New Corona strain shuts Nordre Follo

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Two people have died after a new strain of the Corona virus from Great Britain has spread in the recently merged municipality of Nordre Follo south of Oslo. Residents are being asked to stay home and not venture out of the area, in an effort to contain the virus, and all schools and day care centers are being closed.

Nordre Follo includes the popular suburb of Ski and houses around 60,000 people, many of whom commute to work in neighbouring towns and cities including Oslo. GRAPHIC: Google maps

Nordre Follo Mayor Hanne Opdan announced Friday that all residents must prepare for a total shutdown of the municipality (kommune) during the course of the day. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the new, highly contagious strain of Covid-19 killed two residents of the local Langhus nursing home, and 12 others have tested positive so far, as have 22 employees.

Dr Kerstin Johnsen Myhrvold, Nordre Follo’s chief medical officer, said the tests confirmed the new British variant of the virus, believed to have been brought to Norway from abroad in recent weeks and since spread. “We have a serious situation in Nordre Follo now,” she said.

Nordre Follo was recently formed through a merger of the former Oppegård and Ski municipalities and is home to around 60,000 people, many of whom commute to work in Oslo and other nearby towns. Everyone heading south from Oslo travels through it, either by car, bus or heavily used train lines, and it’s close to the large university town of Ås.

Opdan said that schools and day care centers will close at the end of the day and remain closed until at least the middle of next week. All other establishments with the exception of grocery stories, gas station and pharmarcies must also close, but residents were being urged not to hoard food.

“The most important things is that we must not travel outside of Nordre Follo,” Myhrvold said. “Everyone who has planned any trips to other towns must not make that trip. This is a strong plea from us.” Her warning came just before thousands of families would typically be heading off for skiing weekends or hytter (holiday homes) for the weekend.

Health Minister Bent Høie was following the situation closely. “This is the sort of serious situation we have feared and predicted could occur,” Høie stated in a press release Friday. “It’s the first example of an outbreak of this (new) virus in Norway and we don’t know its path.”

Officials were most concerned that as many as 70 percent of those who live in Nordre Follo work outside of it, even though many already have been using home offices. The outbreak of the virus can therefore quickly have major consequences on Oslo, at a time where questions are rising over whether vaccines now available are also effective against the new virus mutations.

“This means Corona measures in neighbouring municipalities can be affected by the situation in Nordre Follo,” said Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health department. They include Nesodden, Frogn, Ås, Indre Østfold, Moss, Vestby and Enebakk.

“We (at the state health directorate) are also advising all residents (of Nordre Follo) to remain at home and within the municipality’s borders for the next several days,” Nakstad said.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund