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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Infection prevention is now ‘up to us’

The Norwegian government shifted responsibility for Corona infection prevention back over to individual Norwegians on Saturday. Nearly all Corona-related restrictions were removed, with Norwegians urged to simply “use pure common sense” in deciding how to best stay healthy even as Omicron infection continues to spread.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre demonstrated that it will still be wise to have a face mask handy, but they won’t be required any longer. He also was still positioned even more than a meter away from Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol, both from the Labour Party. PHOTO: Helse- og omsorgsdepartementet/Hege Benedicte Runge

“The Corona pandemic no longer poses a major health threat for most of us,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre declared at a press conference Saturday morning. “The Omicron virus results in much less serious illness, and we are well-protected by vaccines. Therefore we’re removing nearly all infection prevention measures … we can go back to more normal everyday life.”

Gone are requirements to stay a meter apart from others, and to use face masks when such social distancing isn’t possible. Airlines SAS and Norwegian quickly announced that they’ll no longer require face masks on flights within Scandinavia. All rules for quarantine and isolation and most testing and border entry restrictions, except for Svalbard, have been lifted, too. Most all Corona containment measures have been replaced only with “recommendations” or “advice.” Støre said that “we recommend use of face masks for those who aren’t vaccinated and other vulnerable groups,” but neither he nor state health authorities will demand that any longer either.

The government now merely recommends that adults take a Corona test at the sign of virus-like symptoms, but advises that only “infected adults” stay home for four days if test results are positive. Children can now avoid “parents running after them to put a stick up their noses,” Støre said, and both schools and day care centers can return to normal operations. The government and health authorities only recommend that any sick children be kept at home until they’re fever-free for 24 hours.

No cause for celebration
The overall goal now is for Norwegians to return to everyday life, nearly two years after the Corona crisis began and Norway shut down on March 12, 2020. “Now it’s February 12, 2022,” noted Støre. “Fortunately we didn’t know then how long this would last. Now our everyday life can once again be more normal.”

Both Støre, Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol and state health authorities Dr Camilla Stoltenberg and Dr Bjørn Guldvog stressed, however, that the pandemic is not over yet and there’s no cause for celebration. “We are in the midst of an infection wave,” Stoltenberg noted, referring to the ongoing spread of the Omicron variant of the Corona virus. “There’s a high level of infection in society and it can keep rising. Infection will plague us for a while yet.”

This may have been the Norwegian government’s last major press conference to be held on the Corona crisis, after it determined that the Norwegian population no longer needs strict Corona containment measures. From left: State Health Director Dr Bjørn Guldvog, Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Dr Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the public health institute FHI. PHOTO: HOD/Hege Benedicte Runge

Both health authorities and the government nonetheless believe current infection levels and the Omicron variant itself are manageable, and not nearly as dangerous as earlier forms of the virus. Both the state health directorate that Guldvog leads and the public health institute FHI that Stoltenberg leads wil continue to monitor infection developments closely, and issue warnings as needed, but with more than 90 percent of Norwegians vaccinated, they think the vast majority are adequately protected and that the health care system can continue to function well, even if new virus variants emerge.

There are still an estimated 200,000 people in Norway who suffer from underlying illnesses, have reduced immune systems or are not vaccinated for various reasons and therefore remain at risk. Støre urged “consideration” of them, but was clearly pleased that the virus no longer presents a major health threat in Norway.

Therefore, noted Kjerkol, “it won’t be the politicians” telling Norwegians what to do or how to live their lives. She went so far as to encourage Norwegians to “hug a friend” and even “go dancing,” later moderating that a bit to stress the need for individual common sense. The biggest change in terms of Corona policy, she said, was that the strategy involves “learning to live with the virus” instead of warding it off.

May ward off demonstrations, too
The removal of all restrictions follows similar government decisions in Denmark and Sweden. It also comes after a week of massive demonstrations against Corona regulations in countries with populations that earlier have been as cooperative as in Norway, including Canada and New Zealand. By taking an offensive move to dump Corona restrictions themselves, Scandinavian governments may now avoid the level of public unrest and disruption seen elsewhere. There already have been some protests against Corona rules in Norway that have worried police. Vaccination has always been voluntary in Norway, but now those opposed to vaccination can’t complain about any pressure on them.

Støre and Kjerkol continue to insist that their decision to liberate Norwegians from Corona rules is based entirely on the knowledge and advice of health care professionals. All warned, meanwhile, that new virus variants can arise and there may be a need to tighten up again, but they also seemed assured that Norway has the means to tackle that situation should it arise.

Støre said he’s also aware that the pandemic has had major consequences for many who have lost loved ones, been seriously ill themselves, lost jobs or have children whose education has been disrupted. “Even though we think it’s responsible to lift restrictions today, I know there are some who worry we’re letting up too much and too quickly,” Støre said, adding that some people will still need or want to distance themselves from others. “I understand that and we must respect that.”

He and Kjerkol also warned that even though Norway has opened up again, many other countries have not. It’s still important to check all entry rules and travel restrictions before setting off on any trips. “But today we can go out and be together without being afraid,” said Støre, who just arrived back in Norway from a trip to France on Friday. “It’s a good feeling and a fine way to start the weekend.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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