With more than 1,000 Norwegians infected by the Corona virus and two new deaths confirmed on Saturday, Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced even tougher measures aimed at hindering the virus’ spread. Everyone lacking citizenship or residence permits is being turned back at the border, with airports and harbours further restricting arrivals from Monday morning.
“These past several days have seemed completely unreal to me, and surely to all of you,” Solberg said at her latest nationally televised press conference late Saturday afternoon. “We are in a situation none of has ever been in before.” It’s led to the virtual shutdown of much of the country, with almost everyone urged to simply stay home.
Solberg initially said her government had “decided to close our airports, close our harbours and we will have widespread border control at all our entry points,” but that was later modified because flights and vessels will still be allowed to arrive and depart. Solberg stressed that “we don’t want anyone who doesn’t have a pressing reason to be in Norway, to enter the country, also because it will relieve some of the quarantine operations we alternatively would have to deal with. We’re doing this to protect ourselves from infection.”
She added that goods from abroad would continue to be allowed in, including food, medicine, fuel and other items, and Norway would continue to export goods. She said her government also was cooperating closely with Denmark, which closed its borders on Saturday, and that Norwegians returning home and those bringing goods to Norway would still be allowed to travel though Denmark.
Solberg conducted Saturday’s press conference alone this time, since the entire top leadership of Norway’s state health services are also now in quarantine. Health Minister Bent Høie was placed in quarantine last week under new rules applying to all those who’ve returned to Norway from abroad since February 27. Late Friday, leaders of both the state health directorate (Dr Bjørn Guldvog) and the state public health institute (Dr Camilla Stoltenberg) also had to go into quarantine. Guldvog had exempted two top health officials from the quarantine rules after they’d returned from abroad, and then one of them tested positive to the Corona/Covid 19 virus, forcing all the rest of them into quarantine at home as well. Guldvog apologized for how his directorate broke its own rules, but claimed it was a result of last week’s need to have all expertise available.
The virus, Solberg stressed, “is ramming our health services and our economy, and our lives have been turned upside down. The situation is serious and will demand a lot from all of us.” She noted how only 15 Norwegians tested positive just two weeks ago. Now more than 1,000 are infected and three are dead. “My thoughts and condolences go to their families and friends,” Solberg said.
All three victims have been elderly patients, two of whom were admitted to the intensive care unit at Norway’s biggest hospital, Oslo University Hospital Ullevål. The third died at the Ellingsrudhjemmet nursing home in Oslo, where two others are infected and five more have been tested for the virus.
On Saturday morning, she and other state officials sent the National Guard and Civil Defense troops to Norway’s gateway airport, Oslo Gardermoen, to help make sure that all arriving foreigners were immediately sent out of the country again. Returning Norwegians and those who couldn’t immediately be put on flights out of Norway were sent into quarantine, some of them at local airport hotels. Norwegians face quarantine periods of 14 days.
Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, also in quarantine since she accompanied King Harald and Queen Sonja on a state visit to Jordan earlier this month, declared that her ministry was now officially advising against all travel until after the Easter holidays. The virtual ban replaces warnings against travel to countries hit hard by the virus earlier, including China, South Korea, Iran and Italy. Now Europe is viewed as the epicenter of what has been branded as a pandemic.
Prime Minster Solberg also put Norway’s justice ministry in charge of overall crisis response. Health officials will continue to issue their professional directives and manage health services, and the education ministry will continue to deal with the closure of all schools, colleges and universities. The justice ministry will have the highest level of responsibility, however, for many of the Corona containment measures now in force.
Solberg said the government was also in talks with both Norwegian Air and SAS to discuss “whether they can help us to tranport preventive medical gear (including masks and outer clothing) from China to Norway if the opportunity presents itself. Masks especially have been in great demand worldwide.
The goal is to make sure society can continue to function as well as possible under difficult circumstances, said Solberg, who planned to meet with the leaders of all political parties represented in Parliament on Sunday.
“In this situation we must stand together to approve and carry out necessary measures to save Norwegian jobs and employers.” An estimated 400,000 jobs can be affected by the virus as airlines cut flights and hotels, restaurants, cultural and sporting events, schools, hair salons, training studios, museums and a long list of other public institutions and venues remain closed during the Corona crisis.
“We don’t know how much time this (containing Corona) will take,” Solberg said, “but I’m sure that we can manage this together.” She promised her government “is willing to do everything that’s needed, and spend the money that’s necessary, to secure Norwegians’ health, society and the economy.”