Professors warn against reopening

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Bars and restaurants in Oslo could start reopening on Wednesday, with the rest of the country opening up even more from Thursday, but not everyone is happy about it. Several infection experts are warning that it could all lead to a fourth wave of the Corona virus and its new mutations.

Oslo’s long-empty Karl Johans Gate was expected to fill back up this coming weekend with folks enjoying outdoor meals and drinks. Some health experts fear the capital’s long-awaited reopening will lead to a new rise in infection. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Morten Møst

“Nationwide liberalization is, in my opinion, not defensible yet,” Professor Bjørg Marit Andersen told news bureau NTB just as café owners were moving tables back into place on Oslo sidewalks this week. Andersen, a retired specialist in infection control measures at the University of Oslo, claimed that the daily number of new confirmed cases was still too high and not declining quickly enough.

“The chance of a fourth pandemic peak in Norway is still in place when we see what happened last summer,” Andersen told NTB. Infection shot back up again as soon as Norwegians were once allowed to travel and socialize.

Andersen isn’t alone with her concerns that both state and local politicians risk opening up again too soon and too quickly. She’s especially concerned about the airborne risk of infection, as is another infection control expert, Professor Jörn Klein at Universitetet i Sørøst in Drammen. He advocates use of face masks while outdoors as well as indoors.

Klein said he could understand that Norwegians are weary of the pandemic, that Norway has long had among the strictest Corona containment measures in Europe, and that they yearn for a reopening and return to more normal life. Recent infection spikes around the country, from Hammerfest in the north to Kristiansand in the south, most often are pegged to new strains of the virus that are more contagious.

“So we should wait until a majority of the population has been vaccinated, and then we can let loose,” Klein told NTB. “Covid hasn’t gone away even though the decline in use of intensive care units can suggest the opposite.” Just over 30 percent of Norway’s population had been vaccinated as of Wednesday.

Health authorities have also warned that the pending reopenings of social gathering places will lead to another rise in infection no matter how “gradual and controlled” they are, not just in Oslo but nationawide. That prompted Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate to stress at a press conference Wednesday that Norwegians must continue to follow the four basic Corona rules: “Stay home if you feel ill, get yourself tested, use face masks and stay at least a meter apart from everyone outside your household.”

‘Dangerous to think the danger is over’
Professor Steinar Westin, who specializes in social medicine at NTNU in Trondheim, said current infections numbers make him uncertain about whether the looming reopenings can be justified. Trondheim itself was experiencing a sudden rise in Corona infection this week. He told NTB that it can be dangerous if more people think the danger is over, and that in turn leads to a sharp increase in new infection.

Robert Steen, head of health issues for the Oslo city government, admitted to newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday that reopening bars and restaurants especially involves a “calculated risk.” He think the city is ready to take it on, though, especially since it’s also important to get people back to work.

“We have robust health care services that can handle a certain increase in infection if it comes,” Steen said. It was also chilly and raining again in Oslo on Wednesday, which may reduce the numbers of those eager to gather for their first outdoor beer of the year. The forecast through the weekend, though, was for warm and sunny weather.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund