The Norwegian government was stepping up its battle against the Corona virus this weekend in a manner that may bother Norwegians the most: banning getaways to their own beloved hytte (holiday cabin). Both state and local officials want Norwegians to just stay home, and not put others at risk.
State broadcaster NRK reported that the government, at another extraordinary meeting on Sunday, approved a new anti-Corona regulation. It will punish Norwegians who violate home quarantine rules, also if they stay at a hytte that’s located in a municipality different from their permanent residence. Most holiday cabins are a few hours’ drive from home, with the vast majority located either in the mountains, often near popular skiing areas, or along the coast.
Large hytte regions like Hemsedal, Ringsaker and Gausdal have long encouraged recreational property development, because of the jobs and tax revenues it creates. Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians have in turn either inherited or invested millions in their cherished hytter, which have become part of the national heritage for generations. Other businesses, from retail establishments to restaurants, cafés and ski lift operators, have also popped up in local community centers and earned millions off the hytte owners over the years.
‘Travel home NOW!’
Local officials suddenly turned against hytte owners this weekend, however. They didn’t want people driving up from Oslo or other population centers and possibly bringing the Corona virus with them. Many local mayors, often from the protectionist Center Party, made it clear that the hytte owners are downright unwelcome right now.
“We see that there are still many holidaymakers in the mountains,” wrote the indignant mayor of Krødsherad, near the popular Norefjell ski center and hytte community, on social media Sunday. “Now it’s time to obey the prime minister’s order; travel home NOW!” The stern message was signed by Mayor Knut Martin Glesne, who represents the Tverrpolitisk Bygdeliste party, and municipal director Stig Rune Kroken.
Not only do the local officials want to hinder the spread of the virus, they claimed that if anyone gets sick, their local health services would be over-burdened. They’re only dimensioned to serve the small local population, not all the thousands of part-time holiday property owners.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her health minister, Bent Høie, had indeed called upon Norwegians to not only drop all travel plans and stay home, but also to drop plans to head for their holiday cabins. They knew that with lots of snow in the mountains, as opposed to lower elevations this winter, thousands of Norwegians were longing to get away for the weekend and maybe even longer. Many are also in quarantine or been told by their employers to work from home, so figured that they’d also be just as isolated at their own hytte. Since most now have all the comforts of home including internet connections and mobile phone coverage, it wouldn’t be a problem to work from their hytte either.
Stopped clearing roads, shut down ski lifts
Cabin fever took on a whole new meaning, however, when local officials in Hemsedal, for example, tried to get local police to block the highway through the town center to everyone but permanent residents. When police responded that they had no authority to do so, the officials also threatened to stop clearing the roads through hytte neighbourhoods, and all ski lifts were halted, as they were in other areas like Trysil as well.
After pleading for more support from the state government, Solberg responded by repeating calls for Norwegians to drop plans for a hytte weekend, or return home if they were already at their hytte. Then she threatened to send in civil defense troops who literally would be asked to go door-to-door and tell hytte owners to leave their own property.
On Sunday the government made it a punishable offense if Norwegians violate home quarantine or are physically present at a recreational property that’s not located in their own home municipality. “You should travel home as quickly as possible and avoid stopping along the way and coming in close contact with others,” Høie said from his own home quarantine.
He told NRK on Sunday that he realized “how strong the hytte culture is in Norway, but I don’t think people have understood how serious this situation is. I’m glad to see that many have begun to travel home, so that local officials can concentrate on those who live there.”
Then the main problem became bad weather that set in late Saturday night and continued on Sunday. The main Highway 7 over Hardangervidda and Highway 13 over Vikafjellet were closed and convoy driving was imposed over Haukeli. Both the state Highway 52 through Hemsedal was open, however, as was E16 over Filefjell and others.
Justice Minister Monica Mæland also confimed at a press conference Sunday afternoon that police “from today have the authority to enforce quarantine regulations with either fines or prison terms.”