UPDATED: THERE’S NO CORONA-RELATED BAN 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 can 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 next week in southeastern Norway and the week after 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.
The total number of Norwegians testing positive for the Corona virus nationwide continued to rise all week, to 13,405 on Friday (Sept 25) from 13,276 on Thursday. That’s up by nearly 800 since last Friday, marking another relatively large increase now tied to outbreaks in and around Oslo and on a bus tour around Southern Norway (see below) that left more people testing positive to Covid-19 along its route. A total of 761 new cases were reported over the past seven days. The number of Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalization nationwide declined, however, from 24 to 19. Norway’s Corona-related death toll also rose during the week, to 270.
OTHER CORONA-RELATED NEWS:
***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.
(For more details, click here – external link to sciencenorway.no)
***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.