Parties uncork new lockdown fears

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Norwegian police had to intervene and even shut down hundreds of large private parties all over the country during the weekend. Now Norway’s political parties and leaders are also reacting to the violations of social distancing: Health Minister Bent Høie has a plan for a new nationwide lockdown and said he was “disappointed” in the young partying Norwegians, while the mayor of Oslo threatened harsh new Corona containment measures.

Health Minister Bent Høie is disappointed and concerned that so many young Norwegians are partying the night away instead of following Corona containment measures. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

“Many youth and young adults haven’t understood that they’re part of the spread of infection we’re seeing now,” Høie of the Conservative Party told state broadcaster NRK on Sunday, after another night of wild partying. “When they party all night long (and ignore social distancing rules), they’re contributing to the spread of infection in our society.”

Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party is also upset by all the partying. “I’m worried again now,” Johansen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “We see that infection rates are rising … and the more people lower their guard, the tougher new restrictions will be. What’s happened lately is not good.”

Several large social gatherings last weekend resulted in 19 new cases of infection just in the Vestre Aker district of Oslo. There was also a rash of new infection last week in Indre Østfold, Moss, Western Norway and, most notably, on board the Norwegian shipping- and cruise line Hurtigruten’s MS Roald Amundsen. State broadcaster NRK reported Sunday that two more crew members on the ship, which remains tied up in Tromsø, were admitted to the University Hospital in Northern Norway (UNN) with Covid-19.

Local officials in Askim in Indre Østfold have announced closure of all day care centers, athletic facilities, libraries and other public buildings and banned all social gatherings for the next week, on the grounds that the spread of Corona infection in their southeastern region of Norway was “out of control.” The local chief medical officer also called for a re-closing of the nearby border to Sweden.

Reckless disregard for public health
After a week with 346 new cases nationwide as of Sunday morning, many of them tied to large social gatherings, Health Minister Høie is provoked by all the beach parties, “home alone” parties and outdoor street parties organized this weekend by young Norwegians from Lillesand in the south to Finnmark in the north. Many of the parties are being held in connection with the looming start of school, as colleges and universities prepare to reopen, and they threaten to make the Corona situation worse than it already is.

“I’m worried that the students aren’t taking this (Corona) seriously enough, and that alcohol makes it even more difficult to follow infection prevention rules,” Curt Rice, rector at Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), told DN. “I worry that the virus will spread and we’ll have to shut down again.” He stressed that when official social events are cancelled, it’s “unwise” to replace them with private parties. Most all colleges and universities in Norway are making major changes in what’s known as fadderuken: the week of organized social events held in connection with the opening of the new school year. Many events will be digital and all will be much smaller.

Police in the southern district of Agder, meanwhile, reported “many calls about noise from parties at home this weekend.” Police patrols managed to tone some down, “but we don’t have the capacity to handle all of them.” Nor did police in Oslo, where a large gathering of young adults on a beach on Bygdøy was among those setting off complaints of noise and violations of Corona rules. Oslo police responded to fully 54 calls but didn’t have time to follow up all the complaints. “Trying to get 200 people who’ve been partying to be reasonable takes more than five minutes,” Svend Bjelland, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, told NRK.

‘Aren’t using their heads’
Bjelland was also disappointed that so many young adults “aren’t using their heads in the situation we’re in. You can’t just arrange a party in a park, there are rules to be followed.” Enforcing social distancing rules is also difficult, not least when the vast majority have been drinking.

Bar owners blame new state restrictions forcing them to shut down the taps at midnight. “The health minister has basically invited late-night parties,” Ola Smith-Simonsen, manager of the nightclub Jaeger in Oslo, which has to stop serving drinks like everyone else.

Høie defended the new midnight bar closures: “I was also concerned there would be more parties at home, but if the bars were open I think even more would be out partying. I just hope and think that people will take personal responsibility in this (Corona) situation. We had been uneasy about all the nightlife in the cities and then we had to step on the brakes.”

A full stop nationwide looms: “The careful braking we announced on Friday will have to be stronger if there’s a major increase in the spread of infection,” he said. “That means that many portions of our society will have to be closed and rstrictions will have to be sharpened further. I’m very worried about the situation.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund