Scores of people arriving from abroad at Norway’s gateway airport OSL are suddenly subject to a surprise landing. If they’re not registered as residents of Norway, or own property in the country, the vast majority have been taken directly from the airport to a nearby hotel where they have to stay in quarantine for the next 10 days.
It’s by no means an all-expenses-paid holiday offered by the Norwegian government, and it’s resulted in lots of unhappy reaction. “Many of those coming here (to Norway) weren’t prepared for this (the unexpected 10-day hotel quarantine),” Sylvia Aastad, an official from the local municipality of Ullensaker where the OSL Gardermoen airport is located, told newspaper Aftenposten after it was allowed to visit the hotel and report on its new procedures.
“Many are in despair, and shocked,” added Aastad, who was suddenly given the job of running the quarantine hotel operation last Monday. That was right after government officials tightened Norway’s Corona containment measures in the face of rising infection levels, and the City of Oslo imposed a social shutdown in hopes of avoiding a new lockdown.
In order to avoid being sent to quarantine hotels (also set up for those crossing the border from Sweden at Svinesund or Ørje), arriving travellers must be officially registered as resident in Norway’s Folkeregister and able to go through the 10-day mandatory quarantine at home. Foreign residents who own a home or holiday home in Norway can also go through quarantine there, or must be able to document a planned stay in the country for work purposes. The only exceptions made are for asylum seekers, who are sent to reception centers instead, and anyone invited to Norway by Norwegian authorities.
‘We’ve had language problems…’
Everyone else has to go into hotel quarantine, including those from other Nordic countries. “We’ve had language problems with some … and had to call in experts to serve as intepreters in Russian and Greek,” Aastad said. Everyone sent to the hotel also has to pay NOK 500 (USD 55) per person per day for their room and three meals a day, which must be consumed inside their hotel rooms. Aastad told Aftenposten that around 30 people arriving in Norway were so taken aback by the unexpected hotel quarantine that they opted to simply “travel back to where they came from.”
Around 160 “guests” were registered at the Comfort Hotel Runway when Aftenposten visited just before last weekend, and described how it’s been transformed into a holding tank of sorts, patrolled by guards from Norway’s Civil Defense and personnel from Ullensaker wearing yellow vests. All chairs have been removed from the lobby, to discourage anyone from milling around.
It’s usually a standard airport hotel used by people with early morning flights or as a venue for conferences and meetings. Part of Norwegian hotel tycoon Petter Stordalen’s large Nordic Choice chain, it’s at least now getting some needed revenue from the the forced quarantine period for non-Norwegian residents arriving in the country, at a time when the hotel business is all but shut down in many cities. In addition to the NOK 500 charged the guests themselves, Aftenposten reported that the hotel is also charging an additional NOK 1,100 per person per day to the Norwegian authorities. Children under age 10 are free and those between 10 and 18 are half-price. If the Comfort Hotel Runway’s 303 rooms fill up, the overflow can be accommodated at two other Nordic Choice hotels in the area.
Negative Corona test not enough
Maura Krause of Germany, her infant son and her mother were among those whisked off to the hotel shortly after they’d arrived at OSL from Frankfurt last Wednesday night, and suddenly faced with NOK 10,000 in extra costs. They knew nothing about the strict new quarantine rules put in place, also for those arriving from countries within the EU and European Economic Area, where borders are normally open.
Krause told Aftenposten that her husband is working on an information technology project in Notodden, so the family will be living with him in Norway for the next six months. They’ve rented a house in Kongsberg, close to Notodden, but officials at the airport didn’t allow them to travel directly to the house.
“We all had negative Corona tests from Germany and thought we’d be able to spend quarantine at the house,” Krause said. Her husband, however, had driven from Frankfurt with most of their things and hadn’t arrived. After border police spent nearly an hour confirming the status of the German family, the two women and little Leo were driven by shuttle bus to the quarantine hotel.
Norwegians sent to the hotel, too
Other guests at the quarantine hotel included several young Norwegians returning from studies abroad and a Norwegian seafarer who now lives in Thailand but had traveled home from his last ship to visit a brother and undergo a routine medical check. He was also surprised by the hotel quarantine and admitted to reacting angrily to it as first, but told Aftenposten he’d resigned himself to 10 quiet days taking care of paperwork and chatting on the phone before being allowed to travel on to Ålesund.
Aftenposten reported that guests were all impressed by the hotel’s service, and how staff members were doing their best to accommodate their quarantine guests. Rules are strict, however, with meals delivered to the rooms and no lingering allowed in common public areas. Guests are allowed to step outside for some fresh air but are expected to remain in an enclosed area between the hotel and an airport fence. Exercise sessions are arranged every morning but gusts can’t visit local shops or kiosks nor can they accept visitors. Krause’s husband was expected to be allowed, however, to deliver special equipment for baby Leo but they all had to hold their distance until the quarantine period ends.
Free Corona testing is also offered at the hotel. Aastad said no one had tested positive as of Friday.