Solberg warns of tougher rules ahead

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg addressed the Norwegian Parliament  on the Corona situation Tuesday, and warned of much tougher national rules if virus infection doesn’t decline over the next week or two. Her government refrained from putting any new national measures in force right now, but gave broad latitude for local and regional authorities to crack down further right away if they see fit.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned Parliament of even tougher Corona rules if infection rates don’t start to decline. PHOTO: Stortinget/Peter Mydske

“The numbers of people needing hospitalization are rising, and so are the numbers of patients who need intensive care,” Solberg said. “This is cause for concern. We must fight back against infection, because the new virus strains are spreading much more easily and can lead to more serious illness.”

Solberg described the national situation as “fragile” and “unclear” but “serious,” and warned all Norwegians to “be prepared” for even stricter Corona containment measures if currently rising infection rates don’t start to decline. The new measures can include:

***A national ban on the serving of any alcoholic drinks. Several municipalities including Oslo have maintained such prohibition since last fall, while others have allowed bars and restaurants to remain open and serve drinks.

***A national ban on all indoor sports activity for adults, except top professional athletes.

***Closure of all gyms and public swimming pools, except for children’s swimming lessons and medical rehabilitation.

***Closure of all entertainment venues now also including amusement parks and bingo halls.

In addition come national recommendations for people to remain two meters from one another instead of the one meter currently in force. The government may also recommend that Norwegians meet only a maximum of 10 people per week in addition to a limit of just five guests in the home.

Ban looms on all guests at home
If infection still doesn’t decline, the government is prepared to ban all visits in private homes for a period of two weeks. The government is also prepared to greatly reduce the numbers of people allowed at any public gatherings, down to just 20 for indoor events with assigned seating and 50 for outdoor events, and 50 at funerals, for example. All planned events may have to be postponed, digital instruction may become mandatory at all colleges, universities and trade schools, and all junior high- and high schools could be forced back to “red alert” levels like those already applying in Oslo, where infection remains highest in the country. Local officials around the country will also be urged to put elementary schools and day care centers on red alert, too.

“Even though we’re not imposing new national measures today … everyone in the entire nation must limit social contact,” Solberg said. “If there’s a need to meet anyone outside your own household, please meet outdoors.”

‘Don’t travel abroad, or home for Easter’
Her government also continues to urge against all international travel at least until April 15: “Don’t travel abroad,” she said from the podium in Parliament. “Domestic travel should be avoided.” She also told Norwegians living abroad: “Don’t come home for the Easter holidays.” That includes students.

Several of the strict Corona containment measures are already in force in Oslo, where infection continues to rise at an alarming rate. Oslo’s city government leader Raymond Johansen planned another press conference Tuesday afternoon to address the situation in Norway’s capital.

Solberg tried to end her lengthy address on a more upbeat note, repeating some of her message in a televised address to the nation Sunday evening: “We still face an uphill battle, and we still have to be prepared for tougher times in March and April,” Solberg said. She stressed, however, that Norway’s vaccination program is proceeding better than critics claim with lots more vaccine on the way. If infection also declines, Solberg said, the goal is to start reopening the country in May.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund