Doctors at over-burdened Norwegian hospitals were not pleased when the new government rolled out what it claimed were stricter Corona containment measures on Friday. “They won’t even demand that people use face masks,” Dr Ole Kristian Fossum, head of the intensive care ward at Akershus University Hospital just outside Oslo, complained to state broadcaster NRK Friday evening.
Fossum thinks much stricter national measures should have been announced, after several weeks of sharply rising infection levels in Norway. Instead, the new Labour-Center Party government left it mostly up to local governments to set rules as they see fit in their own areas.
“It’s incredible that they (government ministers who held another press conference on Friday) only say that folks should stop shaking hands, and leave it all up to local communities to decide,” Fossum told NRK. “They have not shown that they’re able to impose infection prevention measures that work.”
His own hospital is filled to capacity with Corona patients, many of whom were fully vaccinated. Infection levels have soared in recent weeks, from Tromsø in the north to Oslo in the south.
Don’t want to dictate from Oslo
Norway’s new government, in which the rural districts-friendly Center Party wields considerable power, is much more opposed to centralization and orders coming from Oslo. It much prefers decentralization and allowing local communities to act as they see fit. That was reflected in the latest measures announced just before the weekend by Justice Minister Emilie Mehl of the Center Party and Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party. They’re clearly shifting responsibility for the Corona crisis to regional authorities around the country.
Mehl did announce some stricter controls at the borders, including registration of everyone entering Norway (including returning Norwegians), “to limit imported infection” from November 26. Travelers entering Norway will also face new testing demands and documentation of vaccinations. Norway will reopen its borders to people from all countries, in line with foreign policy law, but everyone must present proof of negative Corona tests and submit to quarantine and testing if required.
“I want to emphasize that we are still in a global pandemic,” Mehl said. “We must all act responsibly. It’s important that people follow the advice and rules we have issued, and that all travelers are careful and sensible.”
Quarantine will also be required for arrivals from the Canary Islands, Corsica, Madeira, some parts of Finland and the regions of Blekinge, Halland and Värmland in Sweden. Calling Europe the new “epicenter” of the Corona virus, ministers Mehl and Kjerkol noted that no countries are “green” any longer and that quarantine will also be required for arrivals from nearly all European countries.
Kjerkol then urged Norwegians to stay home if they feel unwell and to refrain from hugging or shaking hands. Local governments can begin to require use of so-called “Corona certificates” showing proof of vaccination and negative Corona tests for public entry to concerts or other large public events. She urged local governments to step up vaccination programs, so that everyone aged 65 and above in Norway can get a third booster shot by Christmas.
She stopped short of imposing stricter measures on a national basis, though. Dr Fossum and other health care professionals don’t think her rules are tough enough, given Norway’s rising infection statistics. In Bergen, local officials have ordered the use of face masks in public places, but not in Oslo, for example. Fossum thinks face masks should be mandatory all over the country. Instead, the new government is merely asking local governments to evaluate whether face masks use should be required in their areas.
Health Minister Kjerkol continues to insist that she and her colleagues “are following the Corona infection situation closely, day by day.” She maintains that local communities know what’s best for their areas, and don’t need national measures now.
Dr Jon Henrik Laake at the national hospital in Oslo, Rikshospitalet, told NRK that intensive care wards all over the country remain under pressure. He’s worried that capacity is strained and that other planned operations will need to be postponed.