Corona chaos hits biggest hospital

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UPDATED: Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, forced to close its own busy clinic handling eye diseases, confirmed Sunday night that 19 people in Norway were confirmed to be infected with the Corona virus. By Monday evening the number had reached 25. New quarantine rules will now apply to all public health employees who have been in areas where the virus has spread abroad.

Officials at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo had to admit that their own handling of the Corona risk was unsuccessful, after a doctor returned from holiday in northen Italy and wasn’t tested until after he’d had contact with hundreds of patients and colleagues. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The new rules apply nationwide, stated embarrassed state health officials who had earlier claimed Norway was prepared to tackle Corona. Instead, Ullevål itself found itself having to cancel both operations and treatments at its clinic after one of its own doctors returned from a skiing holiday in Italy and fell ill last week. He in turn had contact with several hundred patients and colleagues before he tested positive to the virus.

He was one of five Ullevål employees testing positive to the virus as of Sunday evening, while another 150 were sent into quarantine. The hospital was also trying through the weekend to get in touch with hundreds of patients to determine whether they’ve been infected as well. Aftenposten reported that the doctor had performed two eye operations last Monday morning and three on Tuesday, using all sterile clothing and procedures as usual. It wasn’t until Thursday, after he’d felt ill enough to stay home from work on Wednesday, that he insisted on being tested, resulting in the positive result on Friday.

It’s all raised serious questions as to how health care professionals at Norway’s largest hospital have handled the Corona risk, and whether Norway is as well-prepared for an epidemic as officials earlier had suggested. On Sunday night, state health officials announced that all health care employees in Norway who have been in areas where the Corona virus has spread since February 17 must stay home and away from work for 14 days. The stricter rules affect 280,000 doctors, nurses and other health care workers nationwide.

Doctor defends himself
The eye doctor himself, who had been on skiing holiday in the Trentino region of Northern Italy, told newspaper Aftenposten that he felt fine upon return and reported for work as usual on Monday Februay 24. He began to feel ill that night, but not ill enough to stay home from work on Tuesday. He claims he asked to be tested for the Corona virus right after the eye doctors’ morning meeting, but was told it wasn’t necessary since he’d been in areas of Italy outside those where Corona infection was high.

He claims, and hospital officials confirm, that his initial request for testing on Tuesday was turned down. University hospital officials later admitted that it was “unfortunate” that he hadn’t been tested earlier. They reported Monday morning that 16 patients who’d been treated at Ullevål’s eye division last week were tested on Sunday, results of which were all negative.

Of the 19 people in Norway confirmed to have tested positive to the virus as of Sunday night, five work at Ullevål. Another six cases have emerged in Bergen. It hasn’t proved easy to be tested in Norway, with some quarantined families waiting 15 hours to be tested by local health care authorities in Oslo. In suburban Bærum, health care workers at the emergency medical clinic attached to Bærum Hospital were testing people while they sat in their cars parked outside in order to prevent any Corona carriers from infecting the clinic or the hospital.

Corona costs rising
Prime Minister Erna Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Sunday night that a Corona epidemic can make even an economically “robust” country like Norway vulnerable. She insisted that her government had the financial flexibility to offset potential economic costs of the Corona virus.

They were steadily rising through the weekend, with newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reporting how investors had registered paper losses of more than NOK 268 billion in Norwegian stocks as of Friday evening. The newspaper calculated that three of the country’s richest men (John Fredriksen, Kjell Inge Røkke and Stein Erik Hagen) had collectively “lost” more than NOK 30 billion of their own investments as stock markets continued to dive.

Both of Norway’s largest industries, oil and fish-farming, were also being battered, with the oil price falling below USD 50 and salmon exports to China falling by 90 percent this month. The euro has never been more expensive, costing NOK 10.42 heading into the weekend, while one US dollar hit NOK 9.44.

Travel and conference cancellations
Norway’s largest bank, DNB, cancelled an annual international conference due to take place in Oslo this week, while organizers of the Oslo Freedom Forum in May reported they had “postponed” it because of “the public health emergency posed by COVID-19, the Wuhan Corona virus.” Organizers said it “would not be prudent to proceed with the large-scale gathering” that attracts participants from several of the places hit hardest including Italy, Iran, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

Norwegian hotels, meanwhile, are also reporting cancellations of several thousand overnight stays. “We’re afraid the hysteria will win,” Andre Schreiner of The Hub hotel in Oslo told DN. Among the cancellations in Northern Norway are tour groups from China that suddenly aren’t allowed to travel.

Norwegian tour companies offering organized trips abroad are also experiencing an abrupt decline in business. “Sales have suddenly stopped the past few days,” the leader of Escape Travel, Gunnar Grosvold, told DN. “Everyone in the business is feeling this now.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund