Norway’s public health institute FHI is meeting the current Corona virus infection wave with some unusual advice: “It’s better to be infected now than later,” FHI’s boss Dr Camilla Stoltenberg declared Wednesday afternoon, before recommending that the country’s remaining Corona containment measures be repealed.
Even while setting another new daily infection record, Stoltenberg and Dr Espen Nakstad of the state health directorate agree that nothing can stop the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus. FHI (Folkehelse-institutt) even reports, in a new risk evaluation released Wednesday, that as many as 4 million Norwegians (around 70 percent of the entire population) will eventually be infected and that as many as 13,000 of them may need to be hospitalized.
The health authorities nonetheless think most all infection prevention measures can be eased. “We see that there’s now a basis for easing measures within a short period of time,” Stoltenberg said, “because the risk now is at a level we usually live with.”
Norwegian society, Stoltenberg and Nakstad think, can simply tolerate more infection now, not least since some people are also being offered a fourth dose of vaccine. While hospitals need to be prepared for a rise in admissions, far fewer will need intensive care or respirator treatment.
Stoltenberg notes that FHI’s report even writes that since Norway’s vaccination program has mostly been completed, and many already have received booster doses, it can be better to become infected with the Omicron variant now spreading than later.
“The situation in Norway is that we have a population that has recently received a third dose and has good protection against the illness and hospitalization,” Stoltenberg said at a press briefing. “It’s better to be infected when you’re in that situation, than later when the effect of vaccines can decline.”
After the government eased quarantine and testing rules this week, remaining anti-infection rules include an 11pm halt to the serving of alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants, mandatory use of face masks on public transportation and in other public indoor areas like shopping centers, and limits on the size of indoor gatherings. Norwegians also remain encouraged to work from home.
Stoltenberg and her colleagues predict that easing all such restrictions from February 1 will lead to a new wave of infection and hospitalizations peaking in the second half of February or early March. Hospitals should be able to handle any new rush, though, while infection now can further protect against more serious variants coming later.
Epidemiologists in Denmark were also advising the Danish government on Wednesday to ease all remaining restrictions and to no longer classify Covid-19 as an especially dangerous illness. Norway’s infection patterns have closely followed those in Denmark, where infection is also now at record levels of more than 45,000 new cases a day but characterized by mild illness and little effect on hospital admissions.