Down the drain: Why Norway’s ban on alcohol sales is so controversial

As Norway extends its controversial ban on serving alcohol, pubs and restaurants are pouring their out-of-date stock down the drain which is providing an unexpected challenge for the sewage system.

Down the drain: Why Norway's ban on alcohol sales is so controversial
Photo: Proriat hospitality on Unsplash

“Today we’ve poured out beer for 150,000 to 200,000 Norwegian kroner,” Karl Henning Svendsen, head of Noho Norway, which runs several pubs and restaurants in Oslo, told newspaper E24.

“Just in stock alone I’ve lost about six million kroner,” he added. “The next two weeks I’ll have to toss beer worth two to three million kroner.”

Svendsen and scores of other pub and restaurant owners are literally having to pour beer down the drain because of one of the country’s most controversial restrictions to limit the Covid-19 pandemic in the country.

On Monday Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg Monday announced the easing of some of the strict national measures imposed to curb the transmission of Covid-19 after the festive season.

But the national ban against serving alcohol in pubs and restaurants, however, will stay in place. Bars and restaurants can legally open in Norway, but they cannot serve alcohol. As a result many have simply closed their doors.

“We know that employees in the industry disproportionately exposed to Covid-19,” the PM said during a parliamentary briefing.


With the sale of alcohol banned much of it ends up in the public sewage system, and some of it is poured directly in the venues’ toilets.

In order to avoid a build-up of froth, venues in Norway are now barred from pouring away more than 1,000 litres of beer day.

Different recommendations

The ban is a controversial one.

And just before the announcement of the continued ban on Monday afternoon, Norwegian media reported that the two public health institutions whose advice guide public policy, were recommending different policies.

While the Norwegian Directorate of Health Monday recommended extending the ban for at least two weeks, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) advised lifting it, reported newspaper VG.

The two conflicting pieces of advice were presented to the government last week.

“NIPH recommends lifting the ban against serving alcohol,” it states, before adding, “The Norwegian Directorate of Health thinks the rate of transmission is difficult to assess, and we’re concerned that serving alcohol will increase mobility and social contact between people.”



Existential threat


The government’s adherence to the latter recommendation is a disaster for Norway’s venues and restaurants, warned the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO), Norway’s largest organisation for employers.

“This is a ban that threatens the basis of survival for places that serve food and drink and associated businesses across the country,” said the Director General Ole Erik Almlid in a press release.

The organisation points out that the number of Covid-19 cases differs significantly in different areas of Norway so restrictions should be based on local infection rates.

“It’s important to implement measures adjusted to the level of cases. That means implementing less imposing measures in areas with little or no Covid-19,” he said.

Norway has so far reported nearly 60,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. But 279 of Norway’s 356 municipalities (80 percent) have reported less than 100 Covid-19 infections during the entire pandemic, according to the NIPH.

Some 133 municipalities have reported ten or less cases.

With nearly 16,000 cases, Oslo, meanwhile, accounts for over a quarter of all Covid-19 cases in Norway. Trailing behind is Bergen, with 4,000 cases, about 7 percent of the total.

Local measures

Even if the national restrictions were lifted, hard-hit regions and cities would be able to impose their own restrictions. Oslo, for example, has had a ban on serving alcohol in place since early November.

Some 844 bars and restaurants decided to close due to the ban, about one third, according to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv.

Around ten venues filed for bankruptcy, according to Director of Private Enterprise Gunnhild Hagen in Oslo Municipality.

Thousands of litres flushed

And while the number of new infections are stabilising and restrictions are being lifted, Oslo’s Governing Mayor Raymond Johansen Monday warned that there is nothing warranting lifting the Oslo-restrictions.

“The number of new cases during the start of the year are very high,” he Johansen said, reported newspaper Aftenposten.

“People in anyway need to prepare for the strict measures to continue in the weeks ahead,” he added.

This is bad news for bars and restaurants in Oslo, who have no choice but to continue purging their stock.

Karl-Henning Svendsen at Noho Norway said the alcohol-ban came as a surprise for the industry in November, which had already stocked up on beer to serve guests during the festive season. Tens of thousands of litres is now being funnelled directly into the toilet.

“We received no prior notification,” he told E24.


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Tourists: What to do if you catch Covid-19 in Norway 

All Covid travel rules for Norway have been completely lifted for a while now- but what happens if you test positive or start to develop Covid symptoms while you are here?

Tourists: What to do if you catch Covid-19 in Norway 

Covid travel rules in Norway have been lifted for a while, and all but a few recommendations remain domestically. This is a far cry from a similar time last year when Norway had very strict travel rules in place. 


Close contacts of Covid infected are not required to get a test, meaning if you have been in contact with somebody with Covid-19, you will not be required to get tested under the official rules. 

However, if you wish to take a test, you can buy self-tests at supermarkets and pharmacies. You can also order Covid-19 tests from Norwegian municipalities if you want a PCR test. You can find the contact information for every municipality in Norway here. Facemasks are also widely available in shops and pharmacies. 

Several private providers, such as Volvat and Dr Dropin, offer antigen and PCR tests with results within 24 hours. However, municipality tests can take longer to deliver results. If you need a test to travel home, you will not be able to get one from a local authority. These tests are only for those with symptoms of Covid-19.  

Home tests will not cost more than 60 kroner from supermarkets, while a municipality test will be free. However, private providers’ tests are pricier, costing between 1,000 and 1,500 kroner at most private clinics.


There are also no specific rules in regards to isolation. 

“If you have respiratory symptoms, you should stay at home until you feel well. If you feel well, you can live as normal,” Helsenorge advises on its websiteMeaning that if you are asymptomatic, you aren’t advised to isolate. 

Other symptoms which you may need to isolate with include headache and blocked nose and influenza-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat and feeling unwell. 

The isolation information means you will need to liaise with the hotel or accommodation you are staying at. 

Travellers are advised to check what their insurance covers before taking out a policy to avoid being left out of pocket if they have to pay for new flights or an extended stay because they are isolating. 

If you test positive, you are also advised to steer clear of those in risk groups. 

Self-isolation advice applies regardless of vaccination status or previous infection. 

What else should I know? 

If your symptoms get worse, the best course of practice would be to contact a standard GP.

You can also contact the out-of-hours urgent care number on 116 117. This will put you through to the nearest urgent care centre to you. Visitors can also call for an ambulance on 113, but this is only advisable in life-threatening situations, such as a stroke or cardiac arrest.

In addition to checking your insurance policy, you also will need to check the rules of the country you are returning to or travelling through in case you may need a test to enter. 

If you have an EHIC card and receive medical care after testing positive for Covid-19, you will only be required to pay the same subsidised fees Norwegians do for healthcare. Despite this, European citizens are also advised to take out travel insurance. 

Non-European visitors are entitled to urgent medical care but will need to pay the full cost with no prospect of reimbursement if they don’t have health insurance.