Norway cleared to gradually reopen

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg held another press conference on Tuesday, and had some welcome news: Norway can gradually begin to reopen from April 20, even though most Corona virus containment measures will remain in effect.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg is easing up on some Corona containment measures, but far from all. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Solberg gamely admitted at the outset that the measures her government put in force on March 12 “have demanded a lot from everyone” and “changed the way we live our lives” in a “drastic” manner.

She thanked all Norwegians, “on behalf of the entire government,” for cooperating to such a degree that “we can beat the virus … and begin to work a bit differently.” A recent survey showed that fully 90 percent of Norwegians questioned support the restrictions aimed at beating Corona, despite their invasiveness in daily life.

Now, just a day after her health minister declared that “we have the Corona epidemic under control,” Solberg announced the following:

*** Day care centers can re-open from April 20.

*** Elementary schools will re-open nationwide for children in the 1st through 4th grades from April 27, as will after-school programs for the youngest children.

The dates chosen, Solberg said, can give day care- and school employees enough time to plan for the re-opening. Her government ruled out a reopening right after this week’s Easter holidays, claiming that both parents, children, teachers and other school officials would be able to feel safe and secure “that necessary anti-infection measures will be in place.”

*** High schools (videregåendeskole) will also reopen April 27, but on a selective basis, initially only for some second- and third-year students.

“Our ambition is for all students to be able to return to school, in one way or another, before the summer holidays,” Solberg said. College, university and trade school students who are right at the end of degree programs and need access to equipment campus will also be able to return to school.

*** The government’s highly controversial hytte ban, which forbid Norwegians from staying at their own holiday homes located outside their region of residence, will be lifted from April 20. Solberg stressed that the government will still urge against all unnecessary pleasure travel, in order to limit infection.

*** Hair- and skin-care salons and other businesses involving close contact with customers will be allowed to reopen by April 27 at the latest. Other health services such as those provided by psychologists, opticians and physiotherapists can reopen from April 20. That will give them time, Solberg said, to impose necessary precautions against infection.

All other measures and recommendations regarding social distancing and limits on the number of people allowed to gather in the same place (five) will remain in force. That means people able to work from home “must continue to do so,” Solberg said, and “we must continue to wash our hands just as often, cough into our elbows and take all hygiene- and infection control measures seriously.” Anyone showing symptoms of the Corona virus must remain at home: “All quarantine and isolation regulations must be respected just as strictly as before.”

Restaurants, bars, cinemas, theaters and concert halls will remain closed, with large cultural and sporting events banned at least until June 15. A new evaluation will be made during the first week of May regarding music festivals and other major events throughout the rest of the summer, not least the large Norway Cup international football tournament that traditionally begins during the last week of July.

Solberg stressed repeatedly that Corona infection patterns will continue to be closely monitored and that no one should become “less careful” than they are now. “If we succeed (in keeping infection rates low) we can open up,” Solberg said. “If not, we’ll need to tighten up again.”

Commission’s report received
Her government’s decision follows receipt of an evaluation of containment measures made by a specially appointed commission last month. The commission, made up of experts within economics, finance, business and trade, delivered its report on Monday.

Solberg wouldn’t specifically say whether Tuesday’s easing of containment measures were in line with all recommendations from the expert commission. It was made up of eight members from state statistics bureau SSB, Norway’s central bank, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Oslo Economics, the finance and trade ministries and the state health directorate. Their job was to evaluate whether the current measures were socially and economically defensible.

They could, at any rate, be heartened by a new international study in which Norway topped the list of countries believed best-suited to recover from Corona’s devastating effect on health and the economy. “There’s no doubt that the Norwegian economy has been hit hard by the virus outbreak and the strict measures imposed in Norway and in other countries,” Finance Minister Jan Tore Sanner told NRK when asked for a comment on the study. “But compared to other countries, we are fortunately well-equipped to tackle the economic challenges.”

Solberg, meanwhile, stressed in her remarks that public health remains the government’s top concern. “Everyone has seen the photos and read the scary stories from other European countries where the health care system has collapsed,” she said. “Our goal is that we don’t land there.”

She claimed that her government’s decisions would continue to be based on “new analyses from the public health institute and health directorate,” which, she added,”provide reason for cautious optimism.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund