour buses were full, transport officials are cordoning off several seats to enforce social distancing. The trams and buses are also being cleaned and disinfected at the end of their periods of service.
***Many Norwegians are still staying home, even though the government has eased some Corona containment measures. A new survey shows that fully 22 percent of Norwegians questioned still won’t leave the house because of the virus outbreak. At the same time, the numbers of those who think restrictions will remain in place for nine months or more in increased. When analysis company Opinion first started its Corona surveys, 25 percent expected a lengthy period of restrictions. Now the portion is 60 percent.
***Schools opened up again for their youngest pupils around Norway on Monday, as authorities ease more Corona virus containment measures but maintain others. They don’t think letting young children return to school will have any effect on the spread of the virus, but they’ll close schools again quickly if they get such indications. Older elementary school students are expected to be able to return to school in early May.
***Health Minister Bent Høie was among the first to sit down for a haircut on Monday, when hair salons and other personal care businesses could finally reopen to the public. Various special infection-control measures remain in place, regarding cleaning and distance between customers, but Norwegians were expected to pour in after going without haircuts and other salon services for nearly seven weeks, much longer if they were due for a haircut just before the first round of strict Corona containment measures took effect on March 12. Several salons taking appointments reported being fully booked for weeks ahead.
***Norway ranks 15th in the world for Corona testing on a per-capita basis. Iceland tops the list from Worldometers, having tested 126,429 people in its population of around 364,000. Next come the Færø Islands and the Falklands, followed by the United Arab Emirates and Gibraltar. While US President Donald Trump steadily boasts of testing the most people, the US falls far down the list of testing per million residents. Norway had tested 26,425 of its roughly 5 million residents when the ranking was compiled.
***A nursing home in Bergen has been described as an “infection bomb,” after 13 of 46 residents have died from Corona-related illness. A complaint filed about the Methodist Home in Bergen blames “serious weakness” in handling an infection outbreak. The nursing home has been hit hard by the COVID-19 illness during the past week, with an additional 12 residents moved into a special ward for Corona at the nursing home in Bergen’s Fyllingdalen district. An investigation is underway.
***As Norwegians flock to the forests to get out of the house during the Corona crisis, two teenagers went hiking all over Oslo instead. Jørgen Brekke, age 16, and his friend Knut Brekke (no relation), 17, covered the sprawling Norwegian capital in a marathon of sorts, walking 65 kilometers (39 miles) through all of the city’s official neighorhoods in 13 hours. “I just thought that now, with so many people in the forests, there may not be so many elsewhere in the city,” Jørgen Brekke told newspaper Aftenposten. He and Knut left their home district of Østensjø early in the morning right after Easter and headed for Søndre Nordstrand, Nordstrand, Gamle Oslo, Grünerløkka, Sagene, St Hanshaugen, Frogner, Ullern, Vestre Aker, Nordre Aker, Bjerke, Grorud, Stovner and Alna before arriving back in Østensjø around 9:30 at night. “I went straight to bed,” Knut told Aftenposten. Jørgen added that it gave both “an idea of how big Oslo really is. It is, in fact, very large.”
***Norway probably won’t get a Corona vaccine until the fall of next year, warns the director of the public health institute (FHI). That means Norwegians will have to get used to living with Corona containment measures for a long time, even though infection rates have slowed considerably and relatively few are currently hospitalized. “We must be prepared to deal with infection risk, perhaps for another year or two, or maybe even longer,” FHI director Dr Camilla Stoltenberg told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday (April 23).
***State officials were alarmed this week when warm weather prompted many people to flock outdoors and ignore regulations against gatherings of any more than five people. Security guards ended up closing off popular beach areas along the Oslo fjord while the number of people taking ferries to the islands was limited to 30, leaving many would-be passengers standing in long lines. Similar restrictions were imposed elsewhere around Norway, with police in Hamar closing off a park area along Lake Mjøsa after an estimated 200 people had gathered to party and enjoy the sunshine.
