Most anti-infection rules extended

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Norway’s strict Corona virus containment measures will remain in force at the national level until at least the middle of February, the government announced on Saturday. Entry rules will tighten further, but there will be some “careful” easing of the shutdown in the Oslo metropolitan area, beginning on Wednesday.

Oslo and its surrounding area remain pretty much in shutdown mode, but one government minister noted that “the sun is up a little longer these days, and we can see lighter times ahead.” Some of the Oslo area’s strict anti-infection rules will be eased on Wednesday. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

Health Minister Bent Høie confirmed at yet another press conference Saturday morning that even though infection rates are declining nationwide, “we still can’t take any chances that the more contagious new strains spread.” That means the tighter national restrictions re-imposed on January 18 will remain in place for another two weeks, when a new evaluation will be made.

Last weekend’s widespread shutdown of 25 regions in the Oslo metropolitan area, which followed an outbreak of the new British strain of the Corona virus in Nordre Follo, will also mostly remain in force until Wednesday. That’s when many elementary and junior high schools and day care centers will be able to revert to more normal classroom instruction and some organized sports activities for children and youth can resume.

The easing of regulations in the Oslo area, though, is both detailed and complicated, with various regions subject to different rules. While the state is allowing an easing of some restrictions, local government officials will have the final say on what they’ll allow.

New, more geographically targeted restrictions have also resulted in the formation of a new “Ring One” that includes Nordre Follo, Oslo and Ås, where rules will remain the strictest. Shopping centers and large warehouse-type stores won’t be able to open until February 10 at the earliest but free-standing stores can reopen from February 3 as can restaurants, albeit without any serving of alcoholic beverages. Exercise studios (gyms), museums, cinemas, theaters, libraries and other venues where the public can gather must remain closed. There won’t be any nationally mandated restrictions on socializing at home beyond the maximum of five guests currently allowed. Local officials, however, can continue to demand even less social contact

Rules were further eased in a new “Ring Two” that includes Asker, Bærum, Enebakk, Frogn, Indre Østfold, Lillestrøm, Lunner, Lørenskog, Moss, Nesodden, Nittedal, Rælingen, Vestby and Våler. In these areas, various stores located within shopping centers can open, including restaurants, the state wine and liquor retailer Vinmonopolet and hair salons, for example. So can gyms, but only for those living in the same individual Ring Two town. That’s to prevent Oslo residents from going to a gym in Bærum, for example. Libraries can also open, but much else will remain closed.

Seven regions including Drammen and Lier, for example, have been exempted from all the Oslo metropolitan area restrictions and will only need to abide by the national rules.

Tighter entry rules
The government also announced a further tightening of entry rules into Norway, even after closing borders from midnight Thursday for the next two weeks. Documents allegedly certifying that an arriving visitor has already had Covid-19 and recovered from it will no longer allow exemptions from Norway’s demands for proof of a negative Covid test in the past 24 hours, mandatory testing on arrival or quarantine rules. That’s because of a wave of fraudulent documents that increase the risk of imported infection, and because of uncertainty over whether former Covid patients are immune to new strains of the virus. Only Norwegian documents certifying recovery from Covid-19 will qualify for exemption consideration from midnight Saturday.

Health Minister Bent Høie, at Saturday’s press conference. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Health Minister Høie also confirmed that the government, which recently and controversially opened up for entry of athletes competing in World Cup winter sports events and football tournaments, wants to still allow them into Norway, but not until mid-February.

All three government ministers participating in Saturday’s press conference repeatedly stressed that they understood how invasive, restrictive and even confusing all the Corona containment measures are. They’re also changing frequently, in line with the infection situation.

“I want to thank everyone for your patience, and I have great understanding for the growing impatience,” Høie said from the podium. “I know that many think this is very tough. I know that many think it’s difficult to understand why we can’t open up more when infection is declining, but it’s to avoid that rules get even tougher and last even longer. We want to avoid that. We must avoid that.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund