Declining infection levels and hospitalizations, along with a steady rise in vaccinations, have prompted Oslo’s city government to finally allow stores and shopping centers to reopen from Thursday. Restaurants, bars, exercise studios and most everything else will remain closed, however, with a new evaluation due later in May.
The goal is a “gradual and controlled” reopening that will be permanent, city government leader Raymond Johansen said at yet another press conference on Wednesday. “We don’t want to have to close up again,” Johansen stressed.
Schools and day care centers, meanwhile, will go from the red to yellow levels, meaning that entire classes can gather and operations will become more “normal,” Johansen said. City libraries will slowly reopen various services and senior centers can also gradually return to normal operations, not least since nearly all their elderly patrons are now fully vaccinated.
“It’s a start, a signal,” Johansen said, that Oslo, which has had the highest Corona infection levels in the country throughout the pandemic, will eventually return to normal as well.
While some store owners could announce that they’d be back in business from 10am on Thursday, others were disappointed. Restaurant and bar owners had hoped, and expected, they’d be allowed to open up again too, albeit with lots of restrictions. Johansen and his fellow Labour, Greens and Socialist Left colleagues think it’s still too soon to allow reopening of social gathering spots.
They stressed, moreover, that shopping centers can’t allow people to gather in common areas, that face masks will still be urged and that the numbers of customers allowed into stores will be strictly controlled. The numbers will depend on the size of each store, which must allow for four square meters per person.
The city will also be “intensifying” control and enforcement measures, Johansen said. Merchants can be fined or closed if they don’t follow infection control measures.
Pressure from the suburbs
Johansen has admitted to being under pressure to reopen stores and shopping centers, especially after neighbouring Bærum reopened last week. Now other nearby communities are in the process of reopening as well, including Lillestrøm, Lørenskog and Rælingen.
It all means that only part of Oslo’s second step in its reopening program is being allowed. Additional reopenings may occur later this month, also of cinemas, concert halls and other entertainment venues that have been moved up from the third step to the second.
Johansen warned, meanwhile, that the infection situation remains highly uncertain. He said infection levels in Oslo are now highest in the popular Grünerløkka district, and among Oslo residents aged 30-39 and 16-19. Infection was also rising among children and youth.