***Arendalsuka, one of the biggest political events of the year that gathers thousands every August in the southern city of Arendal for debates, mingling and partying, was cancelled on Thursday. “It was a difficult decision,” wrote event leader Robert Cornels Nordli in a press release, “but health comes first.” More than 75,000 people attended more than 1,200 events at last year’s Arendalsuka, where people can chat with top politicians, business leaders and activists and debate current issues. Organizers opted against replacing the late summer gathering with a digital version: “The magic of Arendalsuka takes place when we meet on a boat, in a café or walking down the street,” Nordli said. “We didn’t think a digital version would offer the same experience.”
***Corona infection in Norway was cut back much faster than health experts expected last month. New analyses from the state public health institute (FHI) show that the spread of the virus slowed way down just a few days after the government basically shut down the country on March 12 and asked Norwegians to just stay home. By the time Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced on March 24 that her government’s strategy was to bring the virus’ reproduction number to under one, it already had fallen to between 0.71 and 0.78 during the period March 17-22. Norway could thus start gradually opening up again, with FHI expecting the infection rate to remain at around 0.7 in the weeks ahead.
***Around 6,000 companies have already applied for cash support offered by the state, to help offset lost income and ward off bankruptcies by covering up to 90 percent of fixed expenses such as monthly lease payments and utility bills. Several business owners are disappointed, however, and the online process of applying for the aid is more complicated than expected. Some wound up with only 25 percent of their costs covered, because of a NOK 10,000 deductible and lower payments on leases tied to sales that disappeared. Salary- and inventory purchasing costs aren’t covered, and now many retailers predict they’ll have to fire workers so that they can obtain unemployment benefits.
***City officials in Oslo plan to allow some bars and restaurants to resume serving beer and other alcoholic beverages in early May. They had collectively punished all serving establishments on the evening of Saturday March 21, claiming that several bars weren’t abiding by rules demanding at least two meters between customers. City government leader Raymond Johansen told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday that establishments serving food will be the first to start pouring again, as long as customers also order something to eat.
***The education ministry has now cancelled all year-end exams for high school students in Norway, because of the disruption caused by the Corona crisis. Written exams were already cancelled, but now no oral exams will be offered either. Education Minister Guri Melby insisted that graduating students will still receive a “thorough” evaluation of their work throughout the year and a diploma.
***Only one out of seven COVID-19 patients has died in Norwegian hospitals’ intensive care units. The vast majority of COVID-19 patients who have been treated in intensive care units (196 as of April 20) have survived. Most Corona-related deaths have occurred in Norwegian nursing homes, not hospitals, confirms a new report from the state public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet). In one case reported this week, a male resident of a nursing home in the Oslo suburb of Bærum who showed no symptoms of the Corona virus is believed to have infected 53 others before he was routinely tested during a hospital visit and results came back positive. Local newspaper Budstikka reported that the tragedy emerged after the man was tested on March 26. He had already infected 21 fellow residents of Vallerhjemmet in Bærum and 32 employees. All were placed in isolation and eight have died.
***Many Norwegian banks are helping customers who’ve suddenly lost their jobs and face problems meeting their mortgage payments. Banks have been actively encouraging customers to take contact, so they can work out payment relief plans by reducing principal payments or even arranging that only interests costs be covered. SpareBank1 was among those taking out full-page ads in Norwegian newspapers, urging customers to call for help instead of risking loan defaults. “Many people are sitting at home right now and worrying,” the ad read. “If you are, we want you to contact us. We can find good solutions together.”
***Among businesses where revenues literally have dried up is Travel Retail Norway, which runs most of the tax-free stores at Norwegian airports. With hardly any flights running, tax free sales that averaged more than NOK 100 million (USD 9.5 million) a week have come to an abrupt halt. That in turn has led to huge revenue losses for Avinor, the state agency that runs Norway’s airports. Sales of tax-free items and other popular products sold in large bulk quantities at lower prices have helped finance many of Norway’s small airports along with operating costs at large airports. “Our income stems from both (airline) fees and commercial revenues, and they’ve fallen in line with airline traffic” Egil Thompson of Avinor told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He estimated losses caused by the Corona crisis, which has halted most airline travel, will amount to several billion kroner.
***The head of public health services in the Oslo suburb of Bærum, Dr Frantz Leonard Nilsen, has told newspaper Aftenposten that he and his staff have alerted state health officials to how several elderly patients have not exhibited classic Corona symptoms like coughing, being short of breath or running a high fever. Instead several have become increasingly confused, a few have fallen and many suffered diarrhea before they began coughing and exhibiting symptoms of a lung ailment.
***Politicians are rethinking how or even whether Norway should build new and larger, more centralized hospitals. The trend has been towards consolidation of hospitals, also to attract more professional expertise. It’s come at the expense of smaller hospitals located in more communities, and Oslo has not been immune. Now the anti-consolidation Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold is warning against replacing Oslo’s sprawling Ullevål University Hospital, the largest in the country, with a new high-rise hospital to be located next to the National Hospital (Rikshospital). Corona has shown that it can be better to have Ullevål’s various separate buildings instead of one large new consolidated structure where infection could spread more easily. He has asked Health Minister Bent Høie to put plans for the new Ullevål on hold until an analysis of the Corona crisis can be held.
***Norwegian officials are gradually starting to reopen the country after a month of asking people to stay home to limit the spread of the virus. Day care centers were welcoming children back on Monday, with new routines and lots of hand-washing. Schools will reopen up to the fourth grade next Monday, April 27, and businesses including hair salons and dentists can welcome customers back as long as they comply with anti-infection measures. Norwegians will still be expected to limit social contact, at least for several more weeks.
***House-bound Norwegians will still be able to sing the national anthem on the 17th of May, all together and all at once. Culture Minister Abid Raja conceded that Norway’s Constitution Day celebrations on May 17th will be dampened, but the country’s most important day of the year will not go unnoticed. Traditional parades already have been cancelled, because of Corona virus infection fears, but Norwegians will still be urged to dress up as usual. Then, at precisely 1pm on the 17th of May, canons will be fired at historic fortresses around the country. There will be 21 shots with five-seconds between them, and then a national choir (Det norske solistkor) will sing the national anthem Ja, vi elsker on national TV “and everyone can sing along.” He also said some marching bands may be allowed to march through various towns and cities, and flags will fly nationwide.
*** Nine more people died on Friday (April 17)from the Corona illness COVID-19, bringing Norway’s death toll to 161. The deaths occurred in Lillehammer, Stavanger, Oslo, Drammen, Moss and Bergen. Hospitalizations, however, continued to decline, to 165, with only around 50 patients needing intensive care. Health Minister Bent Høie, who announced before the Easter holidays that “the corona epidemic is under control” in Norway, has urged Norwegian hospitals to go back to more normal operations and resume calling in patients for scheduled operations and treatments after weeks of postponements.
***Public transport in Oslo will return to normal schedules when schools at least partially re-open on Monday April 27. Bus, tram and metro traffic was reduced when state authorities imposed Corona virus containment measures from March 12 that shut down most all public institutions, many businesses and called for Norwegians to just stay home. Day care centers in Oslo are due to reopen from April 20 and with schools reopening a week later, transport provider Ruter decided that the numbers of people needing public transportation again will increase. Social distancing rules still apply, however, with passengers told to stay at least one- to two meters from one another.
*** Norway’s white collar crime unit Økokrim has received tips about alleged swindles of the state’s new and generous unemployment benefits. They involve business owners who have laid off employees, knowing they’ll now get at least 60 percent of more of their salaries paid by the state, but then asking them to work anyway to keep the business going. Other offenses may involve organized crime. “We’ve received information and can see that some people file incorrect compensation claims, or have laid off people who are in fact still working,” Hedvig Moe, acting chief of Økokrim told state broadcaster NRK on Thursday. She said her agency had expected that some may exploit the state’s emergency relief packages, but face heavy fines and jail terms if caught.
***Face masks may become a more common sight in Norway, after EU authorities declared they can reduce the spread of Corona virus infection. That’s been up for debate and Norwegian officials have not encouraged their use, especially because of shortages that give medical personnel top priority. Newspaper Aftenposten reported Thursday that Norway’s public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) will now respond to an EU request to evaluate recommending mask use when people go out in public.
*** The average age of those infected with the Corona virus has now been set at 47, split fairly evenly between men and women, reported Norway’s public health institute. Most of those falling seriously ill, however, are men. Fully 76 percent of the 183 COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care to date are men. Those dying have ranged in age from 51 to 102, with the average age being 87 as of Wednesday (April 15).
While health and government officials continue to be encouraged by the trends, with some Corona containment measures set to be eased over the next few weeks, Health Minister Bent Høie cautioned that “it will be still be a long time before everything is as it was before.” He stressed an ongoing need for social distancing, frequent hand-washing and staying home as much as possible.
“If we don’t succeed (at containing the virus), we’ll have to tighten up again,” Høie said. “We have taken control together. It has had a high price. We must hang on to control together, and it’s very easy to lose it.”
***Wealthy Norwegians are resorting to expensive ways of surviving confinement and making the best out of otherwise spoiled travel plans, not least during the recent Easter holidays. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports that some have offered an entire month’s pay for a skin care specialist to offer treatment at home, while others bought elaborate Easter baskets filled with expensive soaps, lotions, wine or gourmet food. Some have tried to get exclusive sports trainers come to their homes to coach their children, others reportedly have hired top chefs to come to their homes to make dinner. One financier created a stir, however. Distraught over losses in the stock market, he reportedly grabbed a golf club, threatened employees and started bashing an expensive company car. Authorities were called to discreetly take him for an overnight stay in a cell at the Oslo Police Station.
*** Police stations around Norway will start reopening to the public next week, more than a month after they closed as part of Corona virus containment measures. Justice Minister Monica Mæland, who’s in charge of both the police and carrying out the measures, said at her first press conference since the Easter holidays began last week that police services will gradually resume, but mostly for filing reports of serious crime, passport issuance and handling residence matters for foreigners in Norway.
*** The City of Oslo has entered into an agreement with the Nordic Choice hotel chain to house people who have tested positive to the Corona virus and can’t be put into isolation at home. Many people in Oslo live in small apartments and share bathrooms and kitchens with other family members or roommates. “Then it’s difficult to isolate yourself and limit the infection risk,” Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate to NRK. City officials are now using empty hotel rooms to offer living quarters to those needing to be isolated from others. They’ll be followed up by health care personnel and hospitalized if necessary.
*** Business is blossoming at florists around the country, at a time when many other businesses have had to close in Norway because of the Corona crisis. Ten-times as many people have been ordering flowers for delivery during just the last two weeks: “We’re talking about 10,000 deliveries every day,” Kjetil Hans Løken, manager of Interflora Norge, told NRK on Saturday (April 11). Many customers are also ordering flowers for themselves. “We’ve never seen this before,” Erling Ølstad of Mester Grønn, a large florist chain in Norway, told NRK, calling it “a rising trend, considerably strengthened in the past few weeks.”
*** Dentists are worried about not only their own income losses but also the dental health of their patients. Most all dental offices have been forced to close during the Corona crisis, and dentists describe the situation as a paradox: “We address dental health issues but have been placed in the same box as other businesses no longer allowed to deliver their goods or services, in our case health care assistance,” Dr Kristin Aarseth Grøtteland told newspaper Aftenposten. Only patients with acute and painful dental problems can be treated. Dental offices can reopen after the Easter holidays, if they can meet strict new anti-infection measures.
*** Spring cleaning has taken on entirely new dimensions this year, as Norwegians unable to travel during the Easter holidays and confined to their homes have ended up getting rid of lots of accumulated clutter. Home remodelling has also soared, leading to long lines at local garbage dumps and recycling stations. Local media have reported that some residents in Oslo spent hours in their cars, waiting for their turn to cast off everything from gardening debris to stuff cleared out of cupboards, cabinets and drawers.
*** Bars, cafés and restaurants in Oslo with permission to offer outdoor seating got at least a little relief last week. They’re still shut down, but at least they won’t have to pay lease fees for the space they occupy on city sidewalks. They’ll also get their licenses to serve alcoholic beverages automatically renewed, until October of next year.
***Stuck at home and unable to eat out, Norwegians are turning to fancy foods and wine as a means of cheering themselves up during the Corona crisis. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports that sales of exclusive cheeses, locally produced gourmet food and not least fine red wine are booming. “Staying at home has prompted Norwegians to splurge, even in the middle of the week,” DN wrote. Business is brisk at both the state liquor monopoly Vinmonopolet and most all grocery stores, but especially at high-end food retailers that offer premium products.
*** The government minister blamed for not allowing Oslo grocery stores to stay open during the Easter holidays (see item below) claims the decision wasn’t based on his Christian Democrats’ party’s principles, but rather on recommendations from the grocery industry itself. Kjell Ingolf Ropstad has had to defend himself against frustrated Oslo officials and newspaper editorials blasting him for forcing Oslo residents to crowd into grocery stores before most close for five full days, from Thursday through Monday April 13. Ropstad didn’t expect overcrowding would occur, adding that neither the store owners nor their employees wanted to remain open for business, and instead need some time off.
***Norway tops a list over countries viewed as having the best chances quickly when the Corona virus crisis finally eases. The list from large insurance firm FM Global and published by the BBC puts Norway in first place, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Finland. It confirms earlier reports and repeated statements from Norwegian officials, that Norway is well-equipped to survive the crisis because of its wealth, social stability and generally well-regarded health care system. Public health officials have reported that the corona virus infection rate has stabilized in Norway, and is even declining in several areas of the country, with Oslo as the epicenter.
*** The City of Oslo was lobbying hard to get state officials to allow grocery stores and pharmacies to remain open during Norway’s five official Easter holidays. Nearly 700,000 people have been forced to stay home in Oslo this year, as part of the state’s Corona containment measures. Oslo’s city government leader, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, worries about grocery store crowding and that not everyone will get all their meal shopping completed before stores close from Thursday through Monday. Government Minister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats, however, was unsympathetic. Ropstad opposes any easing of the state law that keeps most stores closed on holidays and Sundays, while also arguing that store employees need some days off after weeks of Corona stress.
*** There’s been a marked decline in the sale of narcotics on the streets of Oslo and other Norwegian cities and towns. Police cite Corona containment measures that have closed borders, disrupted international travel and simply made it tougher for drug smugglers to operate. They specifically cite sharper control of the borders to Sweden and Denmark, reports state broadcaster NRK, while also noting that the drug shortage has sparked “more aggressive” behaviour among drug addicts who can’t get their normal doses at present. “It’s generally positive that access to narcotics has declined,” one police officer told NRK, “but there’s trouble within the drug milieu. There are negative consequences, like an increase in violence and more petty crime.”
*** A new survey of nurses conducted for the national nursing association’s professional magazine Sykepleien found that fully 90 percent are afraid they’ll unwittingly infect patients with the Corona virus. Nurses’ representatives blamed their fears on a shortage of protective gear such as smocks and face masks despite recent shipments to Norway.
*** A Norwegian man who resisted arrest for disorderly conduct spat in the faces of police and threatened that he was infected with the Corona virus. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that he’s now been convicted and sentenced to 75 days in jail for assaulting police officers, making threats and spreading fear. The case was handled rapidly by the Oslo City Court, which ruled that he exhibited utter disregard for Corona containment measures at a time of great uncertainty because of the epidemic.
*** An Oslo hair dresser has been fined NOK 20,000 (USD 1,900) for opening her salon in the Majorstuen district and attending to customers. Police reported she had several customers in the salon when they arrived to inform her that she was violating current Corona virus containment measures. Police also pointed to Norwegian infection prevention laws that deem hair- and skin-care salons, athletic facilities, optometrists and several other businesses as possible sources of infection. The hair dresser accepted her fine and admitted she knew she was breaking the law, but was trying to help customers who needed hair cuts.
*** Around 100 residents and 12 employees of an asylum center in south of Oslo were being transferred and put into quarantine at Norway’s main asylum reception center in Råde, after one of the center’s Norwegian employees tested positive to the Corona virus. The asylum seekers were being moved in two large taxi vans and it was described as “a large operation,” involving people who recently arrived in Norway and speak several different languages. “But they understand how serious this is,” a center official told state broadcaster NRK.
***Corona containment measures are starting to work, contends Norway’s state health director. Dr Bjørn Guldvog, who’s been in quarantine himself, told state broadcaster NRK that new statistics indicate lower death and infection rates “than we could have had without the measures.” Guldvog noted that there’s still great uncertainty tied to the Corona virus, “but we see quite powerful declines” in both infection and death rates when compared to prognoses without the measures first put into place on March 12 and extended last week until April 13.
*** The justice ministry wants to be able to quickly house asylum seekers, in barracks and tents if necessary, if an acute need arises during the Corona crisis. The goal, reports news bureau NTB, is to allow immigration and asylum agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) to sidestep local planning and building regulations if an asylum center needs to be evacuated or if there’s a sudden increase in asylum seekers arriving in Norway. The conservative Progress Party reacted negatively, with its immigration spokesman Jon Helgheim calling it “incredible that the government is thinking about using even more resources on asylum seekers during the crisis the country is now in.” He claimed asylum seekers “put a burden on space and resources that we could have used to save lives.” The government, however, has also committed more than NOK 300 billion to help Norwegians and Norwegian businesses hit hard by the Corona crisis.
*** Syrian refugee groups are offering to shop or run other errands for Norwegians stuck in quarantine or isolation during the Corona crisis. “Now it’s our turn to help,” said Mohammad Abdo, who fled civil war in Syria, now lives and works in Asker and also volunteers to help needy children for Norwegian People’s Aid. He’s among refugees, also in the coastal town of Larvik, who are forming local groups to aid house-bound Norwegian neighbours. Abdo and several of his friends have posted notices on social media to spread word of their services and told newspaper Dagsavisen that they’re not afraid of falling ill with the virus themselves: “Many are afraid of Corona, but after what we’ve experienced in Syria, we’re not.”
*** As Norwegian politicians continue to dole out Corona crisis relief to laid-off workers, stricken businesses and local governments, entrepreneurs aren’t being overlooked. Business and Trade Minister Iselin Nybø announced NOK 2.5 billion (USD 240 million) in additional funding for start-up companies along with new initiatives for lending, research grants and capital that can match investors’ funding. “The reason we’re doing this is because entrepreneurs and start-up companies are so important,” Nybø said. “It’s all about job creation and good ideas. In the critical situation we’re in now, we need to hang on to innovation so we have a lively milieu also when the Corona crisis is over.”
*** Delivery of new trams for Oslo will be delayed, with authorities blaming it on the Corona virus. The trams are being built by CAF of Spain, which has been hit especially hard by the virus. Strict measures imposed by Spanish authorities to limit the spread of the Corona virus forced CAF to halt all production, including that of the 87 new trams that were supposed to being rolling in Oslo this summer. No new delivery date for the first trams has been set.
*** Norwegians who miss going to concerts and museums are increasingly turning to digital solutions. Several popular Norwegian musicians including Aurora and Silje Nergaard have held online concerts and several more are using them to raise funds for charitable organizations. Jarle Bernhoft streamed a concert Friday on behalf of Amnesty International while Odd Nordstoga raised around half-a-million kroner for the Red Cross. Most all the museums in Oslo have arranged for digital visits, with the Munch Museum speeding up distribution of its digital exhibition while both its existing museum in Oslo is closed and the new one’s opening is delayed until autumn. Museum director Olav Henrichsen hopes Munch’s art won’t be censored by Facebook like Picasso’s was, when the Henie-Onstad Art Center in Bærum offered a digital exhibition of several of his drawings. They were deemed to contain “Adult Content” because of nudity.
*** Police in Bergen halted several parties during the weekend, confirming that not everyone is taking the Corona virus epidemic seriously. Police reported seven incidents of parties involving far more than the five persons now legally allowed to assemble. They reported that some party guests coughed in the faces of police, claiming to be infected with Corona, even though they weren’t.
*** Norwegian football star Martin Ødegaard, who should have been playing in a European Championship qualifier for Norway against Serbia in Oslo last Thursday, is instead staying indoors in his home in Northern Spain. While the Corona virus rages in Spain, Ødegaard is reportedly healthy and doing his best to keep training for Real Sociedad, the Spanish team to which he’s on loan from Real Madrid. “He’s taking the situation seriously and doing what he’s told to do from his club,” Ødegaard’s agent Bjørn Tore Kvarme told news bureau NTB.
*** Prime Minister Erna Solberg sent get-well wishes to her British counterpart Boris Johnson, after the British prime minister confirmed he had tested positive for the Corona virus. He wrote on social media that he had “developed mild symptoms” and was self-isolating himself at his official residence at 10 Downing Street in London. He wrote that he would, however, “continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.” Norway’s Prime Minister Solberg still hasn’t been tested herself, claiming she’s not sick and that testing would thus “be like throwing away a test kit.” She said at a press conference in Oslo Friday that she “hopes Boris will get a light version of the virus and that it goes over quickly.”
*** The City of Trondheim has banned the use of already-controversial electric scooters and bikes offered to the public for rental. City officials claimed their use by the public can further spread the Corona virus. The scooters have been criticized as posing a danger to pedestrians and especially the blind, while also littering streets and sidewalks after being left at random after use.
*** The Corona virus is spreading faster in Oslo than anywhere else in Norway, health officials confirmed this week. Infection rates are three times higher, with the districts of Vestre Aker, Frogner and Gamle Oslo reporting the most cases.
*** A few Norwegian medal candidates at the summer Olympics hope they’ll “be even better” when the games finally play out in Tokyo next year. Confirmation of the Summer Olympics postponement seemed almost anti-climactic in the midst of all the drama surrounding the Corona virus that has set the world on edge. “We’ve really just been waiting for word that the Olympics would be postponed,” Norwegian wrestler and medal candidate Stig-Andre Berge told state broadcaster NRK. Sand volleyball players Anders Moi and Christian Sørum were also relieved and will now work towards competition next year.
*** Latest statistics show that the average age of patients diagnosed with the virus, admitted to hospitals and being treated in their intenstive care units was 59 as of Tuesday March 24. Fully 76 percent of the intensive-care patients are men. The largest portion is aged 50-75, 10 were older and 15 were younger, aged 25 to 49. The average age among Corona fatalities is 87.
*** A decision by officials in Rogaland to allow grocery stores to stay open for the next three Sundays has sparked protests from the Center Party, reports newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad. The Rogaland officials want to allow the REMA 1000 chain to spread shoppers over more days to reduce crowding and infection risk. Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, however, claims Sunday openings will further expose grocery store staff to the virus and wear them out as well. With restaurants and other eateries closed nationwide and more people buying groceries, Vedum thinks it’s more important than ever to maintain Sunday as a day off. He’s won support from national employers’ organization Virke, and sent a letter to the government requesting intervention.
*** The Thon real estate group has offered to postpone lease payments for retail tenants and restaurants that have seen business evaporate during the Corona crisis. Most restaurants have had to close and many suddenly have severe liquidity problems. In addition to relieving tenants from payment demands, Thon is also “in dialogue” with many tenants who fear they’ll ultimately need to file for bankruptcy.
*** Norway’s tall ship Christian Radich was lying in Corona quarantine at the southern end of the Bunnefjord south of Oslo this week with 65 people on board, after returning from a sailing trip to Spain. Around half were youth aged 16 to 25 from all over the country plus 10 volunteers. They were finally allowed to sail up back up to Oslo and disembark on Friday. One of the young men on board said he looked most forward to go home, sleep late in the morning and eat kebab.
*** Among the saddest aspects of the Corona virus crisis and restrictions imposed to contain it are all the funerals that now must be held with only a few people present. Death notices published in local newspapers now are almost all carrying an announcement that “As a result of national restrictions the ceremony will only be for family,” or that “Because of the situation with Corona infection, the funeral and memorial will take place when everything has returned to normal.” Families have told state broadcaster NRK that “it’s very painful that we can’t hold a proper funeral or memorial.” Church services have also been cancelled all over the country, because of bans on all gatherings of more than 50 or, in some communities, even five people.
*** The hard-hit culture and sports sectors were offered a NOK 900 million (USD 86 million) state bailout on Wednesday. Culture Minister Abid Raja announced a crisis aid package aimed at compensating lost ticket revenues and income as a result of recent mass cancellations of concerts and sporting events, along with closures of theaters, cinemas, museums and many other cultural insitutions. “These are very demanding times,” Raja said, while several sports and cultural leaders were already demanding more money. “Losses have amounted to more than NOK 900 million just in March and April,” said a leader at the employers’ organization Virke, fearing that many jobs can disappear without more public support.
*** Tougher border controls that now send returning Norwegians into 14 days of quarantine have stopped many from driving into Sweden to shop. Parking lots at the large shopping centers that cater to Norwegian day-trippers (because of their much-lower prices and taxes) were relatively empty in Nordby and Strömstad, for example. They were packed last week and during the weekend, as Norwegians stocked up before the quarantine rule took effect. “It’s normally full of Norwegian-registered cars here,” Jens Möller of Sveriges Radio reported from the parking lot in Nordby. “It’s as if all the Norwegian customers have disappeared.” The stores were trying to lure Swedish customers with 50 percent discounts on meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products.
*** Two state secretaries including one of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s closest advisers, Rune Alstadseter, have tested positive and are in quarantine. The prime minister herself is not, and was leading state budget negotiations among members of her cabinet at a shortened budget conference in Hurdal on Tuesday. Vegard Einan, a member of Solberg’s Conservative Party like Alstadseter, is the other state secretary to have tested positive. Einan works in Norway’s ministry in charge of labour and welfare. Both were said to be home in isolation.
*** Home Guard soldiers have been sent to various Norwegian border stations, to assist efforts at strengthening border control during the Corona virus crisis. They’ll be backing up local police and customs agents, who’ve been charged with turning away foreign nationals at the border if they lack residence permission in Norway. The goal, as with other measures, is to prevent the spread of the virus.
*** Norwegian embassies and consulates have suspended issuance of visas to Norway, as long as Corona containment measures are in place. Tourists are among those being denied entry or asked to leave, a huge blow to Norway’s important tourist industry.
*** Roma migrants mostly from eastern and southern Europe who often beg on the streets of Oslo and other Norwegian cities have been facing empty streets the past several days. Humanitarian organization Kirkens Bymisjon organized bus transport to allow the first group of 80 Roma to travel home to Romania on Sunday.
*** Domestic airline traffic was due to operate as normal this week, while international flights all but slowed to a crawl. Both Norwegian Air and SAS have cancelled upwards of 80 percent of the flights, after the Corona virus drastically reduced demand for travel and Norway’s foreign ministry advised against any. Thousands of airline employees are being laid off. With traffic greatly reduced at most airports, tax free sales operator Travel Retail Norway was laying off around 1,000 employees plus 200 seasonal workers with summer jobs.
*** Companies and organizations hit hard by the Corona virus are all clamouring for financial support from the Norway government, which announced more measures Sunday night to boost liquidity. Among the latest to seek state aid is the Norwegian athletics federation, which already gets substantial funding through the state lottery and the government. Now athletics director Berit Kjøll is seeking NOK 500 million (USD 48 million) to boost liquidity after several large sporting events sporting events and especially football matches were cancelled to keep the virus from spreading within large crowds.
*** With all large concerts cancelled, cinemas and theaters closed and performing artists facing an acute loss of income, efforts are spreading among the public to offer relief. Vega Scene, a new cinema and theater complex in downtown Oslo, stressed in a public announcement of its closure that it now faces “difficult times” along with other branches. “You can support us by not asking for a refund of your ticket,” Vega wrote in its ad. A new movement on social media is urging the same, as part of a collective effort to ease performers’ losses. New Culture Minister Abid Raja has said he’s working on a new crisis package aimed at the entertainment industry that already attracts substantial public funding in Norway.
*** The large diversified food producer Orkla, best known in Norway for its Grandiosa Pizza brand and lots of soup mixes, is among companies that’s busy and earning money during the Corona crisis while most other are experiencing heavy losses. Sales of canned and dry food are up 50 percent, as Norwegians stockpile food that can last a long time. Grocery store shelves were all but stripped of canned goods last week, before an intial hoarding binge eased.”We see that there’s been great demand for food with long-term sell-by dates,” Orkla spokesman Håkon Mageli told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “We have ample stocks, so there’s no need to hoard.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: As the Corona virus spreads in Norway, it keeps creating so much news that we’ve consolidated some of it here. In addition to major news warranting full stories, we’ll be compiling statistics and brief but important Corona-related items in this space, as the virus threat dominates many aspects of everyday life.