Norway public health chief 'informed only one hour before lockdown'

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Norway public health chief 'informed only one hour before lockdown'
Camilla Stoltenberg, Director General of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, believes less far-going measures would have been sufficient. Photo: Nordforsk/Flickr

The head of the Norwegian agency with oversight of infectious diseases was informed of the decision to close down kindergartens and schools just an hour before she took part in the press conference where it was announced.


Camilla Stoltenberg, head of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, was in the taxi on the way to the announcement shortly before 1pm on March 12th, when one of her deputies rung her and informed her that health ministry had decided on the closures,  Norway's VG newspaper has reported in a reconstruction of events leading to Norway's lockdown. 
The closures went against the recommendations of her agency. 
"I think it is wrong to decide on measures without the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, which is the state's institute for infection prevention, being able to provide input on the specific individual measures and on the comprehensive package of measures," Stoltenberg complained to the newspaper on Monday. 
According to the newspaper, the decision of what measures to include in Norway's lockdown had been taken at 7.45am that morning at a meeting between Norway's health minister, Bent Høie, and Bjørn Guldvog, head of the Directorate of Health.  
Stoltenberg had been invited, but had failed to make the meeting, as she had been informed of it just an hour before it happened  by a text message Guldvog sent at 6.45am, and her taxi had not showed up. 
The text message also downplayed the meeting's momentous significance, describing it only as "a little meeting" 
to "prepare discussion on what we should do today". 


At the meeting both Høie and Guldvog independently proposed closing schools and kindergartens, influenced heavily by the fact that Denmark had announced the same decision the previous day.
"The fact that they thought the same thing I did at the same time gave me even more faith that it was right to do this then," Guldvog told VG. 
Later that day, when Stoltenberg's deputy Geir Bukholm attended another meeting and was informed of the plans, he was critical. 
"We advised against the closure of primary schools and kindergartens, Bukholm told VG. "We saw no reason to do so. Both because we lacked knowledge of whether it was effective, and that we then thought that children played a small role in the spread of infection. In addition, it would have major societal consequences." 
Høie and Guldvog, however, told VG that they do not recall being advised not to close schools and kindergartens. "We did not get that direct advice," Høie told VG. 
Stoltenberg was not the only person kept out of the loop.
Norway's deputy prime minister at the time, Trine Skei Grande, only learned of the decision to close schools and kindergartens when it was announced at the press conference. 


Skei Grande, who was minister of education at the time, said that not informing her ministry had made the closures more chaotic than they needed to be. 
"The fact that we were not involved in the design of the decision had a comical impact," she said. 
"Bent Høie said that kindergartens, schools, colleges and universities were closed, and that this happened at 6pm. Then the University of Oslo had to send out a mail telling people had to hurry up and pick up their things, because the university would be closed. It might have been a more precise if we had been involved in the design." 
Even Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg only learned of the decision at around 8.25am, four hours before the press conference. 


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