Restaurants, cafés, bars, schools, day care centers and many companies all over Norway were being urged if not ordered to close or dramatically limit operations on Thursday afternoon. Prime Minister Erna Solberg candidly admitted that new preventive measures aimed at controlling the spread of the Corona virus are the “strictest and most invasive” imposed on Norwegians since World War II.
Solberg described and the defended the measures, however, as “absolutely necessary.” She also said it was “critical” that “everyone” respects the measures taking effect as of 6pm Thursday. Both she and King Harald want everyone to take part in the national effort to control the virus after a total of 621 cases had been registered as of Thursday morning.
“We must all protect ourselves in order to protect others,” Solberg said at a press conference where she was joined by Health Minister Bent Høie, state health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog and Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the state public health institute (Folkehelseinstitutt). Stoltenberg’s presence added a bipartisan element to the Conservatives-led government’s press conference, since she’s part of Norway’s Stoltenberg family that’s long held top positions in the Labour Party and the government as well.
‘From outbreak to epidemic’
“We have gone from an outbreak (of the Corona virus) to an epidemic,” said Stoltenberg, sister of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. She explained that Norway has been hit especially hard since so many Norwegians were on traditional winter holidays when schools closed in late February and early March. Many spent the holidays in the alps of Austria and Northern Italy, where Corona has become widespread.
The state officials all conceded that the measures now being imposed will alter and interfere with everyday life in Norway and cause major challenges for many families, especially those with small children. The measures may also seem drastic to many, even those testing positive to the Corona virus and already in quarantine without feeling particularly ill.
The state is imposing the measures, however, “to limit infection that is not dangerous for many but which can be very dangerous for some,” Høie said. “We’re doing this to protect those of us who are most vulnerable.”
He also stressed that the measures, effective for at least the next 14 days and likely to be extended, offer the best chance of halting the spread of the virus and getting Norway back to normal more quickly.
The measures, some of them already announced at local government levels, include:
*** Closure of all day care centers, schools, colleges, universities and other educational institutions
*** Closure and/or cancellation of all cultural and sporting events along with organized athletic activity both outdoors and indoors, including training studios and indoor swimming pool complexes.
*** A ban on all serving of food with the exception of restaurants and cafés where food can be served in situations where guests can be seated at least a meter from one another. No buffet service will be allowed at any restaurants, bars, pubs or other places serving food like company canteens, a restriction likely to shut down the often lavish breakfast buffets at Norwegian hotels.
*** Closure of all hair salons and barbershops, along with those offering skin care, massage and tattooing.
*** A ban on all foreign travel for health care personnel who work directly with patients. The ban will apply to both business and personal travel, the costs of which will be compensated.
Domestic travel for business and official purposes can continue as normal, but health authorities urged Norwegians in the “stongest of terms” to drop all pleasure travel and travel that’s not absolutely necessary, both foreign and domestic. Norwegians were also asked “to avoid public transport if you can, along with areas where you can come in contact with others.”
Everyone arriving in Norway from areas outside the Nordic area (Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland) must also now enter into voluntary quarantine at home, even if they’re not exhibiting symptoms of any illness. The quarantine order is retroactive to February 27, meaning that even King Harald, Queen Sonja and all the government officials on last week’s state visit to Jordan are subject to the quarantine order. Newspaper VG reported Thursday afternoon how that includes, among other, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Trade Minister Iselin Nybo. Both had full calendars this week and next, with Nybo due to start post-Brexit trade negotiations with her British counterpart. Their quarantine may also affect government budget negotiations scheduled for next week.
Norway’s public transport systems will be remain running, if on a limited basis, in order to ensure that workers in critical functions such as health care and law enforcement can continue to get to work. All others were urged “to stay home from work” and work instead from home if possible. Many Norwegian companies were already making that possible for their employees. Norwegians were discouraged from using public transport, in order to avoid crowds.
‘No need to hoard food’
Prime Minister Solberg stressed that Norwegian grocery stores and other retail outlets can remain open and that there’s “no need to hoard food.” Many were ignoring her pleas, however, with some store shelves already empty of items like toilet paper, many canned goods and dried food that can be stored.
Solberg, upon hearing of the hoarding going on, criticized it as both unnecessary and exhibiting a blatant lack of solidarity.
“There’s simply no reason to stock up on lots of food,” she said, adding that it was time “for people to show some good Norwegian restraint and common sense.”
Norwegian hospitals, nursing homes and other health care institutions are also imposing restrictions on visitation and controlling access. Health authorities also urged everyone to refrain from shaking hands, hugging or otherwise touching people other than those within one’s immediate family. They urged frequent hand-washing.
“We can’t touch one another right now,” Solberg said, “but we can take care of each other.”