More restrictions loom after outbreak

Bookmark and Share

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol warned that more anti-Corona measures may be imposed in Norway later this week, following last week’s outbreak of the new Omicron strain in Oslo. Hundreds remained in 10-day quarantine on Monday, while complaints flew over new testing systems at border crossings.

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party and the rest of the Norwegian government had to reluctantly reinstate stricter Corona containment measures last week. Now more may be coming, as the Omicron virus continues to spread. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

“We don’t think we’ll manage to stop the Omicron infection,” Dr Jorunn Thaulow, chief medical officer for the Vestre Aker district of Oslo, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The goal now is to limit it, so we get some time to find out more about this variant.”

Health authorities in the capital reported during the weekend that at least 120 people have been confirmed infected with Omicron after last week’s outbreak at the Louise Restaurant at Oslo’s popular waterfront complex Aker Brygge. The restaurant has since had to close as well, since most of its staff is in quarantine.

More than 100 others are also in quarantine following a conference organized by  the trade- and employers’ organization Abelia at the posh Lysebu Hotel in the hills above Oslo. Participants came from Viken in the south to Troms og Finnmark in the north, and seven confirmed cases of the Corona virus were confirmed by late Sunday afternoon. They’re all believed to be infected with the Omicron strain, pending further testing.

Oslo’s Steiner School, also located in Vestre Aker, was ordered closed for at least two days (Monday and Tuesday) on suspicions one of its students was infected with Omicron. The student’s entire class and several teachers were being tested.

“We know relatively little about this virus, so it’s important to take extra precautions and find out more,” Gunnveig Grødeland, an immunologist and senior researcher at the University of Oslo, told NRK. Quarantining can both help limit its spread, she said, and allow researchers to follow the symptoms and degree of illness among those infected.

At this point, she confirmed, it appears the strain is highly contagious, spreading quickly and easily from person to person, also those who are fully vaccinated. No one has become seriously ill during the Oslo outbreak: “The problems will first appear if people do become very ill or we confirm that vaccines have reduced effect,” Grødeland said.

Norway’s public health institute FHI has formed a special group to study the outbreak at the restaurant at Aker Brygge, which occurred in connection with a company Christmas party known as a julebord. Health officials have stressed that both the company and the restaurant followed all the rules applicable at the time, and all participants were fully vaccinated. The rules didn’t work against Omicron.

FHI’s new study will involve an hour-long in-depth interview with everyone who was at the restaurant, to chart how they moved about as part of efforts to find out how the virus spread. “They’ll also look at special risk factors we need to know about, to hinder more infection,” Dr Tine Ravlo, assistant chief medical officer in Oslo’s Frogner district, told NRK. “That’s very important for how we handle Omicron now and in the future.”

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol has also warned that the government may reinstate Corona containment measures in addition to the stricter ones announced late last week. They included mandatory testing upon entering the country at border crossings, but complaints quickly emerged that they didn’t seem very effective.

“If Omicron is as contagious as we’re being warned, there could in principle have been a major outbreak here,” Dr Benedicte Sjøflot told NRK after landing on a flight from London Saturday at Norway’s gateway airport outside Oslo, OSL Gardermoen. She said that after clearing passport control right off the aircraft, passengers then went through the airport’s tax-free shopping- and baggage claim areas before being directed to the testing area.

The airport is using part of a departure hall on an upper level as a test center, where arriving passengers must take a rapid test and wait for its results before being allowed to travel onwards or leave the aiport. Before arriving at the testing station, however, passengers could mingle with one another and then stood closely together while waiting for testing.

“I would have though we’d be tested right after passport control, in order to limit the spread of any infection,” Sjøflot said. “Instead we were told we needed to go through tax-free and upstairs to the departure hall to get tested.”

She noted that passengers were offered bottled water while waiting for results, but that prompted many to remove their face masks and move chairs around so they could sit together until results were available. Questions have also arisen, meanwhile, about the reliability of the rapid tests called hurtigtesten in Norwegian.

The local municipality where OSL Gardermoen is located, Ullensaker, is responsible for operation of the new testing center at the airport. Both its officials and those at state airports agency Avinor, which runs OSL, have cooperated on setting up the testing center quickly after the new rules were imposed from midnight Thursday. They blame logistics and a space problem at the airport.

“Even though Oslo’s airport can seem large, it can be quite crowded there,” Roger Sandum of Ullensaker told NRK. There aren’t a lot of large open areas, he said, especially right after passport control, adding that those arriving from countries with high infection rates are guided into separate lines and testing areas.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund