Stricter rules loom as infection rises

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Norwegians were heading into the Christmas holidays with rising uncertainty, as state and local officials warned of more social restrictions to combat another rise in infection levels. A ban on flights from the UK, meanwhile, was extended.

Airports have been unusually quiet this holiday season, with lots of trips home for the holidays cancelled. Now the government is warning of even more restrictions. PHOTO: OSL Gardermoen

Few people probably need a Christmas break more than Health Minister Bent Høie and other state health authorities, who’ve hardly had a day off since the Corona pandemic began in March. Høie nonetheless felt a need on Wednesday  to signal new national restrictions during the next week, noting that “infection is not taking a holiday.”

“There’s been a worrisome development in the infection rates,” Høie told news bureau NTB Wednesday afternoon, just before celebrations of Lillejulaften (Little Christmas Eve) were beginning. He was referring to the latest weekly report from public health institute FHI (Folkehelseinstituttet.)

FHI’s report shows that the infection situation is “unstable,” with several ongoing outbreaks around the country and a danger of infection spreading through the Christmas holidays. Høie said Norwegians must also be prepared for sudden imposition of local regulations, and that they may no longer be able to invite up to 10 guests on Christmas Eve.

Health Minister Bent Høie stressed Wednesday that Corona infection won’t be taking a holiday when many Norwegians try to. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

“I know that several cities and towns are now evaluating various measures to stop local outbreaks,” Høie told NTB. “They have my full support if they deem it necessary to impose rules that are stricter than the national regulations and recommendations.” In Trondheim, which has seen infection spike this week, officials were evaluating a new lockdown during the holidays.

Norway’s health ministry also confirmed Wednesday that a ban on flights from Great Britain that began Monday, because of a new and highly contagious strain of the Corona virus that was “out of control” in the UK, will continue over New Year. All travelers from the UK who are already in Norway remain subject to strict quarantine and mandatory testing to try to keep the Corona mutation from spreading in Norway. On Wednesday came news of yet another new mutation of the virus in Britain that may stem from South Africa, further worrying British officials.

Record testing activity
Record numbers of Norwegians are also getting tested before meeting relatives and friends during the holidays, even in small gatherings. Others, like 20-year-old Emma Solhjem, want to be tested before traveling to their hometowns for the holidays. “I want to see my grandparents during Christmas,” Solhjem told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “I’m being tested in order to be completely certain that I won’t spread any Corona virus to them.”

In Bergen, which has had a series of outbreaks this fall, many people without symptoms are getting tested as a precaution, and a surprising number are testing positive. That’s also raising concerns, and forcing some changes in plans.

“People want to be on the safe side, and we’re really glad about that,” Dr Kai Brynjar Hagen, a chief medical officer in Bodø, told NRK. He said Bodø avoided at least one source of infection when a former resident tested himself in Oslo before traveling home. The test was positive and the trip home for the holidays was cancelled.

FHI, meanwhile, had to boost Norway’s death toll from 405 on Tuesday to 421 on Wednesday because of new Corona-related causes of death that hadn’t previously been registered. The public health officials also logged much higher numbers of new Corona cases on Wednesday.

Health Minister Høie has also asked the state health directorate to evaluate whether the current national measures are “good enough” in connection with holiday celebrations. The new evaluation is expected next week.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund