Norwegian health care services and local authorities have been preparing themselves for weeks to deal with confirmed cases of the new Corona virus. As more cases and even some deaths were registered in several southern European countries, local authorities figured it was just a matter of time before the first Corona case arrived in Norway.
“We’re planning and preparing ourselves as best we can that the virus will spread,” Bjørn Guldvog, the leader of Norway’s health directorate, told newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. Health officials all over the country have been trying to identify people who may have been infected, evaluate whether they should be tested and put in voluntary quarantine.
UPDATE: The first confirmed Corona case was announced Wednesday night, involving a woman in the northern city of Tromsø. More suspected cases, and voluntary quarantines, were emerging on Thursday.
Large Norwegians companies with international operations, like state oil company Equinor, are already asking employees returning from trips to areas where the disease has spread to stay home for their first 14 days back in Norway. Any cases or suspected cases of the Corona virus have been subject to mandatory registration in the national reporting system for contagious diseases since January.
“That makes it easier to identify sources of infection early and indentify how infection has occurred through tracking systems,” said Health Minister Bent Høie when the registration requirement took effect. “That can limit infection and hinder a major outbreak of the virus in Norway.”
Høie has stressed for weeks that even though the virus still hadn’t turned up in Norway, “we must be well-prepared if it does come.” His ministry has already delegated all anti-Corona coordination to Guldvog’s health directorate (Helsedirektoratet), which is working closely with the state public health institute (Folkehelseinstituttet) to boost preparedness.
Norwegian health care professionals have been working closely as well with their counterparts in other countries regarding response to the virus, also known as Covid-19. The government has donated NOK 10 million to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and NOK 36 million to vaccination development through the Coalition for Epidemic and Pandemic Response (a total of around USD 5 million total).
“The international community has shared responsibility to secure global preparedness and work together when an illness breaks out with the potential to develop into an epidemic,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg. “We want to contribute towards getting a coordinated and effective response to an international health crisis.”
Warding off panic
Dr Ørjan Olsvik, a professor of medical microbiology on the health sciences faculty at the University of Tromsø, urged Norwegians on Wednesday not to fear the virus. In a commentary published on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s website, he warned against public overreaction and noted that the virus isn’t necessarily more dangerous than other flu viruses.
“New illness that we haven’t seen before generates fear and descriptions of what might happen,” Olsvik wrote. “We almost have a tradition of overreacting when a new virus comes along.” He described Corona as “a normal virus that’s milder than a normal influensa.”
Norwegian health authorities are also urging calm, while bracing for what could turn into what they call a “serious epidemic.” The public health institute has rated the risk of Corona spreading in Norway as “moderate,” but they’re preparing for what they call “various scenarios.”
“If very many people all become infected at the same time, there can be many falling ill and needing medical help,” stated Line Vold of the health institute in a press release Tuesday evening. “That can put an extra-large burden on our hospitals and other health care services.” Most of those infected in other countries so far, however, become only “mildly ill,” she said, with only a minority developing pneumonia. Fewer than 1 percent of those infected so far, she noted, have died.
For more information and advice if the Corona virus arrives in Norway, click here (external link to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health’s website).