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INTERVIEW: How the UK’s Oslo envoy is getting stranded Brits home

INTERVIEW: How the UK's Oslo envoy is getting stranded Brits home
British ambassador Richard Wood takes a break from quarantine last week. Photo: Screenshot/Twitter
The UK's ambassador to Norway Richard Wood himself only got out of quarantine on Wednesday after twelve long days. But he's nonetheless been working tirelessly with embassy staff over the last two weeks to help get Brits back to the UK.
He spoke to The Local as he launched a video appeal to British people in Norway temporarily for business or a holiday to take the next available flight back to the UK. 
 
“There are still daily flights on British Airways and also some regional flights to Aberdeen at the time of speaking, but I don't know for how long,” he said. 
 
“People risk finding themselves stuck here against their will once the travel options have run out, and they will then be separated from friends and family in the UK. They may also not be covered for medical care in Norway if they were to fall ill.” 
 
Most of the British citizens who were in Norway at the time of the country's lockdown was announced on March 12 have already managed to make it back to the UK, Wood said. 
 
Initially, many were confused when the rules were announced. 
 
“The announcement caught people by surprise, and it was made retrospective, so there were a number of tourists already in the country who were told that they had to go into quarantine, and it wasn't clear to them whether they had the option of leaving, or whether they had to stay the full two weeks.”  
 
The embassy worked with Norway's authorities to clarify that day that non-residents who chose to leave the country immediately would not need to spend 14 days in quarantine. 
 
Embassy staff then had to negotiate with Norwegian county and municipal governments who were unwilling to let foreigners they believed should be in quarantine travel to airports. 
 
Now, the few who are still left in Norway are stuck because of flight cancellations. 
 
“We're aware of a couple of groups of people who have had difficulties because successive flighs have been cancelled,” he said. “We're not aware of any people who seem to be stuck here without any possibility of return.” 
 
Aside from getting Brits in Norway home, he said, he has also helped get Norwegian citizens back to the UK by finding space for them on flights for British nationals. 
 
Beyond the consular side of things, the UK also had to repatriate British troops and military equipment from norther Norway where they were preparing to take part in a Nato exercise. 
 
Then there is work ongoing ensuring supplies of Norwegian gas and electricity to the UK if the crisis worsens, and ensuring fish exports can still make it to UK supermarkets even if road borders are closed across Europe. 
 
And that all needs to be done with most staff out of the office. 
 
“It's quite interesting,” Wood said. “We're adjusting to new ways of doing things: we have all of our meetings by video conferencing and audio conferencing. We are keeping the embassy open. It's certainly open for business, and we're still doing the things we would be normally — talking to companies, talking to the ministries — we're just doing it differently.” 
 
Here's a tweet from the UK embassy describing the new work conditions.  
 
And here's Richard Wood reporting from quarantine last week. 
 

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