Erna lays plans to emerge from crisis

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Prime Minister Erna Solberg presented a new four-step plan on Wednesday to gradually guide Norway out of the Corona crisis over the next three months. The current shutdown may start to ease from next week, with some sort of pre-Corona normality in place by mid- to late summer.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s address to Parliament on Wednesday was once again carried live on national TV. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Solberg stressed throughout her lengthy and surprisingly detailed presentation to Parliament that it’s all still subject to lots of uncertainty, regarding infection levels and not least vaccination deliveries. Her goal, however, is to offer more predictability around a virus that’s anything but.

“We will return to more normal everyday life, and will do that step-by-step in a controlled manner,” Solberg said. Her government’s most important, immediate goal, she also stressed, “is to retain control over the spread of infection.”

That’s why her “reopening” plan contains four main steps, with three-week intervals between each, so that health officials can gauge their effectiveness and make sure each level’s easing of restrictions won’t lead to more infection. The officials will base their assessments on infection and illness levels, capacity at hospitals and vaccination levels.

“We’ll base the reopening plan on data, not dates,” Solberg said, repeating a line expressed earlier this week by Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, director of the public health institute FHI. Solberg’s government has worked closely with both FHI and the state health directorate since the Corona crisis set in more than a year ago.

Step One may be enacted next week
An evaluation of whether the government can move forward with Step One will be made next week. If cleared, it will reverse several aspects of the national shutdown that was imposed in late March:

***Norwegians would once again be able to invite up to five guests into their homes.

***Public gatherings of local residents within the same municipality can take place, up to a maximum of 200 people outdoors or 100 indoors with assigned seating.

***Bars and restaurants can once again serve alcohol, but only until 10pm and with food. That easing of restrictions is likely to prompt many to reopen.

***Social distancing will return to one meter instead of two meters.

Step Two from perhaps the first week in May
Three weeks later, in early May, Solberg’s government will decide whether it can proceed with Step Two. That would usher in a long list of restrictions that would be eased, including:

***a reopening of universities, colleges and trade schools,

***permission to invite as many as 10 guests home, and 20 in rented locations,

***alcohol serving until midnight with no demands for food with drinks,

***liberalization of restrictions on outdoor athletics and organized sports,

***travel allowed within Norway,

***some easing of restrictions on travel abroad, to enable family reunification and entry of some priority groups of foreign workers.

Step Three in late May
This would include further easing of restrictions both at home and in public places, including:

***Up to 20 guests allowed at home and 50 in rented locations,

***normal alcohol serving hours (until well past midnight in most areas) but on the condition that bar customers stay a meter apart,

***allowance for larger public gatherings, perhaps held with use of a “Corona certificate” providing proof of vaccination or immunity, or with rapid on-site testing,

***more travel abroad, but still with quarantine and testing demands or possible use of a “Corona certificate,”

***more normal entry of foreign workers.

Step Four, perhaps in late June if infection stays low, would bring the country back “almost to normal,” Solberg said, but there would still be demands for infection prevention measures in public places, that social distancing remains at a meter, and that anyone feeling unwell stays home or in quarantine. The use of home offices will continue to encouraged, but most Norwegians would likely be able to cautiously take off on summer holidays.

“We have stood together throughout this crisis,” Solberg told Parliament. “We will also get out of the crisis together.” PHOTO: NRK screen grab

Solberg said her government also plans to offer mass-testing, especially at schools, as a means of more quickly being able to ease restrictions. Her government will also be evaluating issuance and use of so-called “Corona certificates” over the next several weeks. They’ve been a topic of debate recently, with some health officials, politicians and commentators arguing that they can discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated.

“We have to look at how such a certificate could best be used nationally in connection with the reopening,” Solberg said. “A certificate opens up possibilities but also presents some challenges and dilemmas. Our ambition is to land on a solution regarding certificates within a reasonable period of time.” Those who are fully vaccinated may also be able to return to their workplace instead of staying in the home office. “We’ll be looking at all the rules and how they’ll apply to those fully vaccinated,” Solberg said.

Her government’s overall goal is for all Norwegians over the age of 18 to be vaccinated by the end of July. She nonetheless cautioned that even though restrictions may end, the Corona crisis won’t be over until everyone laid off is back at work. She also warned of the crisis’ ongoing side-effects, such as depression, a rise in domestic violence and cases of children lagging behind in school. She promised measures to help children and youth especially.

Solberg also noted that local governments around Norway may still impose or maintain restrictions that are tougher than national regulations. They would then apply, not her government’s liberalized rules.

“The last year has been tough,” Solberg concluded, but added that “we have stood together throughout this crisis. We will also get out of the crisis together.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund