Remaining Corona rules extended

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Norway’s new health minister held her first Corona press conference on Thursday, amidst a sudden and ongoing rise in Covid-19 infection in Norway. Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party called the situation “manageable,” but announced that the government has decided to retain Corona-related restrictions that were supposed to have been withdrawn by now.

New Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol held her first Corona-related press conference on Thursday, and announced that Norway’s remaining infection control measures would continue. At left, Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate. PHOTO: Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet

That means scaled-down testing, isolation, infection tracking and quarantine rules will continue, as will entry requirements and restrictions for travelers from abroad. Health authorities have recommended that isolation rules for those confirmed as being infected with the virus should remain in force through the end of the year, and the new Labour-Center government agreed.

Kjerkol had announced just the day before that some national restrictions could be reimposed, but that won’t happen right now. Simply maintaining the status quo “will allow local governments to plan their work and give them more predictability,” said Kjerkol. She took over as health minister after the Conservatives’ Bent Høie, who held regular press conferences throughout the Corona crisis. State broadcaster NRK reported that Kjerkol’s was the goverment’s 210th press conference since the pandemic began, and she warned it’s not over yet.

“Infection has risen,” she noted and while 86.6 percent of Norway’s adult population is now fully vaccinated, “our ambition is 90 percent and even higher. We’ll tolerate more infection in socieity when many are protected against infection and illness.”

Both continue to pose threats. Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, director of the public health institute FHI, said it was “probable” that a winter wave of infection will come but difficult to say how big it will be. A negative scenario would involve as many 60 to 70 hospital admissions a day, which Stoltenberg believes Norway is capable of handling. It’s also possible, she said, that there won’t be any wave at all.

Neither Stoltenberg nor Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate think there’s any need for the government to reimpose other national infection control measures. Health authorities continue to follow the situation closely and stress that it’s “different” now since so many Norwegians have been vaccinated since January. That offers much more protection against any new waves of infection. There are cases, though, of fully-vaccinated people still becoming infected, and some are in the hospital right now.

Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party took over the key to the health minister’s office from the Conservatives’ Bent Høie earlier this month. PHOTO: Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet

Other viruses like influensa and the RS strain that’s also spreading in Norway can complicate things, since there was hardly any flu during last year’s normal virus season when Corona shutdowns remained in effect. Covid-19 and some of its new strains are currently spreading the most in the northern county of Troms og Finnmark, in Oslo and in the large Viken County that sprawls from Halden and Fredrikstad in the southeast to the mountains of Buskerud in the west. A total of 1,180 new cases of Corona were registered just in the past 24 hours, more than twice the number during the same period last week.

Kjerkol, Stoltenberg and Nakstad all stressed that the most important thing now is for people to “stay home” if they feel ill, and get tested. “Self-isolation” is the most important, Nakstad said, along with continuing to wash hands often and thoroughly. “Winter is coming,” Nakstad added while confirming that he’s concerned some people “have been taking a break” from infection prevention rules and should “sharpen up.”

Kjerkol stressed that the government remains prepared to reimpose national restrictions again if needed, but she didn’t want to specify which ones or what would prompt them. “It would be based on the whole picture,” she said, of infection and hospitalization numbers in relation to health care capacity.

She also noted that Norway is “a small country in a big world, with a long border, an international labour market and a population with friends and relatives all over the world.” With infection rising in several other countries as well, she said it’s important to continue entry restrictions in order to hinder imported infection.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund