Increasing numbers of Norwegian cities and towns are closing schools and day care centers, including Oslo and Bergen. Most all cultural and sporting events have also been cancelled, or closed to spectators, as more drastic measures to contain the Corona virus take effect nationwide.
Officials in Norway’s two largest metropolitan areas announced that all schools and day care centers (barnehager) would close from Monday March 16. Junior high schools and high schools will close from Friday, for at least 14 days in the Bergen area and “until further notice” in Oslo.
“The measures we’re imposing now are extremely strong and will have major consequences for the city’s residents,” said Raymond Johansen, leader of Oslo’s Labour Party-led city government Thursday morning. “We’re doing this, though, because we fear that the consequences of not doing it will be even greater.”
Both cities have already announced sweeping measures aimed at hindering the spread of the Corona virus, which some health-care professionals have claimed is “out of control” in Oslo. “We’d just rather be safe than sorry,” declared Johansen’s counterpart in Bergen, Roger Valhammer.
The only reasons elementary schools and day care centers won’t be closed until Monday is to give parents more time to organize child care at home. Education officials were also scrambling to set up some sort of child care for those whose parents can’t work from home.
That’s where both local and state officials in Norway now want people to stay, as employers also are urged to make provisions for as many as possible to work from home. That in turn can reduce exposure to the Corona virus not only at the workplace but on public transportation as well.
News media were reporting on Thursday how companies like Telenor, Cisco Systems, meat and poultry producer Nortura, power company Statkraft and many others were encouraging and making arrangements for employees to avoid coming into the office. News bureau NTB reported how the canteen at Telenor’s Oslo-area headquarters at Fornebu was mostly empty at lunchtime on Wednesday.
There’s also been a noticeable decline in passengers using Oslo’s bus, tram and metro systems. Those who are on board are urged to distance themselves from other passengers, travel outside of commuter rush periods and walk or bicycle instead. The front doors of Oslo’s trams were closed, to keep passengers away from their drivers, many of whom are already sitting behind special barriers set up to protect them from any contagious passengers.
Local restaurants, cafés and bars were also urged to arrange tables and seating to that customers are kept at least a meter in distance from one another.
The lists of public events and venues being closed kept growing on Thursday. Not only have Oslo City Hall and the Munch Museum closed to the public, so have the Astrup Feanley musem at Tjuvholmen, the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter in Bærum and all portions of the National Museum not already closed because of construction on a new museum.
Next week’s European Cup qualifier between the national football teams of Norway and Serbia, which had sold out the national stadium in Oslo with capacity for more than 20,000 spectators, will now play out with no fans in attendance. In addition to the cancellation of the large Birkebeiner ski race, the traditional 38-kilometer Skarverennet from Finse to Ustaoset has been called off, too. The ice hockey season came to an abrupt end this week, before the important final matches could be played out.
Entertainer Jahn Teigen’s funeral was held as planned in Tønsberg on Wednesday, and attracted capacity crowds inside the city’s cathedral, but other church services and funeral ceremonies are set to be limited to close family and friends as are upcoming confirmation ceremonies for youngsters this spring.
Johansen of the City of Oslo said he hopes things will be back to normal within six months. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Norway’s huge Labour Day parades on May 1st and Constitution Day parades and celebrations on the 17th of May are cancelled as well. “They’re not so far off,” Johansen told Aftenposten. “To think that everything will be back to normal by then is wishful thinking.”