Oslo to stay shut, seeks more vaccine

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Oslo, which still suffers the highest infection and hospitalizations in Norway, will remain mostly shut down for at least the next two weeks even though national restrictions are being eased. City government officials are also demanding more vaccine allotments, especially since expected deliveries from abroad may not arrive.

The large plaza in front of the Oslo City Hall (Rådhusplassen) is likely to remain empty of events and most people as the Norwegian capital’s shutdown extends into its sixth month. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

Raymond Johansen, the stern leader of Oslo’s city government from the Labour Party, dashed any hopes that Oslo residents could also soon start visiting restaurants, ordering a drink or going shopping. That will be allowed in many other other parts of Norway from this weekend, after Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg confirmed the first step of her government’s reopening process on Tuesday.

Oslo, which has been under shutdown since November 9, will remain shuttered. “We’re not taking any chances,” Johansen declared during his latest press conference on Wednesday. “We have to hold out. The advice we’ve received (from health authorities) is clear. We can’t defend opening up Oslo now.”

That means that residents of the Norwegian capital must continue to stay two meters apart from one another, that a ban on all serving of alcohol will continue, that it’s still not allowed to have more than two guests at home (Johansen doesn’t want any socializing) and all stores, shopping centers and other public places must remain closed until at least April 29.

There was some loosening of the rules for children and youth, since there’s been some signs of infection declines: From April 19 they’ll be able to physically meet at school again. Elementary school children will also be able to participate in organized sports outdoors, but not indoors.

Appeal for more vaccine
Johansen and Robert Steen, who has political responsibility for health care issues in Oslo, also issued an appeal for more vaccine. That’s been supported by the leader of a commission studying Corona’s economic impact, who argued Wednesday that areas with high infection like Oslo should get higher vaccine allotments than areas with low infection rates. It’s a sensitive issue, once again pitting urban interests against those in rural districts, but preventing the spread of infection in the capital, it’s argued, can also help prevent the spread nationwide.

“In order for Norway to really open, Oslo must be able to open,” said Steen, who, like Johansen, represents the Labour Party. The city has an agreement with the national pharmacy association that can make it able to vaccinate 120,000 people a week. “Oslo is ready, the only thing we lack is vaccine,” Steen said.

Ongoing appeal against entry of foreign workers
Vaccine deliveries to Norway itself were thrown into doubt this week after Johnson & Johnson halted its deliveries to Europe because of concerns over some serious side-effects like blood-clotting. Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has also been suspended for the past several weeks because of similar alarms. State health officials are due to decide the fate of AstraZeneca in Norway later this week.

Johansen and Steen also appealed to the Conservatives-led government to halt plans to ease current restrictions on the entry of foreign workers into the country. “The last thing we need is an increase in imported infection,” Johansen said. “Strict rules against labour immigration are necessary in order to be able to open Oslo.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund