Steinar Holden, the top professor at Oslo University's economics department, leads the expert committee set up by Norway's Directorate of Health to carry out socio-economic evaluations of various infection control measures, which submitted its second report on May 22.
He told The Local that the high cost of lockdown measures meant they should not be reimposed if the level of infection begins to rise again in Norway.
“We recommend a much lighter approach,” he said. “We should start with measures at an individual level — which is what we have now — and if there’s a second wave, we should have measures in the local area where this occurs, and avoid measures at a national level if that is possible.”
The decision to close schools and kindergartens, limit gatherings to just five people, close down hairdressers and other one-on-one treatments, and impose home working, had been expensive he said.
“The measures that we enforced in on March 12th have had quite heavy consequences: we estimate the effect of all those at 27bn kronor (€2.5bn) a month,” he said.
According to the report, the best strategy is Norway's current approach, which is to use testing and contact tracing to isolate new outbreaks of infection as they occur, keeping Norway's reproduction number below 0.9, while limiting restrictions in wider society to individual good hygiene and some social distancing measures.
This so-called 'keep down' strategy, if it succeeds, would cost just 131bn kroner between June 2020 and 2023, when a vaccine should have been developed.
If it fails to keep the infection under control, however, and renewed lockdown measures are required to keep Norway's reproduction number at around 0.9, then the cost of a so-called 'unstable keep down' strategy would rise to a prohibitively expensive 386bn kroner over the period.
In this case, Holden said it might be better to switch to a 'brake strategy'.
“If it’s necessary to have very strict restrictions for a long time, then the costs are higher than letting the infection go through the population,” Holden told The Local. “Because that would be immensely costly.”
Such a Norwegian brake strategy, Holden said, was “perhaps less restrictive than the Swedish approach”, because Sweden is still aiming to reduce the reproduction number below 1, whereas Norway would aim only to keeping the reproduction number below 1.15.
The brake strategy would cost 386bn kroner — 234bn (20bn) less than a second lockdown — but while keeping the number hospitalised at a manageable number, would mean about 3,000 additional deaths.
According to the report, the brake strategy comes with its own risks, however.
If it fails to suppress the reproduction number to 1.15, the cost of an 'unstable brake' strategy could soar as high as 604bn, exceeding even the highest cost estimates of a lockdown, at 540bn.
In an absolute worst-case scenario where a brake strategy fails to suppress the virus, and it is then discovered that there infection does not lead to an increase in immunity within the population — which the committee judged unlikely — then the costs are higher still.
An 'unstable brake scenario with poor immunity' would cost Norway 620bn over the three years.