Norway starts to gradually re-open

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Norwegians could start gaining access to day care centers, more shops and businesses and, perhaps most importantly, their own holiday homes (hytter) from Monday. Several municipalities are also finally re-opening their borders after keeping them closed to outsiders for fear of corona virus infection.

Lots of people thought their hytter would be the best place to be during the Corona crisis, but suddenly found themselves unwelcome by local authorities and residents. Now Norwegians can finally return to their holiday homes once again. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

As day care re-opened to children up to age six, many Norwegians were also looking forward to their first trip to their hytter for more than a month. The highly contested ban on staying at one’s own retreat, especially during the cherished Easter holidays, caused the biggest outcry. It was imposed mostly to prevent local health care services in the outlying areas where most hytter are located from being overburdened.

Some local officials from small mountain communities to coastal cities are still worrying that people from Oslo especially will bring the Corona virus with them. The mayor of Risør on Norway’s popular southern coast had to back down, however, after he’d proposed how visitors should behave when they returned to their coastal properties. Per Kristiand Lunden of the Labour Party said they should mostly stay at their hytter, have groceries delivered and stay away from any restaurants that were open.

Second thoughts
“Some people claimed I was sticking a knife in the back of an already bleeding business community,” Lunden told state broadcaster NRK. “After thinking things through, I won’t recommend any stronger measures than what the national authorities say.”

Local businesses that would normally be busiest during the Easter holidays or on weekends, thanks to all the hytte customers, have been suffering during the hytte ban. After initially supporting local officials’ bans that later were backed by state authorities, they ended up missing the money they made off hytte owners. Kirsti Seielstad, who runs a grocery store at Skeikampen in the mountains near Gausdal, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that she lost 90 percent of her projected revenues during the hytte ban, when thousands of local owners and skiing enthusiasts weren’t allowed to come.

“It’s been like a ghost town,” agreed Rune Slåsletten, leader of the local alpine skiing center. “There are hardly any cars, any people and no lights on in the cabins,” of which there are around 1,500 in the Gausdal area. At Ringebu, farther up the valley of Gudbrandsdalen, the situation was “dangerously quiet” as well. Local merchants, restaurants, cafés and hotels do the vast majority of their business during holidays and weekends, and this year they were wiped out.

Trips still not encouraged
Even though Norwegians can now return to their holiday homes, the government is still encouraging everyone to limit all “unnecessary pleasure trips,” and continue to stay home. Not everyone stayed away from their properties, but most did and now they’re eager to return. It’s still possible to ski in some mountain areas, while upcoming weekends are prime season for opening up cottages by the sea and getting boats back out on the water.

Municipalities are also finally going along with state recommendations to reopen their borders and drop 14-day quarantines for both residents and visitors arriving from out of town. Tromsø ended its quarantine program last week, as have Lofoten and Vesterålen in Northern Norway.

Newspaper Klassekampen reported, however, that Bodø, Alta and Hammerfest are not ready to receive arrivals yet. Everyone arriving at Alta’s airport from southern Norway will still be met by health officials, given a form to fill out and sent into a 14-day quarantine. Exceptions are now being made for commuters so that local business isn’t hit harder than it already has been.

National borders still restricted
Svalbard also continues to control all arrivals. In far northeastern Finnmark, Sør-Varanger has lifted its quarantine rules for arrivals from the south. Borders to Russia and Finland remain closed, but the border to Russia was briefly reopened last week so that Norwegians in Russia could return home. The area normally has open borders for both Norwegian and Russian residents living within 30 kilometers of the border.

More than 100 municipalities imposed local barriers during the Corona crisis. While many are now being lifted, officials warn that if infection rates rise again, the barriers will go back up.

Some worry the authorities are relaxing Corona containment measures too early, and some parents have claimed they’d be keeping their children home when day care centers reopened on Monday. Epidemiologist Dr Gunnar Kvåle at the University of Bergen told Klassekampen that “we should have been more careful than we’re being now,” and warns that local infection rates could rise.

Professionals are split, but the majority of state health officials are confident the children will be better off at day care, and next week back in school, with lots of new hygiene routines in place. Others have stressed the importance of basing such decisions on facts, not fear, with health officials claiming the children will be safe.

Hair salons, dental offices. physiotherapists, skin care clinics and several other businesses are in the process of reopening, also under strict anti-infection measures. Most are due to be back in business by the end of the month.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund