Norway implements new rules for healthcare workers after rise in coronavirus cases

Norway implements new rules for healthcare workers after rise in coronavirus cases
FHI Area Director Geir Bukholm and Department Director Line Vold at a press briefing last week. Photo: AFP
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstituttet, FHI) has introduced stricter quarantine rules for healthcare staff.

All people working in the healthcare sector who have travelled to areas with active spread of coronavirus must now remain in home quarantine for 14 days after returning to Norway, media including VG report on Monday.

FHI has said that the new rules are a direct reaction to an increase in infection numbers in Norway during the last few days.

At the time of writing, the number of confirmed cases in the Scandinavian country is 19. That includes 5 people who work at the Ophthalmology department at Ullevål Hospital in Oslo.

A health worker infected with the virus worked at the department last week after getting infected in northern Italy.  

The new FHI guidelines are to be applied retroactively, VG writes. That means any health worker who has travelled to outbreak areas since February 17th is now obliged to quarantine themselves. Around 300,000 people work in the sector in Norway, though it is unclear how many of these will be impacted by the new quarantine rules.

On its website, FHI writes that it considers outbreaks to be active in mainland China as well as Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Iran, South Korea and Italian regions Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto.

Oslo University Hospital (OUH), of which Ullevål is the largest campus, itself implemented stricter quarantine rules for its staff on Sunday.

“Everyone who has been in outbreak areas must remain in quarantine for 14 days. The taxi meter starts from the day they came home,” CEO Atle Bjørnbeth said at a press conference.

Outpatients at the hospital are also advised to contact OUH if they have travelled to outbreak areas, in order to check whether they should still attend appointments, VG reports.

On Saturday, Ullevål Hospital confirmed that 28 staff with symptoms were being tested for the virus. The cases at the hospital are the first to have been infected on Norwegian soil. 

The doctor who brought the infection back from northern Italy complained in an interview with the Aftenposten newspaper that he had repeatedly asked to be tested after experiencing flu-like symptoms but was refused, only managing to get tested after two days. 

The Director of Medicine and Health Sciences at Oslo University Hospital, Hilde Myhren, on Saturday apologised at a press conference for the hospital's delay.

“In hindsight it is easy to see that it was a very unfortunate decision,” she told Aftenposten. “Of course we wish we had tested the person, knowing what we know today, but we cannot do anything about it now.” 

Although 5 members of staff have subsequently tested positive for the virus, no infections have been so far been confirmed amongst patients at the ophthalmology department.

According to VG’s report early on Monday, 16 patients have been tested with 6 negative results so far and results yet to come through from the remaining tests.

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