Corona haunts winter holidays

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Norwegian schools are closed for winter holidays both this week and next in varying parts of the country, but health officials warn that no one can take a holiday from Corona virus containment rules. They were allegedly broken at one popular skiing destination in Oslo, which was swiftly closed by local authorities.

Kikut has long been a popular destination for skiers, even before it was expanded with a new wing to accommodate more overnight guests. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Kikutstua is a popular timber lodge in the heart of the hilly, forested area that surrounds Oslo. It’s located 12.5 kilometers due north of the final metro station on the Frognerseteren line. Known simply as Kikut, the general public can only reach it by hiking, biking or skiing, but it’s normally booked solid on weekends and during holiday periods all year round.

Last week the lodge, owned and operated by the large skiing association Skiforeningen, was abruptly shut down on the eve of the winter holiday period after an inspection by city authorities. They claimed Kikut’s operators weren’t following up well enough on infection prevention measures.

Skiers standing in line to buy Kikut’s popular pastries and other food items reportedly weren’t staying at least a meter apart from one another. Skiforeningen itself acknowledged that inspectors were concerned that guests weren’t wearing face masks inside Kikut’s café and that tables and chairs weren’t cleaned often enough.

‘Urgent situation’
Manager Knut Arne Løite told newspaper Aftenposten that it was difficult to make sure that everyone was wearing a face mask at all times. He stressed that during the prior week’s cold snap, when temperatures plunged well below the freezing point, “everyone wanted to come and eat indoors.” That made it “extra difficult” to enforce the infection prevention measures, he said, despite warnings posted over the entrance.

Skiers have been flocking outdoors during the Corona crisis for treks on the well-groomed and marked trails that surround Oslo and many other Norwegian cities. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“We’ve been reminding our guests all winter long to wear masks, keep their distance and wash their hands,” Løite told Aftenposten, “and we sell face masks here.” He conceded “there were many people in here” when it was so cold, adding that “folks move tables and chairs around even though they shouldn’t.” He complained that city inspectors hadn’t offered advice or issued any warning before the shutdown. They countered there was no time for that after evaluating what they viewed as “an urgent situation.”

Skiforeningen has since announced that “even more workers” will be on the job when Kikut is allowed to reopen from Wednesday, to make sure guests respect social distancing rules both in line and in the café. The hills and forests known as marka have been especially popular during the Corona crisis, as Oslo residents escape the city and flock outdoors both summer and winter.

Espen Jonhaugen of Skiforeningen stated that the association’s lodges scattered throughout marka “should be safe and secure places to visit. At the same time, it’s important to remind skiers that they need to be follow the infection prevention rules when they’re inside.”

Heading for the mountains, too
With borders closed, ski resorts and popular mountain destinations were also expecting an influx of Norwegian visitors this week and next. That’s prompted more warnings from state health officials. They’re all under strict anti-infection regulations and can expect inspections as well, but were at least allowed to open unlike many in the Alps and elsewhere in Europe.

Most Norwegians on winter holidays will be staying in their own hytter (holiday cabins) and were even initially advised to do their grocery shopping in advance at home. That led to objections from local merchants who want the visitors’ businesses, and they claim they’re ready with their won face mask- and social distancing requirements.

“It’s important that everyone travels in a responsible manner and doesn’t fall for the temptation of forgetting the pandemic and breaking all the rules because they’re on holiday,” Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate told NRK on Sunday. He has continually called for caution and vigilance since the Corona crisis began and hopes the winter holidays won’t lead to new outbreaks of the virus.

“We not really too worried now,” Nakstad said, “because most people have gotten used to all the rules after the past 10 months.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund