The warning came after Denmark moved to close all schools, kindergartens and universities and send all non-essential public sector workers home on paid leave, and follows the diagnosis on Wednesday of the first coronavirus cases which could not be linked to travel abroad.
“The emergency council is now sitting and discussing measures that will be the most extensive Norway's has population experienced in peacetime,” Bent Høie told Norway's state broadcaster NRK on Thursday morning.
“We must be prepared for that. Strict and effective measures are necessary to prevent the spread of infection in Norway.”
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that her government had wanted to choose the right time to instigate the heaviest restrictions.
“We have to push a bigger button, but it must be done at the right time,” she said. “It will intrude on people's everyday lives and on how our society functions. Then we also have to watch the timing. It is this phase that we have now reached.”
The news came after the Norwegian Institute of Public Health on Wednesday evening reported 212 new confirmed cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 489.
The VG newspaper, which collates figures from Norway's municipalities, putting it about a day ahead, puts the true number of cases at 631.
Høie said that all the new measures would be aimed at keeping a sufficient distance between people to slow the spread of the infection down, so that the country's hospitals would be better able to cope.
Solberg said that if Norway is to follow Denmark and close schools — as is likely — it needed to also find a way to ensure that employees in “socially critical businesses and the health service” could continue to go to work.
“We also need to make sure that those who are parents can go to work if they work in socially critical sectors,” she said.