The Norwegian government has expanded the region in which tough new Corona virus containment measurements will apply, to include 15 more municipalities in the greater Oslo area. It opted to allow the reopening, however, of all outlets of the state wine and liquor monopoly Vinmonopolet.
The latter relaxation “wasn’t an easy decision to make,” admitted Health Minister Bent Høie. He confirmed Sunday night, however, that 45 Vinmonopolet stores in and around Oslo will reopen on Monday, in line with the wishes of local government leaders and to reduce mobility over regional borders.
The local leaders had expressed alarm over long lines of customers flocking to Vinmonopolet stores still open in areas bordering the 10 cities and towns that were all but shut down heading into the weekend. “I think it was a combination of some people not following our advice (and traveling to other towns where wine and liquor could still be purchased) and local residents worried that their Vinmonopolets could close on short notice,” Høie said.
Shopping centers will remain closed because they attract too many people, but Vinmonopolet stores were allowed to open from Monday morning. That came as a relief to the mayor of Bærum just west of Oslo, Lisbeth Hammer Krog, who had warned of a “domino effect no matter where the limits are set.”
She’d been alarmed over the hundreds of people arriving on Saturday to the Vinmonopolet in Sandvika, for example, after all of its outlets closed in Oslo. Her counterpart in Lillestrøm northeast of Oslo also made it clear she didn’t want “shopping tourists” from Oslo flocking into her city either.
Now both Bærum and Lillestrøm, however, will be among the additional municipalities covered for the next week by other harsh measures aimed at halting the spread of the new British strain of Covid-19. Nearly 20 more people tested positive to it in Nordre Follo just south of Oslo during the weekend, and health officials want to prevent it from spinning out of control in Norway’s largest populated region.
“We don’t know yet to what degree the English variant of the virus has spread to towns beyond Nordre Follo,” Høie said at yet another press conference Sunday night. “The situation is unclear and the risk of it spreading is high.”
Now the entire greater Oslo metropolitan area will be under tough new restrictions that generally want people stay home and avoid as much contact with others as possible. Municipalities (kommuner) now subject to stricter rules include Asker, Aurskog-Høland, Bærum, Drammen, Horten, Lier, Lillestrøm, Lunner, Lørenskog, Marker, Nittedal, Rakkestad, Rælingen, Råde and Skiptvet.
Some of the rules applying there will be less strict than in Oslo. Elementary school, junior high schools and day care centers can remain open, as can libraries and restaurants, but no alcoholic drinks can be served. Free-standing stores that aren’t in shopping centers will also be allowed to remain open. In Oslo and the other nine municipalities bordering on Nordre Follo, only grocery stores, pharmacies and gasoline stations are open. On Monday they can also be joined by pet shops and other retail outlets selling pet food. Optometrists can also reopen along with the large building-supply stores that sell to people in the building trades.
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, leader of the public health institute, could report that despite the virus outbreak in Nordre Follo, Norway’s infection levels nationwide continue to decline. Fewer cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, but there are now 74 new cases in Nordre Follo, 17 of which are the dreaded British strain.
That prompted Sweden to close its borders to Norwegians on Sunday, at a time when border control is already very high. Swedish health officials, who have struggled with much higher Corona infection and death rates than Norway, don’t want to risk the entry of the new strain that’s more contagious and possibly more deadly than Covid-19.