Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and his government colleagues announced the removal of most all Corona-related restrictions in Norway from Tuesday night. “The pandemic is not over,” Støre stressed, but he thinks “we can mostly open up” and live “in as normal a way” as possible.
“We now know that Omicron (the variant of the Corona virus now behind most infection) results in less serious illness,” Støre said at a much-anticipated press conference Tuesday evening. “We now know that vaccines give very many Norwegians good protection. We can open up even though infection is rising quickly. We can live with lots of infection.”
There has indeed been lots of it the past two weeks. More than 100,000 Norwegian have been infected just in the last seven days, and new infection records were set almost every day last week. Not many needed hospital care, however, with most experiencing the likes of a common cold or flu. Now they won’t need to isolate for more than four days, down from the current six, and no family members or close contacts will need to go into quarantine.
As of 11pm Tuesday, there will also no longer be limits on how many people can gather either indoors or outdoors. Norwegian authorities still want people to stay at least a meter apart, but all venues with assigned seating can fill all their seats. That set off jubilation for operators of cinemas, theaters and concert halls, where all available seats can finally be filled.
The government is also ending its ban on serving alcoholic drinks after 11pm, nor will guests have to sit at tables in order to be served food or a drink. Infection control precautions must still be taken at bars and restaurants, but for the most part it will be business as usual, with the only remaining ban on dancing.
All schools and day care centers can reopen at the normal “green” level from Wednesday and all colleges, universities and professional schools can fully reopen for instruction as usual. So can everything from amusement parks to bingo parlors and bowling alleys, as long as they maintain “professional infection control” standards.
Demands for the use of home offices are being lifted as well, although employers will still be recommended to offer home office options and “think through” how many people should be at work at the same time.
Most importantly for travelers: All requirements for testing at the border are being removed. Those arriving in Norway will no longer need to provide a negative test or undergo testing, and all quarantine rules are being dropped. Isolation requirements for those testing positive to the Corona virus have been reduced from six to four days.
Norwegians will still be urged to use face masks in public places, but only if they can’t stay a meter away from others while, for example, riding public transportation or shopping. Local governments around the country will also be able to impose restrictions of their own as they see fit.
Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum noted that by spring, the Norwegian economy is likely to be well on its way out of the Corona crisis. Unemployment has already falled, hiring is brisk and most businesses can operate as normal. He said most state compensation programs will thus be phased out at the end of this month, while compensation for those hard hit in the cultural sector will run through June.
Støre said the government will be making another evaluation in two weeks and may announce removal of all remaining Corona restrictions from February 17. He cautioned that there’s still a risk of new variants or a change in the infection situation that may require another round of restrictions.
“I want to stress that the pandemic is not over, not in Norway and not in the rest of the world,” Støre said. “Some rules and recommendations will still apply.” He acknowledged, however, that his government is liberalizing current rules somewhat beyond what’s been recommended by health authorities. Even they, including Dr Camilla Stoltenberg of the public health institute FHI, agree that “we can tolerate an easing of most of the invasive measures.”
Støre also said that his government’s handling of the pandemic will be examined in addition to the probe already launched of the former government’s Corona response. It’s time now, though, said Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol, “to get back to everyday life.” To sum up, she said, “we’re going from detailed regulations to maintaining the meter distance, face masks and solid common sense. We’re not finished with the pandemic, but we’re on our way out of it.”