Many of Norway’s local mayors and some county governors continue to ignore and even defy state guidelines during the Corona crisis. Now some are also expanding their own local quarantine regulations, which state officials claim are overly strict and further hurting businesses and the economy.
The state government, however, stopped short during the weekend of actually ordering local kommuner (municipal governments) to stop, for example, imposing 14-day quarantines on everyone entering their town limits. Municipalities have broad powers under current law to do what they think is best for their local communities, and without a law change, even Justice Minister Monica Mæland and Health Minister Bent Høie can’t simply overrule them.
They can take the matter to Parliament and push through a law change, but opted against doing so. It’s unclear what the outcome may be. The government’s failure to push for national enforcement of its own quarantine guidelines, even at a time of unprecedented political unity and broad agreement on Corona-related issues, may indicate they wouldn’t have enough support to force local officials into line.
Opposition parties in Parliament strangely silent
The Labour Party, for example, is under pressure from both business organizations and trade union confederations furious about how local Corona measures are making it impossible for people living in one region to commute to work in another. Many important businesses and industrial facilities, including a mining complex in Nordland, may need to shut down if their workers can’t come to work.
Several Labour Party mayors and the county governor of Møre og Romsdal, however, defend their local quarantine regulations as a means of keeping the Corona virus out of their communities. Several haven’t had a single reported case of the virus, and want to keep it that way.
The measures that pit one local region against another also present awkward issues for the Center Party, which champions outlying districts in Norway. It has a long history of strongly supporting local rule, but also must see the need to keep local business and industry thriving and unhindered, to preserve local jobs.
Only new ‘guidelines’ introduced
Chaos ruled on Sunday afternoon, when the government had scheduled another press conference and was expected to prohibit local quarantine regulations. Instead the government simply introduced some stronger “guidelines.” They urged local officials to avoid imposing any local measures that would adversely affect critical community functions such as transit through local communities, children who move back and forth between divorced parents resident in different municipalities and, not least, workers commuting over municipal borders.
The 2pm press conference had to be delayed for four hours, however, when the national employers’ organization NHO refused to take part because it thought the government was being too soft on local officials. NHO finally went along, but its leader Ole Erik Almlid pointed fingers and pounded on his podium when declaring at a 6pm press conference that the measures “must function. If not, we’ll go to the government and the Parliament and demand they invoke the Corona law (a new law that allows the government to use emergency powers to change existing laws).” That could then overrule local regulations.
Local borders remain closed
Roughly a third of Norway’s 356 kommuner have enacted their own rules that have effectively closed their borders to neighbouring kommuner. There were some signs of easing such closures, with newspaper Klassekampen reporting late last week that the northern city of Alta now has enough infection precautions in place that it may drop local quarantine rules in early April.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday that Fauske in Nordland and Bø in Vesterålen, however, intended to continue their own isolation measures, in defiance of the state government and state health officials. “We see that infection is steadily coming closer,” Bø’s mayor, Sture Pedersen of the Conservative Party, told NRK. “We have little infection in Northern Norway and we’re trying to limit it.”
Bø was the first to close its schools, even before the state closed them natoinwide, and impose quarantine on anyone arriving from south of the Dovre Mountains. Bø has since expanded the quarantine to anyone arriving from south of the border between Nordland and Trøndelag. In Vardø, Norway’s most northeasterly city in Finnmark, officials aren’t even allowing arrivals from neighbouring Vadsø, much less anywhere else.