None of Norway’s major cities meets new Corona virus testing demands, and state Health Director Bjørn Guldvog fears Oslo is losing control over how infection is spreading. Lots of other municipalities in Norway are also struggling to test at least 5 percent of their resident population per week.
“I’m uneasy,” Guldvog told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday. “It’s extremely important that we quickly gain control over the situation. I know that formidable efforts are being made and I understand that it’s demanding. We will gladly work with the City of Oslo to ensure control over the spread of infection.”
Guldvog’s health directorate had lowered the testing rule to 1.5 percent of the local population of municipalities (kommuner) in Norway during the summer, after infection rates fell throughout the spring. The 1.5 percent rule has been met by several municipalities including Trondheim, Bergen, Bærum, Drammen and Tønsberg, while Oslo has only managed to test 0.7 percent of its residents. Now, faced with rising infection and the onset of the autumn cold- and flu season, state health officials want all municipalities (which are responsible for local health care in Norway) to boost testing back up to 5 percent.
In Oslo, that means the city should be testing 35,000 residents a week, but it isn’t even managing the 5,000 that it’s been aiming for. According to the state public health institute FHI, only 3,806 people were tested in Oslo during the week ending August 2. At the same time, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 has risen from three to nearly seven people per 100,000.
“We have testing capacity that’s just under 5,000 a week,” Robert Steen, the Labour party politician in charge of health issues in Oslo, confirmed Tuesday on NRK’s morning rado program Politisk kvarter. He said the city would try to boost that “in line with needs.”
His comments came after a rash of complaints over the weekend when reports of rising infection, along with lots of large social gatherings that violated social distancing rules, also set off more than 5,000 calls to the city’s Corona phone line. Only 360 were answered. Many Oslo residents have also found the testing process to be complicated and lengthy.
The new outbreaks of infection “came a bit unexpected for us,” claimed the acting director of Oslo’s health care department (Helseetaten), Truls Baklid, who also noted that calls to the city’s Corona help line grew exponentially over the course of just a few days. “we weren’t staffed for that, and we must admit that we hadn’t foreseen this development after a rather quiet summer.”
“That’s no excuse,” Aftenposten editorialized on Monday, after months of warnings from state health officials about the expected effects of renewed travel, people returning to the city after summer holidays and, not least, university students arriving for the start of the new semester. More people are using public transport, more people are back at work, and health officials have long warned that many Norwegians were already becoming too relaxed with regard to Corona containment measures. The pandemic is far from over, they’ve stated repeatedly.
The city’s poor response shows a lack of preparedness for an expected wave of new infection, prompting Aftenposten to publicly scold Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party. The newspaper editorialized Monday that Johansen has been quick to wag his finger at partying students and others who ignore social distancing rules. “Now he should wag his finger at himself and his own organization,” Aftenposten wrote. “His own rebukes aren’t credible if the city he leads can’t handle its own assignments.”
Testing demand set to rise
Local public health care agencies also need to gear up to meet new state guidelines that require them, from Wednesday August 12, to offer free Corona testing to anyone asking for it, without having to get a referral from their doctor. “It’s important that everyone who thinks they may be infected or have symptoms be tested as soon as soon as possible,” Dr Espen Rostrup Nakstad of the state Health Directorate stated in a press release on Monday. That’s bound to further increase demand for testing.
A new survey by research firm Opinion, meanwhile, shows that 40 percent of Norwegians questioned are worried about being infected with the Corona virus. That’s the highest level since the crisis first hit Norway in March. Another 31 percent of the 54,000 questioned said they weren’t worried while the remainder had no opinion.