Infection concerns delay Corona relief

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Norwegians will probably have to keep living with strict Corona containment measures through the spring. The government decided this week to keep borders mostly closed and tighten quarantine rules, even before an outbreak of Covid-19 at a popular mountain tourist lodge forced around 40 winter holiday guests to stay in their rooms.

Soldiers from the Norwegian Army and Home Guard have been on patrol at border entry points into Norway, where testing and quarantine will continue to loom. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Frederik Ringnes

Newspaper Valdres reported Thursday on the outbreak at the popular Fondsbu lodge run by the national trekking association DNT. It’s led by the partner of Health Minister Bent Høie, and now faces the sort of infection situation that was meant to be avoided.

DNT itself announced Thursday that a health care team from Vang was on its way to Fondsbu, high in the mountains of Jotunheimen where one guest tested positive Thursday morning. All guests and staff will be tested and followed up along with those who recently were at Fondsbu. Those planning to arrive during the weekend have been alerted that they can’t come.

The sudden need for quarantine at Fondsbu comes just after Høie and Justice Minister Monica Mæland, acting on the recommendations of state health officials, confirmed that current Norway’s national Corona restrictions will remain in place at least until mid-March. That’s when they’ll make another evaluation of the infection situation.

Local infection spikes
“Many people want the borders to open up more,” Mæland acknowledged, “but with more and more contagious strains (of the virus) on the (European) continent, the infection levels must fall some more before we can open up more.”

That means closed borders with only limited entry allowed and tighter entry rules with mandatory quarantine at the point of entry. “People can’t travel from Gardermoen (site of Norway’s gateway international airport) before quarantine is completed,” Mæland said. They are now also obligated to check in with local authorities, who in turn must retain control over any new arrivals’ movements.

While national infection rates have been characterized as stable, they keep being subjected to spikes in local areas. This week there have been significant outbreaks in Kristiansand, for example, while infection in Oslo has been rising again. It’s all making health officials worry about a possible new third-wave of infection, while it also reflects much more testing.

New virus strains expected to dominate
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the state public health institute FHI, said at Wednesday’s government press conference that the English strain of the virus can soon come to dominate the infection situation in Norway. “We expect that we’ll see the English strain making up more than half of all positive test results around four to eight weeks from now, or maybe earlier,” Stoltenberg said.

Meanwhile, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday, the number of new confirmed cases of the Corona virus in Oslo has shot up again. A total of 734 Oslo residents tested positive last week, the highest number since right after New Year. Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate has already said that March and April will be critical months for efforts to halt the spread of infection.

Health Minister Høie did his best to encourage all those weary of the restrictions on daily life. “We have never been closer to our goals (of halting the spread) than now,” he said at the press conference and on NRK’s national nightly newscast Wednesday. He noted that the state vaccination program is moving forward more quickly now, that many more doses are on the way and that should greatly improve the situation by summer.

Others continue to complain that the consequences of all the restrictions can be worse than the pandemic itself. Olav Thon, the 97-year-old hotel, shopping center and real estate tycoon, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Thursday that he’s following all the rules but wants to see shopping centers reopened.

“I understand that it’s not easy being a politician right now,” Thon told DN. “I’ve never experienced anything like this past year (after 80 years as a businessman). It’s been very demanding and I have great sympathy for all those who’ve been laid off since last March.” He expects hard times for the hotel business for at least another one- to two years, “but there is hope we’ll get through this.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund