Won public’s trust before free vaccine

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Health Minister Bent Høie and his colleagues from the state health directorate and public health institute have all seen their public reputations soar, according to an annual survey released Tuesday. That occurred even before Høie announced Tuesday afternoon that vaccinations against Covid-19 will be free for all Norwegians, when a vaccine is finally available.

This group of top state officials has clearly won the public confidence in Norway, over how they’ve handled the Corona crisis. From left: Dr Camilla Stoltenberg of the public health institute FHI, Health Minister Bent Høie, Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Dr Bjorn Guldvog of the state health directorate. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor/Eirin Larsen

The popular and mild-mannered Høie was clearly having a good day after months of being on duty nearly round-the-clock. When he addressed Parliament Tuesday morning, to offer a status report of how Norway continues to tackle the Corona crisis, he was armed with a strong vote of public confidence in his and his colleagues’ work.

The state public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet) topped the annual list compiled by consulting and surveying firm Ipsos over which public agencies have boosted their reputation the most over the past year. FHI’s director, Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, said she was “very glad” that her staff has won such a good reputation among the public: “It’s great to see that the work done by all our colleagues during a very demanding time has been appreciated.”

Health Minister Bent Høie also addressed Parliament on Tuesday. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

Norway’s Conservatives-led government itself ranked next on the list of improved public reputation, followed by the state health directorate and Høie’s health ministry. “The messages sent from all four (at the top of the list) have been clear and easy to understand,” explained Jan Behrens, who’s in charge of measuring reputation at Ipsos. “They have talked about things that they’re experts on, and I think we can interpret these (survey) results by acknowledging that they’ve done a good job, and that Norwegians have great confidence that what they say is correct.”

Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives-led government ended up with the best reputation of any government in Norway over the past 15 years. Several individual ministries also enjoy much higher reputations, Høie’s Health Ministry most of all.

Behrens wasn’t surprised by the results of Ipsos’ survey: “Norwegians rely on our large institutions in crisis times.” For the government, he noted, winning the public’s confidence makes it easier to carry out measures deemed important, like now in controlling the spread of infection.

Ipsos’ survey was carried out between May 14 and August 6. Infection rates have risen since then, and it’s not clear whether that would have dampened survey results. Regardless, “when you command so much confidence (as the survey indicates), warning lights should always still blink,” Professor Einar Øverenget at the county of Innland’s college told state broadcaster NRK. He warned that the public’s high confidence in the government and state health agencies must not dampen the need to raise questions and be critical.

Høie and the government, meanwhile, promised on Tuesday that when a vaccine comes to Norway, it will be made available to everyone at no charge through their local governments. Høie’s ministry said the state would finance the vaccination programs, also covering the local governments’ costs of administering them.  Høie’s ministry has secured around 5 million doses of the vaccine and hopes vaccinations can begin in early 2021.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund