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NORWAY’S DEATH TOLL FROM THE CORONA VIRUS hit 108 on Thursday, after three more patients diagnosed with Covid-19 died in Asker, Drammen and Lillehammer. The number of people testing positive to the virus, meanwhile, passed 6,000 as Norway headed into the country’s five-day Easter holidays.

The number of people hospitalized with Covid-19, meanwhile, declined again, this time dramatically. Public health authorities reported that hospitalizations stood at 253 on Thursday, up slightly from 249 on Wednesday but down from more than 300 last week. The number of those confirmed as infected with the virus stood at 6,178.

The hospitalization rate has declined to such a degree that the Norwegian Medical Association (Legeforeningen) is now concerned that too many other operations and treatments have been cancelled to make room for Covid-19 patients. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that only 53 percent of Norway’s hospital capacity was actually in use on average over the past five weeks. That’s down from 75 percent in the weeks before the government imposed emergency measures to limit the spread of infection and open up hospital space.

That’s resulted in the postponement of around 20,000 operations and treatments in Oslo alone, with the doctors’ group writing in a letter to state health director Bjørn Guldvog that the heightened Corona preparedness can have serious consequences for other patients. Waiting lists for various hospital procedures, also for out-patients who aren’t admitted, can become “unmanageably long,” the doctors warned.

IN OTHER CORONA-RELATED NEWS:

***Stuck at home and unable to eat out, Norwegians are turning to fancy foods and wine as a means of cheering themselves up during the Corona crisis. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports that sales of exclusive cheeses, locally produced gourmet food and not least fine red wine are booming. “Staying at home has prompted Norwegians to splurge, even in the middle of the week,” DN wrote. Business is brisk at both the state liquor monopoly Vinmonopolet and most all grocery stores, but especially at high-end food retailers that offer premium products.

*** The government minister blamed for not allowing Oslo grocery stores to stay open during the Easter holidays (see item below) claims the decision wasn’t based on his Christian Democrats’ party’s principles, but rather on recommendations from the grocery industry itself. Kjell Ingolf Ropstad has had to defend himself against frustrated Oslo officials and newspaper editorials blasting him for forcing Oslo residents to crowd into grocery stores before most close for five full days, from Thursday through Monday April 13. Ropstad didn’t expect overcrowding would occur, adding that neither the store owners nor their employees wanted to remain open for business, and instead need some time off.

***Norway tops a list over countries viewed as having the best chances  quickly when the Corona virus crisis finally eases. The list from large insurance firm FM Global and published by the BBC puts Norway in first place, followed by Denmark, Switzerland, Germany and Finland. It confirms earlier reports and repeated statements from Norwegian officials, that Norway is well-equipped to survive the crisis because of its wealth, social stability and generally well-regarded health care system. Public health officials have reported that the corona virus infection rate has stabilized in Norway, and is even declining in several areas of the country, with Oslo as the epicenter.

*** The City of Oslo was lobbying hard to get state officials to allow grocery stores and pharmacies to remain open during Norway’s five official Easter holidays. Nearly 700,000 people have been forced to stay home in Oslo this year, as part of the state’s Corona containment measures. Oslo’s city government leader, Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, worries about grocery store crowding and that not everyone will get all their meal shopping completed before stores close from Thursday through Monday. Government Minister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad of the Christian Democrats, however, was unsympathetic. Ropstad opposes any easing of the state law that keeps most stores closed on holidays and Sundays, while also arguing that store employees need some days off after weeks of Corona stress.

*** There’s been a marked decline in the sale of narcotics on the streets of Oslo and other Norwegian cities and towns. Police cite Corona containment measures that have closed borders, disrupted international travel and simply made it tougher for drug smugglers to operate. They specifically cite sharper control of the borders to Sweden and Denmark, reports state broadcaster NRK, while also noting that the drug shortage has sparked “more aggressive” behaviour among drug addicts who can’t get their normal doses at present. “It’s generally positive that access to narcotics has declined,” one police officer told NRK, “but there’s trouble within the drug milieu. There are negative consequences, like an increase in violence and more petty crime.”

*** A new survey of nurses conducted for the national nursing association’s professional magazine Sykepleien found that fully 90 percent are afraid they’ll unwittingly infect patients with the Corona virus. Nurses’ representatives blamed their fears on a shortage of protective gear such as smocks and face masks despite recent shipments to Norway.

*** A Norwegian man who resisted arrest for disorderly conduct spat in the faces of police and threatened that he was infected with the Corona virus. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that he’s now been convicted and sentenced to 75 days in jail for assaulting police officers, making threats and spreading fear. The case was handled rapidly by the Oslo City Court, which ruled that he exhibited utter disregard for Corona containment measures at a time of great uncertainty because of the epidemic.

*** An Oslo hair dresser has been fined NOK 20,000 (USD 1,900) for opening her salon in the Majorstuen district and attending to customers. Police reported she had several customers in the salon when they arrived to inform her that she was violating current Corona virus containment measures. Police also pointed to Norwegian infection prevention laws that deem hair- and skin-care salons, athletic facilities, optometrists and several other businesses as possible sources of infection. The hair dresser accepted her fine and admitted she knew she was breaking the law, but was trying to help customers who needed hair cuts.

*** Around 100 residents and 12 employees of an asylum center in south of Oslo were being transferred and put into quarantine at Norway’s main asylum reception center in Råde, after one of the center’s Norwegian employees tested positive to the Corona virus. The asylum seekers were being moved in two large taxi vans and it was described as “a large operation,” involving people who recently arrived in Norway and speak several different languages. “But they understand how serious this is,” a center official told state broadcaster NRK.

***Corona containment measures are starting to work, contends Norway’s state health director. Dr Bjørn Guldvog, who’s been in quarantine himself, told state broadcaster NRK that new statistics indicate lower death and infection rates “than we could have had without the measures.” Guldvog noted that there’s still great uncertainty tied to the Corona virus, “but we see quite powerful declines” in both infection and death rates when compared to prognoses without the measures first put into place on March 12 and extended last week until April 13.

*** The justice ministry wants to be able to quickly house asylum seekers, in barracks and tents if necessary, if an acute need arises during the Corona crisis. The goal, reports news bureau NTB, is to allow immigration and asylum agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) to sidestep local planning and building regulations if an asylum center needs to be evacuated or if there’s a sudden increase in asylum seekers arriving in Norway. The conservative Progress Party reacted negatively, with its immigration spokesman Jon Helgheim calling it “incredible that the government is thinking about using even more resources on asylum seekers during the crisis the country is now in.” He claimed asylum seekers “put a burden on space and resources that we could have used to save lives.” The government, however, has also committed more than NOK 300 billion to help Norwegians and Norwegian businesses hit hard by the Corona crisis.

*** Syrian refugee groups are offering to shop or run other errands for Norwegians stuck in quarantine or isolation during the Corona crisis. “Now it’s our turn to help,” said Mohammad Abdo, who fled civil war in Syria, now lives and works in Asker and also volunteers to help needy children for Norwegian People’s Aid. He’s among refugees, also in the coastal town of Larvik, who are forming local groups to aid house-bound Norwegian neighbours. Abdo and several of his friends have posted notices on social media to spread word of their services and told newspaper Dagsavisen that they’re not afraid of falling ill with the virus themselves: “Many are afraid of Corona, but after what we’ve experienced in Syria, we’re not.”

*** As Norwegian politicians continue to dole out Corona crisis relief to laid-off workers, stricken businesses and local governments, entrepreneurs aren’t being overlooked. Business and Trade Minister Iselin Nybø announced NOK 2.5 billion (USD 240 million) in additional funding for start-up companies along with new initiatives for lending, research grants and capital that can match investors’ funding. “The reason we’re doing this is because entrepreneurs and start-up companies are so important,” Nybø said. “It’s all about job creation and good ideas. In the critical situation we’re in now, we need to hang on to innovation so we have a lively milieu also when the Corona crisis is over.”

*** Delivery of new trams for Oslo will be delayed, with authorities blaming it on the Corona virus. The trams are being built by CAF of Spain, which has been hit especially hard by the virus. Strict measures imposed by Spanish authorities to limit the spread of the Corona virus forced CAF to halt all production, including that of the 87 new trams that were supposed to being rolling in Oslo this summer. No new delivery date for the first trams has been set.

*** Norwegians who miss going to concerts and museums are increasingly turning to digital solutions. Several popular Norwegian musicians including Aurora and Silje Nergaard have held online concerts and several more are using them to raise funds for charitable organizations. Jarle Bernhoft streamed a concert Friday on behalf of Amnesty International while Odd Nordstoga raised around half-a-million kroner for the Red Cross. Most all the museums in Oslo have arranged for digital visits, with the Munch Museum speeding up distribution of its digital exhibition while both its existing museum in Oslo is closed and the new one’s opening is delayed until autumn. Museum director Olav Henrichsen hopes Munch’s art won’t be censored by Facebook like Picasso’s was, when the Henie-Onstad Art Center in Bærum offered a digital exhibition of several of his drawings. They were deemed to contain “Adult Content” because of nudity.

*** Police in Bergen halted several parties during the weekend, confirming that not everyone is taking the Corona virus epidemic seriously. Police reported seven incidents of parties involving far more than the five persons now legally allowed to assemble. They reported that some party guests coughed in the faces of police, claiming to be infected with Corona, even though they weren’t.

*** Norwegian football star Martin Ødegaard, who should have been playing in a European Championship qualifier for Norway against Serbia in Oslo last Thursday, is instead staying indoors in his home in Northern Spain. While the Corona virus rages in Spain, Ødegaard is reportedly healthy and doing his best to keep training for Real Sociedad, the Spanish team to which he’s on loan from Real Madrid. “He’s taking the situation seriously and doing what he’s told to do from his club,” Ødegaard’s agent Bjørn Tore Kvarme told news bureau NTB.

*** Prime Minister Erna Solberg sent get-well wishes to her British counterpart Boris Johnson, after the British prime minister confirmed he had tested positive for the Corona virus. He wrote on social media that he had “developed mild symptoms” and was self-isolating himself at his official residence at 10 Downing Street in London. He wrote that he would, however, “continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.” Norway’s Prime Minister Solberg still hasn’t been tested herself, claiming she’s not sick and that testing would thus “be like throwing away a test kit.” She said at a press conference in Oslo Friday that she “hopes Boris will get a light version of the virus and that it goes over quickly.”

*** The City of Trondheim has banned the use of already-controversial electric scooters and bikes offered to the public for rental. City officials claimed their use by the public can further spread the Corona virus. The scooters have been criticized as posing a danger to pedestrians and especially the blind, while also littering streets and sidewalks after being left at random after use.

*** The Corona virus is spreading faster in Oslo than anywhere else in Norway, health officials confirmed this week. Infection rates are three times higher, with the districts of Vestre Aker, Frogner and Gamle Oslo reporting the most cases.

*** A few Norwegian medal candidates at the summer Olympics hope they’ll “be even better” when the games finally play out in Tokyo next year. Confirmation of the Summer Olympics postponement seemed almost anti-climactic in the midst of all the drama surrounding the Corona virus that has set the world on edge. “We’ve really just been waiting for word that the Olympics would be postponed,” Norwegian wrestler and medal candidate Stig-Andre Berge told state broadcaster NRK. Sand volleyball players Anders Moi and Christian Sørum were also relieved and will now work towards competition next year.

*** Latest statistics show that the average age of patients diagnosed with the virus, admitted to hospitals and being treated in their intenstive care units was 59 as of Tuesday March 24. Fully 76 percent of the intensive-care patients are men. The largest portion is aged 50-75, 10 were older and 15 were younger, aged 25 to 49. The average age among Corona fatalities is 87.

*** A decision by officials in Rogaland to allow grocery stores to stay open for the next three Sundays has sparked protests from the Center Party, reports newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad. The Rogaland officials want to allow the REMA 1000 chain to spread shoppers over more days to reduce crowding and infection risk. Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, however, claims Sunday openings will further expose grocery store staff to the virus and wear them out as well. With restaurants and other eateries closed nationwide and more people buying groceries, Vedum thinks it’s more important than ever to maintain Sunday as a day off. He’s won support from national employers’ organization Virke, and sent a letter to the government requesting intervention.

*** The Thon real estate group has offered to postpone lease payments for retail tenants and restaurants that have seen business evaporate during the Corona crisis. Most restaurants have had to close and many suddenly have severe liquidity problems. In addition to relieving tenants from payment demands, Thon is also “in dialogue” with many tenants who fear they’ll ultimately need to file for bankruptcy.

*** Norway’s tall ship Christian Radich was lying in Corona quarantine at the southern end of the Bunnefjord south of Oslo this week with 65 people on board, after returning from a sailing trip to Spain. Around half were youth aged 16 to 25 from all over the country plus 10 volunteers. They were finally allowed to sail up back up to Oslo and disembark on Friday. One of the young men on board said he looked most forward to go home, sleep late in the morning and eat kebab.

*** Among the saddest aspects of the Corona virus crisis and restrictions imposed to contain it are all the funerals that now must be held with only a few people present. Death notices published in local newspapers now are almost all carrying an announcement that “As a result of national restrictions the ceremony will only be for family,” or that “Because of the situation with Corona infection, the funeral and memorial will take place when everything has returned to normal.” Families have told state broadcaster NRK that “it’s very painful that we can’t hold a proper funeral or memorial.” Church services have also been cancelled all over the country, because of bans on all gatherings of more than 50 or, in some communities, even five people.

*** The hard-hit culture and sports sectors were offered a NOK 900 million (USD 86 million) state bailout on Wednesday. Culture Minister Abid Raja announced a crisis aid package aimed at compensating lost ticket revenues and income as a result of recent mass cancellations of concerts and sporting events, along with closures of theaters, cinemas, museums and many other cultural insitutions. “These are very demanding times,” Raja said, while several sports and cultural leaders were already demanding more money. “Losses have amounted to more than NOK 900 million just in March and April,” said a leader at the employers’ organization Virke, fearing that many jobs can disappear without more public support.

*** Tougher border controls that now send returning Norwegians into 14 days of quarantine have stopped many from driving into Sweden to shop. Parking lots at the large shopping centers that cater to Norwegian day-trippers (because of their much-lower prices and taxes) were relatively empty in Nordby and Strömstad, for example. They were packed last week and during the weekend, as Norwegians stocked up before the quarantine rule took effect. “It’s normally full of Norwegian-registered cars here,” Jens Möller of Sveriges Radio reported from the parking lot in Nordby. “It’s as if all the Norwegian customers have disappeared.” The stores were trying to lure Swedish customers with 50 percent discounts on meat, fruit, vegetables and dairy products.

*** Two state secretaries including one of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s closest advisers, Rune Alstadseter, have tested positive and are in quarantine. The prime minister herself is not, and was leading state budget negotiations among members of her cabinet at a shortened budget conference in Hurdal on Tuesday. Vegard Einan, a member of Solberg’s Conservative Party like Alstadseter, is the other state secretary to have tested positive. Einan works in Norway’s ministry in charge of labour and welfare. Both were said to be home in isolation.

*** Home Guard soldiers have been sent to various Norwegian border stations, to assist efforts at strengthening border control during the Corona virus crisis. They’ll be backing up local police and customs agents, who’ve been charged with turning away foreign nationals at the border if they lack residence permission in Norway. The goal, as with other measures, is to prevent the spread of the virus.

*** Norwegian embassies and consulates have suspended issuance of visas to Norway, as long as Corona containment measures are in place. Tourists are among those being denied entry or asked to leave, a huge blow to Norway’s important tourist industry.

*** Roma migrants mostly from eastern and southern Europe who often beg on the streets of Oslo and other Norwegian cities have been facing empty streets the past several days. Humanitarian organization Kirkens Bymisjon organized bus transport to allow the first group of 80 Roma to travel home to Romania on Sunday.

*** Domestic airline traffic was due to operate as normal this week, while international flights all but slowed to a crawl. Both Norwegian Air and SAS have cancelled upwards of 80 percent of the flights, after the Corona virus drastically reduced demand for travel and Norway’s foreign ministry advised against any. Thousands of airline employees are being laid off. With traffic greatly reduced at most airports, tax free sales operator Travel Retail Norway was laying off around 1,000 employees plus 200 seasonal workers with summer jobs.

*** Companies and organizations hit hard by the Corona virus are all clamouring for financial support from the Norway government, which announced more measures Sunday night to boost liquidity. Among the latest to seek state aid is the Norwegian athletics federation, which already gets substantial funding through the state lottery and the government. Now athletics director Berit Kjøll is seeking NOK 500 million (USD 48 million) to boost liquidity after several large sporting events sporting events and especially football matches were cancelled to keep the virus from spreading within large crowds.

*** With all large concerts cancelled, cinemas and theaters closed and performing artists facing an acute loss of income, efforts are spreading among the public to offer relief. Vega Scene, a new cinema and theater complex in downtown Oslo, stressed in a public announcement of its closure that it now faces “difficult times” along with other branches. “You can support us by not asking for a refund of your ticket,” Vega wrote in its ad. A new movement on social media is urging the same, as part of a collective effort to ease performers’ losses. New Culture Minister Abid Raja has said he’s working on a new crisis package aimed at the entertainment industry that already attracts substantial public funding in Norway.

*** The large diversified food producer Orkla, best known in Norway for its Grandiosa Pizza brand and lots of soup mixes, is among companies that’s busy and earning money during the Corona crisis while most other are experiencing heavy losses. Sales of canned and dry food are up 50 percent, as Norwegians stockpile food that can last a long time. Grocery store shelves were all but stripped of canned goods last week, before an intial hoarding binge eased.”We see that there’s been great demand for food with long-term sell-by dates,” Orkla spokesman Håkon Mageli told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “We have ample stocks, so there’s no need to hoard.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the Corona virus spreads in Norway, it keeps creating so much news that we’ve consolidated some of it here. In addition to major news warranting full stories, we’ll be compiling statistics and brief but important Corona-related items in this space, as the virus threat dominates many aspects of everyday life.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund