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Norway PM Solberg rules out Swedish exemption to coronavirus border rules

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has told her Swedish counterpart Stefan Löfven that Norway will not fully open its border with its Scandinavian neighbour.

Norway PM Solberg rules out Swedish exemption to coronavirus border rules
Norway's PM Erna Solberg says she will not make any exceptions to her country's coronavirus travel restrictions for neighbouring Sweden. Photo: AFP

Solberg made Norway’s position clear during a video meeting between the two Nordic government leaders on Monday, news wire NTB reports.

“It is clear that the Swedes would have like us to be more liberal on the question of borders,” Solberg told NTB.

“But we have a system in place that we are very consistent on, and we are going to continue with that,” she added.

After closing its borders at the outset of the pandemic, Norway lifted travel restrictions with most EEA and Schengen area countries on July 15th, but rising infections in Europe have resulted in a gradual re-tightening of guidelines and rules.

Arrivals from the vast majority of countries in Europe are now required to observe a 10-day quarantine period on arrival in Norway.

For fellow Nordic countries, Norway's health authorities judge on a regional basis, so some Swedish regions can be exempted from quarantine while others remain encompassed by it.

People from Blekinge, Gotland, Kalmar, Norrboten, Södermanland, Värmland, Västernorrland and Åland are currently not required to quarantine on arrival in Norway. People from all other Swedish regions must quarantine. The regional restrictions are updated weekly.

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Norway has a number of circumstances which may exempt you from quarantine rules, include crossing borders between Sweden and Norway for work reasons. The specific details of these exemptions can be complex. If you think you might be encompassed, you can check in more detail on the Helsenorge (Health Norway) website here.

Solberg said on Monday that she recognised the concerns of politicians in Sweden over Norway’s coronavirus travel restrictions.

“I can see the difficulties for them with jobs near the border which have been dependent on Norwegian border shopping,” she said to NTB.

“But we are more concerned with the virus situation,” she added.

Norway enforces its quarantine requirement on EU, EEA and Schengen countries or Nordic regions if the rate of new coronavirus infections is more than 20 cases per 100,000 people for the last two weeks.

“We have seen that we have had infections close to the Swedish border, not least in Indre Østfold (Municipality), which can be traced to some infections being brought over the border,” Solberg said.

She also pointed out that the regionalised approach within the Nordic countries has allowed more open travel from some parts of Sweden even when the country as a whole would qualify for quarantine.

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany

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