Norway reopens but pandemic not over

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Eighteen months after she had to shut down Norway, Prime Minister Erna Solberg could finally give her health minister Bent Høie a hug. Solberg led the country through the Corona virus crisis and can now scrap most restrictions still in place, but not all.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Health Minister Bent Høie could finally share a public hug on Friday, after the government went along with health authorities’ recommendations to scrap most all Corona containment measures. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

“Even though everyday life will be like normal for most people, the pandemic is not over,” Solberg said at a long-awaited press conference just before the weekend. “People can still get sick and therefore it’s important that everyone gets vaccinated.”

She could proudly assert, however, that infection levels are sinking, hospitalizations have “flattened out” and within a few weeks, fully 95 percent of the Norwegian adult population will be fully vaccinated. Children are now being vaccinated as well, so there’s little threat to health service capacity any longer.

“The state public health institute thinks there’s little risk the situation will come out of control,” Solberg said. “Therefore we can go back to normal everyday life.” Most all of the remaining Corona containment measures will be lifted as of 4pm on Saturday.

Norway will then revert, as was widely expected, to what Solberg called “normal days with increased preparedness.” Local municipal authorities will still be able to crack down again if necessary and anyone feeling ill is strongly urged to get tested.

“If you test positive for Corona, you must go into isolation to avoid infecting others,” Solberg said. “That won’t be a recommendation, but a rule for which you can be fined if you violate it.”

Entry restrictions remain
There will also still be some restrictions on entry into Norway that will only gradually be removed. As of Saturday September 25 at 4pm, all residents of the European Economic Area plus Great Britain, Switzerland and other “approved” countries will be able to travel to Norway. Most quarantine rules and especially Norway’s controversial hotel quarantine rules are being dropped, but testing may still be required for those arriving from so-called “red, dark red” and countries outside the European area. Quarantine may also be required but only for three days and then at an agreed-upon location.

Restrictions on those arriving from outside Europe are expected to be eased in “phase two and phase three” of the reopening of Norway’s borders. Norway’s strict border controls will also be eased in three phases over the next few months, and more border crossings will reopen.

Controls will remain in place around Svalbard. Demands for a negative Corona test will be dropped, but tourists must go through three days of quarantine on the mainland before traveling on to Svalbard. Cruise restrictions will be eased but there will still be limits on passengers allowed to go ashore.

For more details, see the government’s website here (external link), which is due to be updated in English soon after the easing of restrictions from Saturday September 25.

For all those already in Norway, life will become much less regimented. There will no longer be demands for the use of face masks on public transportation, for example, and restaurants won’t have to register all guests and place tables far apart. The one-meter rule for social distancing no longer applies.

Sporting events, theater performances, concerts and other public gatherings won’t have seating restrictions any longer. Many, though, have already been cancelled and it’s unlikely they’ll be reinstated. Schools and day care centers can all operate as normal.

Solberg, who lost last week’s national election and will soon be returning to her seat in Parliament, said she was relieved and glad she could finally reopen the country. She noted, though, that she thinks the Corona crisis “will affect us all the rest of our lives,” and not only those who’ve lost loved ones to the virus or been sick themselves.

“We have learned how vulnerable we are,” Solberg said, “but also how much we can accomplish when we work together.” She thanked all those who’ve worked extra hard during the crisis, and for Norwegians in general for their patience and cooperation. Many were photographed by local media hugging one another around the country, and a weekend of parties and celebrations was expected.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund