UPDATED: Cancellations, closures and other measures to contain the Corona virus outbreak literally poured in across Norway on Wednesday, amid growing confusion and bitter criticism of state health authorities. Dr Dag Jacobsen, a professor and head of the intensive care unit at Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo, says the spread of Corona is “out of control” in the Norwegian capital, and crisis measures announced by public health officials on Tuesday are “far from enough.”
“I don’t think people realize what a serious situation we are up against,” Jacobsen told state broadcaster NRK. “Corona infection is occurring in Oslo right now, in shopping centers and on buses.”
A total of 489 people in Norway were officially registered as being infected with the Corona virus on Wednesday evening. That’s up by 212 just since Tuesday, and more than double the increase from the day before. Norway’s public health institute is expecting that more people will require hospitalization and that deaths will occur in the coming weeks.
“We’re expecting more admissions, more who need intensive care and more deaths,” said Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, director of the public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstitituttet), at a press conference. She said that FHI is preparing for a scenario in which 2.2 million Norwegians could be infected by the Corona virus in Norway. Of those infected now, 34 percent are women, 66 percent are men and their average age is 46.
Dissent among health professionals
Health authorities issued a recommendation on Tuesday that all events likely to gather more than 500 people should be cancelled. That turned into an order on Wednesday, while the Norwegian doctors’ professional association (Den norske legeforenining) has recommended a limit of just 50, Professor Jacobsen at Norway’s largest hospital points out. Bus and tram services in the cities should be limited and run at just half-full, Jacobsen added, to allow more space around passengers, while all those who can work from home should do so. The latter measure was imposed on Wednesday.
Steps were being taken, meanwhile, to limit large gatherings of people. The annual military exercise Cold Response, which involves 15,000 participants from NATO countries, was halted on Wednesday, the day after Norway’s top health official Bjørn Guldvog questioned whether it was safe for the exercise to go ahead. One soldier had been infected with the Corona virus, and another 244 participants remained in quarantine.
Health officials also are imposing restrictions on incoming flights from areas where Corona infection is high. The vast majority of Corona cases in Norway involve Norwegians who have been on holiday in Austria, mostly skiing in the alps of Tyrol. Authorities are cracking down on incoming flights from China, Iran, South Korea, Italy and Tyrol/Austria.
Around 180 passengers on board a flight from Salzburg to Bergen were put in quarantine, while 30 people on a flight from Bergamo in Italy to Sandefjord were also questioned upon arrival Wednesday evening.
Several upcoming cultural events have also been hit hard by Corona containment measures, including the indefinite postponement of sold-out farewell shows in the large Oslo Spektrum arena by Vazelina Bilopphøggers, one of Norway’s most popular rock bands. Meanwhile, the Munch Museum in Oslo announced that it will close for at least two weeks, effective immediately. The Gathering, a festival for thousands of young computer and technology enthisiasts in Hamar’s Vikingskipet arena every Easter, was also cancelled.
Despite such efforts to limit infection by keeping crowds from gathering, Professor Jacobsen fears that intensive care units like his will run out of beds quickly unless “drastic” steps are taken.
“We will face a capacity problem,” Jacobsen told NRK. “I’m normally an unworried and soution-oriented professional, but we will not be able to handle this with the existing measures.” Jacobsen already had three Corona patients at Ullevål on Wednesday. The hospital was first hit on March 1 and forced to close its busy clinic handling eye diseases. Almost 300 employees remain in quarantine.
“We were recently warned by Italian doctors, who urged Norway to wake up,” Jacobsen added. “We have to carry out tough measures now. Otherwise there won’t be a vacant hospital bed for people with a heart attack or who’ve had an accident.”
The concern voiced by Jacobsen and other medical professionals comes on top of increasing criticism of Norway’s handling of the Corona threat. There’s reportedly growing frustration in many parts of the country over an apparent lack of uniform measures and clear communication from the authorities, meaning that practices approved in one city may be banned in another.
Other measures introduced on Wednesday to try to limit the Corona spread:
- The City of Oslo banned large events in the city. Any event with more than 100 people must be approved in advance, city government leader Raymond Johansen said, adding that Oslo is in “a very serious situation.”
- Bergen, Norway’s busiest cruise port, said that passengers on arriving cruise ships will not be allowed to go ashore, in order to reduce crowds in the city. According to a press release, Bergen expects 700,000 visitors arriving on 353 vessels this summer season, the next one arriving on March 12.
- Regional airline Widerøe cancelled another 1,500 flights between now and the end of May, responding to reduced demand. Those cuts come on top of 4,000 cancellations that Widerøe announced in February to cope with spiralling costs.
- Trondheim municipality requested that all sports events for children under 13 years be cancelled, saying that “children have a large potential for spreading infection through their behaviour and limited understanding for containment measures.”
- Theaters around the country cancelled performances, including Riksteatret, Trøndelag Teater and the National Theater in Oslo.