Government gives up its ban on drinks

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Pressure from opposition parties in Parliament all but forced Norway’s Conservatives-led government coalition to drop its nationwide ban on serving alcoholic drinks from Friday. Now local officials will be able to decide for themselves if restaurants can, for example, offer wine with dinner.

Parliament listened to Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s proposals on Monday for an ongoing nationwide ban on serving alcohol and other Corona virus containment measures. The next day it overrode her on the drinks issue, and forced repeal of the ban. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

Health Minister Bent Høie of the Conservatives confirmed Tuesday evening that the government will follow up the Parliament’s response to its Corona containment measures announced on Monday. It will repeal its nationwide ban on alcohol, as long as it’s served with food, from midnight Thursday.

It means restaurants located where infection levels are low will likely be able to start serving beer, wine and liquor again this weekend. That’s important for the restaurant business in general, in terms of total revenues but also whether to stay open or close. Not many Norwegians are keen on expensive multi-course dinners if they can’t also enjoy wine with them, leaving the country’s once-thriving restaurant industry literally down in the dumps.

Unconventional majority
The government’s repeal of its ban on alcohol came after the government’s former partner, the conservative Progress Party, sided with the Socialist Left, the Greens, the Center Party and the Reds in urging an end to it. Then Labour joined in, forming an unconventional majority in Parliament.

“If you can sit down in a restaurant or café and order a plate of meatballs, you must also be allowed to order a glass of beer or wine,” reasoned Progress Party leader Siv Jensen, who served as finance minister until January of last year. “That won’t change the infection factor.”

She agreed with the government, however, that “pubs and bars are something quite different,” thus supporting an ongoing ban against them being allowed to serve drinks and attact customers who may find it difficult to stay at least a meter apart from one another. Bars and nightclubs still won’t be able to serve alcohol until Covid-19 infection levels decline dramatically.

Jensen and many others have also worried that an inability to offer wine with dinner, for example, would continue to dramatically affect the restaurant industry. Many restaurant owners have warned that they won’t survive much longer if they remain shut down, or open without the revenues flowing in from alcoholic drinks.

‘Surprised’ by Labour’s support
Jensen also said she was “delightfully surprised” when the Labour Party also supported an end to the ban. “I think it first and foremost will be good news to eating establishments around the country that have been struggling with the thought of shutting down,” Jensen said.

It will still be up to each individual municipality, however, to decide whether it will allow serving alcohol. Oslo and Trondheim, both run by Labour-led city governments, are ironically expected to maintain their own restrictions on alcohol because of high infection levels. Serving drinks has been banned in Oslo since last fall.

In Tromsø, however, where Corona infection is once again low, restaurants can likely start offering beer, wine and liquor again this weekend. The city of Kristiansand also plans to open up the taps again, reported state broadcaster NRK.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund