Faced with more rising Corona infection in specific geographic areas, Health Minister Bent Høie is going along with equally rising calls to redistribute vaccine allotments to those hardest-hit. Oslo and several other areas of southeastern Norway will thus get more vaccine by the end of the month.
The recent alarming spikes in Corona infection around Norway, especially in Oslo, “can be the beginning of a third wave,” Høie said. He hailed the way in which cities like Oslo have quickly strengthened Corona containment measures in an effort to halt the spread.
“This is not the time to wait and see, it’s the time to react quickly,” he said, as Oslo did by imposing another major social shutdown on the Norwegian capital that took full effect on Tuesday (March 2). The downtown area was unusually quiet at midday, with most stores and all restaurants, cafés and bars locked up.
Change in vaccine strategy
The government is also recommending less mobility and strict limits on social contact nationwide. Most important of all, and widely anticipated, is a change in vaccine strategy now that the most elderly Norwegians and others at high risk of being infected have already received at least their first vaccination.
Høie, speaking at a press conference Tuesday afternoon along with state public health institute director Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, confirmed the government was accepting the institute’s recommendation to move forward with what he called a “modest” redistribution of vaccine to some specific areas of Oslo and other cities that have struggled with high infection for a long time.
From late March, areas of Norway determined to have the lowest infection rates will see around 3 percent of their vaccine allotments transferred to the areas with highest infection. They include the Oslo districts of Stovner, Grorud, Bjerke, Alna, Gamle Oslo and Søndre Nordstrand, along with the municipalities of Lørenskog, Sarpsborg, Fredrikstad and Moss.
They’ll all get around a 20 percent increase in vaccine doses transferred from the allotments for around 330 other municipalities around the country that have had the fewest numbers of Corona-related hospitalizations. Health officials are also considering lengthening the time between first- and second shots, so that more people will get their first shorts quicker.
‘No Easter holiday for vaccinations’
The entire country, meanwhile, is due to receive around 650,000 new doses of vaccine in March, with large deliveries due during the Easter holiday week. “There will be no Easter holiday for vaccinations,” Høie said, noting that many Norwegians are likely to be called in for their shots during the holidays that run from Palm Sunday on March 28 through Monday April 5. Høie urged all Norwegians to meet up for their vaccination appointments even if they’re called in on a holiday.
Shifting vaccine allotments from outlying areas to the bigger cities is controversial in Norway, where there often are conflicts and ill feelings between urban and rural areas. “There are considerable dilemmas tied to this,” Stoltenberg acknowledged. She and her professional medical staff nonetheless found more positive than negative aspects of geographically oriented distribution for a period of time.
There’s also no question that Oslo has been plagued by the higest infection rates and restrictions than anywhere else in the country. Stoltenberg also believes that vaccinating more people in Oslo will also result in fewer Corona-related deaths nationally.
There have been indications of national sympathy for Oslo’s infection predicament in recent days, since the Conservative Party’s mayor of the city of Molde in central Norway lashed out at the Labour Party’s leader of Oslo and the capital’s general population for failing to control the Corona virus. Molde Mayor Torgeir Dahl ended up being quickly blasted himself for unreasonably criticizing Oslo, with population density of 22 people per square kilometer compared to just 8.6 in Molde.
Newspaper Dagsavisen branded the Molde mayor’s criticism as both irritating and comical, and he was also criticized for trying to exploit urban vs rural conflicts and further politicize the Corona crisis.
There’s already been some political fallout from Dahl’s outburst for Høie and Prime Minister Erna Solberg, both from the Conservatives. State broadcaster NRK reported Monday that Solberg’s own state secretary had helped Dahl get media publicity in newspaper VG for his attack on Oslo. Solberg insists she was not informed in advance of Dahl’s plans, and Høie didn’t want to discuss them at Tuesday’s press conference.
Now, at least, Oslo and its outspoken city government leader Raymond Johansen will get the extra vaccine he’s been demanding for weeks and, with the state’s help, may finally bring the virus under control. Corona restrictions, meanwhile, were expected to remain in force for many more weeks.