Prime Minister Erna Solberg had to respond to a torrent of critical questions, live on national TV, Thursday night after Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that too many family members had gathered to celebrate her 60th birthday last month. That broke her government’s Corona containment measures, and she apologized over and over again.
NRK reported that her family had gathered for dinner two nights in a row in the mountain community of Geilo, both in holiday apartments they’d rented and at a local restaurant. On both occasions they numbered more than the 10 people allowed at the time for indoor arrangements.
“I should have known better,” a rueful prime minister said on NRK’s debate program Debatten. Its host, Fredrik Solvang, was relentless in his inquisition, grilling Solberg over how she felt about breaking the rules, how she could respond to all those who’ve foregone family gatherings and celebrations themselves during the past year, and whether she was embarrassed.
Solberg, who has spent the past year battling the Corona crisis, stood up to it all, readily admitting she had “really made a big mistake.” She said she was well aware that as prime minister, she must constantly set a good example and failed to do so.
On her actual birthday, February 24, there were no big celebrations apart from some balloon decorations in her office. Two days later, however, she, her family and the family of one of her sisters rented a holiday apartment in Geilo. Her other sister rented another apartment in the same complex. They all ate dinner together, and were more than 10 people.
Solberg actually missed her own 60th birthday celebration on Friday evening February 25. She suddenly suffered an acute eye infection and was taken back to Oslo for two emergency treatments at Ullevål Hospital on Friday and Saturday. In her absence, 13 family members gathered at the renowned Hallingstuene restaurant, thus breaking the rule limiting any such “arrangement” to 10.
Berit Kongsvik, who runs the restaurant, told NRK that the family had a room to themselves and sat at several small tables with “good distance” among them. “That’s how we’ve interpreted the rules all winter,” Kongsvik said. Solberg’s bodyguards sat close by, but in a separate room.
Solberg returned to Geilo Saturday afternoon and the family gathered again, this time for takeaway sushi in the apartment she and her husband Sindre Finnes had rented. “Folks stayed in the apartment instead of taking the food with them to the other apartment,” Solberg admitted to NRK. “Then we were in violation of the rules we recommend that others follow. We were 14 people all together, that’s four too many. I should have stopped it. I didn’t and can only apologize.”
She also published a lengthy apology on her Facebook page Thursday night. It had attracted nearly 2,000 comments by midnight, with many expressing indignation, others writing “Shame on you” and still others dismissing the incidents as minor and a “petty diversion,” given all her “hard work in leading the country through the Corona crisis over the past year.”
Labour also caught breaking rules
NRK revealed the incidents just days after the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Bjørnar Skjæren, and seven other Labour politicians partied in a hotel suite in Bodø last weekend. He also had to publicly apologize, for setting a bad example at a time when all social contact is discouraged.
It ended up to not be a very happy birthday for the prime minister. “I’m the one who’s stood there every day and talked about infection protection to the Norwegian people, and should have understood the rules better,” Solberg told NRK. “But the truth is I didn’t check the rules well enough, and hadn’t thought that when a family goes out together and you’re more than 10, it’s actually an arrangement. I can only apologize.” Now even tougher rules are in force and all restaurants in Geilo and most of southeastern Norway are closed.