Central bank bosses in Covid quarantine

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Nicolai Tangen, the billionaire philanthropist who recently took over as head of Norway’s Oil Fund at the central bank, has tested positive for the Corona virus. Tangen’s boss, Norges Bank Governor Øystein Olsen, is also in quarantine as is the central bank’s Deputy Governor Jon Nicolaisen, raising questions about whether they’d taken home office orders seriously.

Oil Fund chief Nicolai Tangen (left) and Norges Bank Governor Øystein Olsen stood well apart from one another during this recent press conference. Now Olsen and several other central bank employees are in quarantine after “close contact” with Tangen, who’s tested positive to the Corona virus. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Tangen, who leads Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM) that runs the Oil Fund, disclosed his Covid-19 infection himself on social media. He wrote on Thursday that he’d been tested after feeling unwell.

The test came back positive on Wednesday and Tangen, age 54, has now isolated himself in his new home in Oslo. He wrote that his symptoms are “mild” and that he intended to keep working from home for the next few weeks.

Tangen, who faced massive controversy before finally being cleared as the Oil Fund’s boss, stated that he wasn’t sure how he’d been infected. He claimed that the central bank has “good routines” for infection control that will be followed. That means some of his “closest” colleagues with whom he’s had meetings have already been sent into quarantine, but all reported feeling well.

Norges Bank’s deputy governor, Jon Nicolaisen, is also in quarantine. PHOTO: Norges Bank

Norges Bank confirmed shortly after Tangen’s social media statement that the central bank’s 68-year-old chief Olsen was among those in quarantine, along with the other employees who’d had close contact with Tangen. Nicolaisen, age 60 when he was re-appointed last spring to his post for another six years, also went into quarantine.

“Infection-tracking was initiated immediately after the (Tangen’s) test results were available,” Marthe Skaar, spokesperson for Norges Bank Investment Management (NBIM), told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). She claimed that the quarantine doesn’t affect Norges Bank’s ability to carry out its duties, and that operations would proceed “as normal.”

With so many key officials now in quarantine because of close contact with Tangen, questions have arisen over how well the central bank has followed both state and local orders to encourage use of home offices. Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, leader of Oslo’s city government, was not impressed with how home office requirements have been handled at the central bank.

“This shows how important it is for everyone to work from home as much as possible,” Johansen told DN. “If they’d used home offices, their colleagues could have avoided quarantine.”

Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen doesn’t approve of how Norges Bank has followed home office orders. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

“I don’t want to judge Norges Bank’s and the Oil Fund’s leadership,” Johansen continued. “They may have had good reasons for having to be at the office, but I as city government leader and my entire staff have worked from home for weeks now and only been at City Hall on a few occasions, like when we’ve had press conferences or a weekly meeting with the city government, and then we stayed two meters’ apart from one another. I think it must have been possible to do that at Norges Bank, too.”

Skaar defended the central bank’s practices, claiming that Norges Bank “has taken its social responsibility seriously.” She claimed it has implemented all infection control rules and followed up on the authorities’ recommendations.

“Our meetings are mostly carried out on video, and all physical meetings are conducted with two-meters of social distance,” Skaar said. “Some employees have nontheless been sent into quarantine based on the authorities’ criteria, while others have gone into quarantine voluntarily as a preventive measure.”

Several top officials at Norway’s finance ministry, which is in the midst of state budget negotiations with Parliament, met with Norges Bank’s management last week. They have not gone into quarantine, however, “because infection control rules about social distancing were met,” Bjørnar Angell of the ministry told DN. The last meeting they had, he said, was on November 18. He added that central bank operations were otherwise proceeding as normal.

Norwegian regulations demand quarantine of anyone who’s been in close contact with an infected person within 48 hours of the infected person’s first symptoms. DN reported that Tangen also met last week with Norway’s alpine skiing star-turned-investor Aksel Lund Svindal, but Svindal hadn’t responded to DN‘s inquiries about whether he was subject to quarantine, too.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund