Norway eases its border restrictions

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The Norwegian government relaxed a wide range of border restrictions within Europe and beyond on Friday. It was welcome news for Norway’s troubled tourism industry, family reunions and travel-starved Norwegians, but officials stressed the risk of sudden changes in travel regulations and individual responsibility for the consequences.

Borders into Norway were somewhat opened on Friday, but still not to neighbouring Sweden with the exception of three regions in the far south. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

It all means that Norwegians can once again travel to the vast majority of countries in Europe from next Wednesday (July 15) without having to go into quarantine for 10 days upon return. Residents of those European countries can also travel to Norway from July 15.

It’s a big relief for airlines that have mostly been grounded, and the Corona-hit hotel and tourism industry in Norway that’s been lobbying government officials to let foreign tourists come to Norway. Hotel, campground and tour operators are especially keen to welcome German tourists back to Norway, since they make up the largest part of the market that evaporated when the Corona crisis hit.

Government officials, acting on recommendations from Norwegian health authorities, opened up for travel to and from so-called “green countries” in the EU and its Schengen region that have low overall Corona infection rates. They include popular holiday destinations like Greece and now even Italy and Spain.

Several “red countries,” however, were not cleared for travel because of infection rates that remain high or could not be verfied. They include Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Croatia, Portugal, Luxembourg and, still, most all of Sweden.

Most of Sweden still off-limits
Closed borders to Sweden have been among the most unpopular of all Corona virus-related restrictions in Norway in recent months. Around 12,000 Norwegians own holiday homes in Sweden but have been banned from visiting them, even in border areas with relatively low infection rates.

Anticipation ran high this week that Norwegian authorities would finally allow holiday- and shopping trips to places like Bohuslän and Värmland, but they were disappointed. Only three regions of Sweden and now be visited without having to go into quarantine upon return to Norway, but they’re all in the far south of Sweden (Skåne, Kronenborg and Blekinge).

Justice Minister Monica Mæland said she was glad travel restrictions could be eased “a bit,” but she warned repeatedly that they can quickly be tightened up again if Corona infection rates rise. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no

“We’re not doing this to plague people,” Justice Minister Monica Mæland said at Friday’s press conference. “We’re doing this to maintain control over the virus.”

While Norway shut down in March and claimed control as early as April, Swedish society remained mostly open. More than 5,000 Swedes have since died, compared to 251 in Norway as of Friday.

There was some good news for people in Norway with family members and partners in Europe and beyond. Spouses, partners in an established relationship, parents and children under age 21 will be among those now allowed entry into Norway, albeit with a 10-day quarantine requirement. Also those who were in the process of moving to Norway or being reunited with immigrant family in Norway will be allowed to enter, although Mæland cautioned that all visas and other required documentation remained in effect. She said that more information on the eased family reunification rules would be made available on the government’s website.

Global travel evaluation looms
Global travel restrictions otherwise remain in place for at least another 14 days, when Norwegian health officials will re-evaluate infection rates and risk. “The government is trying all the time to find the right balance between infection containment measures and opening things up,” Mæland said. Norway’s currently low infection rate “gives us the opportunity to open up a bit more, and when we see how entry restrictions have hit families and couples hard, I’m glad we can now make things a bit easier.”

Mæland, Trade Minister Iselin Nybø and top health officials all stressed, meanwhile, that all and any travel still carries with it high risk in terms of both Corona infection and the possibility that currently “green” countries can quickly become “red” almost overnight. That means that anyone opting to fly off to Greece or the Canary Islands for a long-awaited summer holiday may face getting stuck there, or having to return home to quarantine in Norway after all.

Norway’s foreign ministry continues to advise against all travel that’s not “strictly necessary.”

“This is not a signal that we encourage travel,” Mæland said, only that some travel will no longer entail quarantine back home in Norway, at least for now.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund