Bars, restaurants most likely to close

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A national ban on serving alcoholic beverages in Norway will take effect from midnight Tuesday. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said it’s aimed at limiting social contact among Norwegians and thus hindering the spread of the Corona virus, which is now straining hospital capacity.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, announcing a new and harsher round of Corona containment measures Monday night. From left, Education Minister Tonje Brenna and Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

The ban, likely to lead to a new closure of all bars and restaurants, is one of several Corona containment measures announced by the government Monday night. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre agrees that the new Omicron variant of the Corona virus, currently sweeping through Norway, is quickly “changing the rules of the game” and posing “higher risks of rising infection.”

Støre said there is now a “considerable burden” on the entire health care system in Norway. The country has gone from having one of the lowest infection rates in Europe to one of the highest just in the past few weeks, since Omicron made its debut in Oslo.

Vaccines are still helping, and the government is now enlisting the aid of the military and pharmacies to administer third booster shots as quickly as possible. The disappointing factor, however, is that the vaccines aren’t preventing the spread of Omicron, only offering protection against serious illness. Many of those recently infected with the Corona virus were fully vaccinated, and Støre said there’s reason to believe Omicron will soon dominate.

Worst-case scenario
Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the public health institute FHI, warned that there may be between 90,000 and 300,000 new cases of the virus every day within three weeks if measures aren’t taken to limit the spread. That would over-burden all hospitals, since around 50 to 200 people would probably need hospitalization on a daily basis.

In addition to all but shutting down bars and restaurants, which is what a ban on serving alcohol is expected to do, the government also wants everyone to return to home offices and preferably just stay home. Norwegians were also urged to avoid using public transportation. Støre did not impose more limits on guests at home (currently 10, plus as many as 20 one night during the Christmas-New Year holiday week) but implored Norwegians to limit their social contact.

Schools and day care centers aren’t being closed but rather put on the “yellow” cautionary level of so-called traffic light staus, while high schools and continuing education will move to “red” status, which can mean more remote digital instruction. All universities, colleges and trade schools must prepare for digital instead of classroom instruction.

Face masks everywhere
The government is imposing widespread mandatory use of face masks, urging social distancing of at least one meter and limiting outdoor gatherings and sports activities along with those indoors. The one-meter rule will now also apply outdoors, meaning that most all organized sports will likely be cancelled.

A maximum of 20 people can gather in public but 50 will be allowed after funerals. All amusement parks must close but libraries, museums, shopping centers, gyms, spas and most other businesses can remain open if they impose new infection control measures.

“We have to live with Covid in our lives,” Støre said after unveiling the latest round of ever-stricter infection prevention measures. He wouldn’t rule out more and tougher restrictions: “If we need more, we’ll come with more.”  The new rules announced Monday night will be in force for at least the next four weeks.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund