Protests rise over hotel quarantine

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Complaints about Norway’s new hotel quarantine rules continue to pour in. They’re supposed to apply to everyone arriving from outside the EU and Schengen areas, but defense personnel, as many as 2,000 foreign service employees, their familes and the diplomatic corps in Oslo are exempt. Both legal and medical experts are now raising objections.

Several hotels located around Norway’s gateway airport OSL Gardermoen, including this one, have been or are being used to quarantine most everyone arriving from outside the EU and Schengen areas. PHOTO: Nordic Choice Hotels

Members of the international diplomatic corps stationed at their countries’ embassies or consulates in Norway have always enjoyed special privileges. They don’t have to spend 10 days in a quarantine hotel after arriving in Norway, nor do Norwegian diplomats. The government argues that those working for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry abroad, along with members of their households, are still viewed as living in Norway regardless of whether they’re currently stationed outside the country.

“That’s a remarkable exception,” Dr Mette Kalager, a professor at the University of Oslo’s medical school, told state broadcaster NRK on Wednesday. There’s no medical justification for such a rule, she notes: “Just like the virus can infect either those on necessary or unnecessary trips, it doesn’t differentiate whether you’re in the foreign service or work somewhere else.”

She and seven other doctors and lawyers wrote in a commentary published in newspaper Aftenposten this week that the mandatory hotel quarantine doesn’t seem as much aimed at hindering imported infection as it is a “sanction” meant to keep Norwegians from traveling abroad.

‘More like a punishment’
“I have this uncomfortable feeling that the hotel quarantine is more like a punishment, meant to function as a preventive measure by hindering people from traveling outside of Norway,” Kalager told NRK. Most Norwegians won’t travel outside Europe if they know they’ll have to spend 10 days in a hotel at their own expense when they come home again. The hotel quarantine with meals currently costs NOK 500 per day, with the government picking up the rest of the bill. That means a 10-day quarantine will cost NOK 5,000 (USD 610), with lower rates for partners and youth.

Magnus Løberg of the University of Oslo is also challenging the new quarantine rule. “The exemptions allowed for foreign service, defense personnel and incoming diplomats raise the question of whether this really is meant to keep out infection, or something else,” Køberg told NRK.

Legal aspects of the requirement to stay at a quarantine hotel, as opposed to going into quarantine at home, have been hotly debated. Some find the exemption for defense and foreign service personnel acceptable. “Those who work in the foreign service must be able to come and go quite freely,” Anna Nylund, a law professor at the University of Tromsø (Norway’s Arctic University), told NRK.

Risking fines or jail
Returning Norwegian citizens and permanent residents had earlier been exempt from hotel quarantine rules themselves but not any longer. Protests have also erupted among top Norwegian athletes who fear they’ll now need to withdraw from important pre-Olympic competition in the UK, for example, because of the mandatory quarantine that would disrupt their training schedules.

The Justice Ministry has written itself that force should not be used against those refusing to stay at a quarantine hotel. At the same time, however, the ministry and Justice Minister Monica Mæland has claimed that violations of the hotel quarantine rule can result in fines or even a jail term of up to six months. Some returning Norwegians have already been fined, for refusing to check into a quarantine hotel or because they left before the 10 days were over.

The hotel quarantine rule initially applied only to people arriving in Norway from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iraq, because of high infection in those countries and the new Indian strain of the virus. It was extended as of Sunday (May 9) to everyone from outside the Schengen/European Economic Area (EU countries plus Iceland and Liechtenstein), meaning those now arriving from the UK are also subject to hotel quarantine along with the US and all other countries in the world outside most of continental Europe and the Nordic area.

To read the government’s own information about the new quarantine hotel rules, click here (external link to the government’s own website). 

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund