Could Norway impose stay-at-home orders to battle the Covid-19 pandemic?
Restrictions that would force people in Norway to remain at home are among the measures the government is considering to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. But the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) believes it may be a human rights violation.
A proposal allowing stay-at-home orders to be imposed was sent to the Norwegian parliament for consultation by the Ministry of Justice on Friday.
“We have so far luckily avoided the most dramatic measures in Norway, such as full lockdown for businesses and stay-at home-orders,” said the Minister of Justice and Public Security Monica Mæland in a press release the same day.
“I sincerely hope that we will escape this in Norway. However, in case it is needed, we must have the necessary tools,” she added.
The proposal would authorise the government to forbid people from spending time in public places in order to avoid transmission of the Covid-19 virus.
“A stay-at-home order is very intrusive, and would thus only be utilised in cases where all other measures are insufficient,” said Mæland.
“We are not there yet,” she emphasised.
The minister added: "It would be simplest to envision it for only parts of the country and only parts of the day."
As such, Norwegians in certain areas of the country could be forced to remain at home during certain parts of the day, possibly nighttime as has been in the case during the pandemic in France.
The government had before Christmas requested NIPH to assess the need for stay-at-home orders. The institute provided their answer on December 10th, but it was not made publicly available until Friday.
In the answer, NIPH strongly opposes confining people to their homes.
“If people maintain a good level of personal hygiene, few infected people walk about and contact frequency between people is reduced (because other measures have been implemented), there is not much added benefit to stay at home orders,” NIPH states in the letter, according to public broadcaster NRK.
“We assess the marginal benefits of a home confinement, even in its strictest form, to be small,” NIPH concludes.
The institute also label curfews an “unnecessarily harsh instrument.”
Stay-at-home orders can also have adverse effects on Norwegians’ trust in government, which could in turn undermine the efforts to combat the virus, warns NIPH.
In addition, the health authority questions the legality of such a policy, which NIPH thinks could violate human rights such as freedom of movement and respect for private life.
The institute stresses that because it does not believe home confinement to be strictly necessary to combat Covid-19, it may be illegal to implement measures that infringe on these rights.
“All in all, we believe stay-at-home orders used as a way of restricting Covid-19 transmission may challenge human rights,” NIPH concludes.