Norway digs in for long Corona battle

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The Norwegian government candidly admitted on Tuesday that it was “buying time” with its decision to keep strict Corona virus containment measures in place until after the Easter holidays. The goal now is to spread the numbers of people falling ill over the coming weeks and months, to avoid too many people becoming sick at the same time and thus overburdening the health care system.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Health Minister Bent Høie, announcing on Tuesday that Norway’s strict Corona containment measures will continue to turn everyday life upside down and restrict personal freedom, at least until after the Easter holidays. PHOTO: ASD/Jan Richard Kjelstrup

“If the virus spreads so quickly that the capacity within our health services bursts, it will have many and serious consequences,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. “Then we won’t manage to save even young people who are infected, and who we can save today. We wouldn’t be able to help many suffering from other diseases, or who become victims of accidents, either. That’s a situation I don’t want us to have to face. The battle against the virus must continue.”

That means at least two more weeks of the Corona containment measures introduced on March 12 that have closed schools, day care centers, theaters, museums, restaurants, bars, concert halls, public buildings and all but shut down most aspects of everyday life in Norway. The government and health care officials believe the measures are working, “but it’s still not possible to say how fast infection spreads,” Solberg said. “We need a better foundation on which to base any decisions to ease the restrictions.”

Easter holidays spoiled
Traditional Easter travel abroad or even up to the Norwegians’ own hytte (holiday cabins) will thus have to be cancelled, with the latter stirring the most debate. There were some indications that the government may re-evaluate its controversial ban on hytte holidays, not least because its effect is questionable and heading for the hytte can reduce infection risks in urban areas. Solberg conceded that “we still working with the issue,” but said her main message now was: “stay home.”

Other Corona containment measures, meanwhile, are being toughened instead of eased. The government is doubling its call for people to stay at a distance of a full meter from one another, to two meters, and no more than five people should gather outdoors at a time. All current quarantine and isolation rules are also being extended until at least April 13. Health Minister Bent Høie is also extending a ban on all travel for health care personnel, and calling on Norwegians to avoid public transport as well. He also wants people to stay home: “If we succeed with these measures now, we’ll win time” to ease the sometimes fatal impact of Corona.

Espen Nakstad, acting director of Norway’s state health directorate. PHOTO: ASD/Jan Richard Kjelstrup

“It’s important to buy time now,” added Espen Nakstad, acting director of Norway’s state health directorate, at the press conference. By extending the measures aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, he stressed, fewer people are likely to fall ill right now, and that will give the hospitals more time to care for and cure those currently hospitalized, more time to trace sources of infection, more time to learn more about the Corona virus and even more time to develop a vaccine.

“The more we can do now to control Corona, the sooner we can get back to normal life,” Nakstad said. Another top official at Oslo University Hospital who’s in charge of intensive care wards later told state broadcaster NRK that he’s glad and relieved that there will be no let-up in the Corona battle.

Solberg also claimed that “the better we are at washing our hands, keeping at a distance, not infecting others, the faster we’ll be able to get our everyday lives back.”

Two more deaths on Tuesday
The prime minister took on a more ominous tone, however, when she announced that Norwegians also must be prepared that all the strict measures won’t succeed. “The government has therefore decided that the hospitals must increase their capacity, acquire more equipment and train more employees,” Solberg said. “The government has also decided to evaluate measures to better shield the elderly and high-risk groups. That can relieve the health services and save lives.”

Solberg admitted that the “invasive” anti-Corona measures “unfortunately mean more weeks with strict limitations on our daily life.” They came after an 11th Corona patient died at the main hospital in Bergen on Tuesday and then a 12th at the university hospital in Tromsø.

“These are unreal times,” Solberg said. “I know that they’re generating fear, and unease, but they also bring out the best in us, our ability to take care of one another, and inspire creativity. Let’s hang on to that.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund