Top Labour leader embarrasses party

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Just as his Labour Party colleague in Oslo was warning the capital of even tougher Corona-related restrictions, deputy Labour leader Bjørnar Skjæran was apologizing profusely on national radio for ignoring Corona containment measures in Bodø. Skjæran admitted that it hadn’t even occurred to him that a Saturday night party in an expensive hotel suite with fellow Labour colleagues from Nordland County violated Bodø’s local anti-infection measures.

Bjørnar Skjæran was elected as a deputy leader of the Labour Party to replace Trond Giske, who also got into trouble for partying and, in his case, sexual harassment. Now Skjæran is the one apologizing, for ignoring Corona containment measures. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Skjæran apologized no less than seven times during NRK’s nightly radio talk show Dagsnytt 18, admitting that his thoughtless behaviour was “embarrassing.”

Meanwhile, his Labour colleague Raymond Johansen, who leads Oslo’s city government, was going live on national TV to announce yet another effort to crack down on Corona infection in the capital, where it’s spreading rapidly.

Oslo has long had the strictest anti-infection regulations in the country and they’re about to get even tougher: From Wednesday it will be punishable by law to have more than two guests at home in Oslo, while any social contact is strongly discouraged. All of Oslo’s senior and junior high schools will be closing as well, while “home instruction” will also apply for many children down to the fifth grade. Day care centers will be closed during the Easter holiday week, and Johansen called on Oslo residents to restrict mobility, all travel and all social contact. Bars and restaurants have been closed for months and will remain so, with a ban on all serving of alcohol.

‘Third wave of infection’
Infection levels, he stressed, have never been so high in Oslo. “There’s no doubt we’re in the midst of a third wave of infection,” Johansen said in the Monday evening press conference. He blamed rampant spread of the new British strain of the virus that’s much more contagious, can make its victims sicker and is now spreading among children and youth. “It’s changing all the rules,” Johansen said.

Raymond Johansen of the Labour Party, who leads Oslo’s city government, has been regularly having to tighten anti-infection rules, while his party colleague broke local ones in Bodø. PHOTO: Oslo kommune

Hospitalizations in Oslo are six times higher than they were just a few weeks ago, and as high as in April of last year. Many more patients are only in their 20s. There were 275 new confirmed Corona cases in Oslo during the past day, 87 more than on the same day last week, “and we’ve never seen such high infection among the young,” said Oslo’s top health official Robert Steen. “It will increase more if we don’t get a grip on this.”

Oslo and its surrounding area now account for 80 percent of all infection in Norway, but outbreaks  have been occurring all over the country, from Kristiansand in the south to Tromsø in the north. Bodø also has been hit relatively hard lately, and is currently in its state of shutdown.

Empty beer cans in an expensive suite
That’s what made the Labour Party deputy leader’s behaviour particularly unfortunate. Bodø, like Oslo, is led by Labour and its mayor, Ida Pinnerød, found herself in an awkward situation indeed. “First I must stress that our (restrictions) apply to the highest degree to politicians also,” Pinnerød told NRK. “I was informed last night (Sunday evening) that there had been a gathering in a hotel room with eight people present, and I made my view on that very clear to all of them.”

“I’m of course extra disappointed because they are my own party fellows,” Pinnerød added. The party in the hotel suite, where lots of empty beer cans and a wine carton could be seen left on a table and in the waste basket, was also attended by Mona Nilsen, leader of Labour’s Nordland chapter, candidate for Parliament Øystein Mathisen and county secretary Tor Arne Bell Ljunggren. NRK reported that standard rates for the suite at the Scandic Havet Hotel in Bodø are around NOK 15,000 per night. It had been booked by Labour’s local chapter from Friday to Sunday in connection with the Nordland chapter’s annual meeting.

‘We must all follow the rules’
Like Bodø Mayor Pinnerød, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre also felt obliged to comment, stressing that there are no exceptions to the rules for politicians. “This is a clear and unfortunate violation of measures everyone is expected to follow,” Støre told NRK. “Politicians should be in the front ranks of respecting the rules. I see that those who took part have apologized and that’s as it should be. We must all follow the rules.”

“Reaction raged on social media Monday night, also after Skjæran begged pardon no less than seven times on NRK’s radio program. “I’m sorry that I chose to go into a hotel room where there wasn’t enough space to meet applicable (social distancing) rules,” Skjæran told NRK. He also admitted that the emergency rules Bodø had put into force just before the weekend weren’t discussed before the after-dinner party began.

Asked whether he’d realized the party would violate local restrictions, Skjæran said, “no, and that’s what’s most embarrassing, that I didn’t even think about it. I of course should have.”

All eight Labour Party officials involved claim they’re prepared to take any punishment that comes their way after a party meeting Monday night. Violation of restrictions against social gatherings can result in fines of NOK 20,000 for whoever organized the party and NOK 10,000 for each guest.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund