The Oslo offices of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Photo: Christian Irmer/Flcikr
“The signal sent has been of a 'zero vision': every infectious situation and every case is seen as a failure of the strategy,” the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) wrote in a risk report submitted to the Norwegian government on Sunday.
It warned that government rhetoric about 'knocking down' the virus risked prolonging the crisis by making it more difficult to slowly lift restrictions.
“This means that it could be challenging to 'turn off' the measures,” the institute said. “The inertia is great. People could demand a guarantee against infection if they are to resume participation in school or work.”
The day after the report was submitted, Norway's government overrode the recommendations, ignoring the call for it to begin communicating that while the lockdown has put a brake on the pandemic, it has not ended it.
Health Minister Bent Høie on Monday announced that the country had successfully “brought the infection under control”. “The measures have led to us getting a solid upper hand. We have to keep that,” he said.
In its report, the institute advised Norway's government that it should begin to start informing the population that tens of thousands of people would inevitably become sick.
“Risk communication about this epidemic must be strengthened and the population must be prepared for the epidemic to come, and that many will then become ill, and some seriously ill,” the report read.
“The response to the epidemic must be dynamic and, if necessary, geographically varied with the aim of having a set of measures that keep the epidemic within the capacity of the health service, but without any 'zero vision' for the spread of infection.”
The institute estimated that once the restrictions began to be lifted, the country would have to go through an epidemic which would mean up to 50 percent of the population getting ill at some point.
At peak, it predicted, as many as 36,000 would be ill, of whom 1,700 to 4,500 would need hospital treatment simultaneously, while 600 to 1,200 would need to be treated in intensive care at the same time.
Svenn-Erik Mamelund, a professor at OsloMet University who worked as a pandemic expert at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health at the time of the swine flu epidemic, said that he was happy that he no longer faced the political pressure his former colleagues were under.
“Initially, they didn't talk in their strategy about 'controlling' the disease, stopping it, killing it,” he said of Norway's politicians. “Somewhere along the way something happened. Politicians in the end make choices based on insecure information and lots of insecurity and at some point in time, they somehow stopped listening to some of the advice coming from the academics.”
Mamelund said that his government must realise that, sooner or later, it would need to allow the infections to spread more freely in the country.
“Although they talk about stopping or killing or suppressing the virus, I think they must have this idea on board at the same time that the idea is to let the Norwegian population build up immunity,” he said.