Norway continues careful reopening

Bookmark and Share

Faced with rising criticism over its still-strict border control, the Norwegian government is easing some of its entry rules aimed at keeping Corona infection out of the country. That will allow some foreigners and returning Norwegian easier access, but rules remain highly complicated and subject to change at any time.

Justice Minister Monica Mæland (second from left) visited border patrol officials this week who are working at Norway’s busiest border crossing to Sweden at Svinesund. Mæland and the rest of the government been criticized for what many view as overly strict entry rules for both Norwegians and foreigners, but she defended them again on Friday. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

“This is all about maintaining an overview,” said Justice Minister Monica Mæland at a government press conference Friday, along with retaining control over who’s coming into the country. She and Prime Minister Erna Solberg also want to especially try to keep new strains of the Corona virus like the Delta mutation out of Norway.

The press conference was led off by the leaders of all three government parties including Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who nonetheless insisted that relaxation of other regulations meant “this is a good day today.” She could announce, for example, that as of noon on Sunday, much larger groups of up to 5,000 people will be able to gather for organized events that offer assigned assigned seating. A nationwide ban on serving alcoholic drinks after midnight will be dropped (although no new guests can enter bars or restaurants after midnight) and many limits on organized sports will also be eased. Norwegians will also be able to entertain as many as 20 guests at home.

The relaxation comes just as schools were closing for eight-week summer holidays on Friday, and hundreds of thousands of Norwegians are gearing for traditional summer holidays of their own in July. Solberg said the relaxation was made possible by major declines in Corona-related hospitalizations in Norway (only 39 as of Friday afternoon) and a steady reduction in the numbers of new confirmed cases of the Corona virus. Most important, however, is how Norway has reached what Solberg called “a major milestone” in the numbers of Norwegians now vaccinated with at least their first shot (2,122,782) and a quicker pace of the vaccination program that’s now offering protection to around 1 percent of the population every day.

‘Must control our borders’
Norwegians are still being urged, however, to spend their summer holidays in Norway and drop trips outside the country. The government’s goal is to keep infection and especially hospitalizations low, and that’s why “we still must control our borders,” Solberg said. She admitted that Norway’s strict entry rules “have been difficult” for all those wanting to return to or travel to Norway, especially for long-awaited family reunions. The hotel-, restaurant- and agricultural sectors have also been hard-hit because they hire lots of seasonal foreign workers who haven’t been able to travel into Norway. Norwegian strawberries and lettuce have been rotting in fields, for example, while hotels anxious to at least welcome Norwegian guests this summer may have to limit capacity because of a shortage of hotel maids, cooks and waiters. Swedish workers cleared to commute daily to jobs in Norway were finally allowed this week to use an old bridge over the border near Halden, to avoid congestion at the main border crossing.

Solberg has also been made acutely aware of long waits at airports, the unpopularity and expense of hotel quarantine and even 11-kilometer-long lines of vehicles at Norway’s biggest border crossing at Svinesund. Many of those arriving, including returning Norwegian citizens, have also complained of allegedly arbitrary decisions on whether they’re allowed in, or allowed to skip quarantine. Others complained to newspaper Aftenposten this week that Norway’s entry system is based on “a fundamental lack of confidence” in those trying to enter the country and to foreign documentation of vaccinations. Until recently, only certificates tied to vaccination in Norway have been accepted.

Justice Minister Mæland, shown here at the border crossing at Svinesund in Southern Norway, claimed border patrol officials were “doing the best they can” to carry out all the strict entry requirements. She couldn’t say when things will return to normal. PHOTO: Justisdepartementet

Entry rules will now be less rigid for Norwegians’ family members and loved ones who live in the EU/European Economic Area or the UK. All hotel quarantine demands will be dropped from noon on Saturday, but other quarantine rules will still be tied to infection levels in each individual country. From next Thursday (June 24), EU residents with valid Corona certificates will be allowed entry without quarantine at all, but different rules will apply in line with which countries people are traveling from. The more infection there is in their departure countries, the stricter the quarantine rules will be for those arriving in Norway. For those coming from countries listed by the EU as “red,” where infection remains high, quarantine will still be required until the person arriving tests negative after seven days. Norway will harmonize its colour-coding of infection levels in line with the EU’s from July 5.

“There will still be testing and checking at the border,” said Guri Melby, a government minister and leader of the Liberal Party. Only those coming from a “green” country (currently Iceland, Malta, Poland, Romania and several regions of Finland) will avoid quarantine at present. Those coming from elsewhere can still be subject to testing, must present the equivalent of a vaccination certificate and have registered their arrival date, preferably in advance. Solberg and Mæland blamed much of the long lines at the Swedish border on the E6 highway at Svinesund on police having to help people fill out the arrival registration that’s demanded of everyone. Solberg all but wagged her finger in warning Norwegians against going on shopping trips to Sweden and thereby adding to the long lines when returning.

Still urging Norwegians spend summer holidays at home
She and her government colleagues also repeatedly recommended that Norwegians spend their summer holidays at home in Norway, instead of traveling abroad and risking complicated arrivals back home. “It will be much simpler,” Melby said. Norway’s foreign ministry will drop its stern rules against traveling around Europe or to the UK this summer from July 5, but recommendations against all unnecessary travel outside Europe will remain in force until August 10.

Foreigners arriving in Norway from countries outside Europe remain subject to 10 days of mandatory hotel quarantine at their own expense at least until early August. A new evaluation of entry requirements for those coming from outside Europe will be issued on July 5. Even non-Norwegian citizens who are fully vaccinated will continue to face strict entry or re-entry requirements, Melby said, admitting that it will “still be difficult” to obtain unfettered entry to Norway.

“We can’t stop people from traveling,” Melby said, “but we don’t want imported infection to limit our reopening.” Neither she nor Mæland could say when Norway’s borders, also those to Sweden, will fully reopen and get back to normal.

More details on entry requirements for Norway can be found here, but only in Norwegian. The government’s own rundown of current information in English can be found here (external links to the Norwegian government’s own website).

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund