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COVID-19

Finland closes borders with Norway and Sweden due to Covid-19 variant

In an effort to shield itself from mutated Covid-19 variants, Finland is hunkering down and closing its borders to European arrivals, including its Nordic neighbours.

Finland closes borders with Norway and Sweden due to Covid-19 variant
File photo: AFP

The travel ban comes into effect Wednesday and will last until February 25th. It includes everyone arriving from Schengen countries.

“The new restrictions aim to reduce cross-border traffic in order to prevent the spread of the new Covid-19 variants,” the Finnish Ministry of the Interior announced in a press release.

“The epidemiological situation in Finland differs considerably from that in other Schengen countries. For this reason, the risk that travellers might spread the virus variants is significant in Finland,” it continued.

Only essential travel for work or other reasons, such as healthcare and freight transport, will be permitted.

Finland has so far only recorded 43,000 Covid-19 cases and 655 deaths, according to recent figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Norway has recorded 62,000 cases and 550 deaths, while Denmark has 197,000 cases and 2,000 deaths.

Sweden, meanwhile, has far surpassed its Nordic neighbours. The country has recorded 556,000 cases and over 11,000 coronavirus related deaths.

Swedish travel ban

The Swedish government announced its own travel ban on entry from Norway on Sunday, citing concerns about growing number of cases of the mutated virus variant in the region around Oslo.

READ ALSO: Sweden bans travel from Norway

“The ban applies from midnight until February 14th and can be extended if necessary,” Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said at a digital press conference on Sunday afternoon.

The Norwegian government last weekend introduced very strict restrictions in Oslo and 24 surrounding municipalities, due to an outbreak of the more contagious coronavirus variant B117, first identified in Britain.

135 cases of the variant had been identified in Norway as of Wednesday, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).

The variant already exists in Sweden. So far, however, only about 50 cases have been confirmed. The vast majority of them are linked to people who have been abroad, according to the Swedish Public Health Agency.

The government's decision on the Norway travel ban follows a recommendation from the Swedish Public Health Agency.

“It is an exceptional decision, not least considering the long land border between the countries,” Damberg said.

Sweden also extended its entry ban on people arriving from the United Kingdom and Denmark until February 14th.

At the same time, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs also reintroduced advice against unnecessary travel to Norway. That decision is valid until further notice.

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OSLO

EXPLAINED: What Oslo’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions means for you

Most, but not all, of the Norwegian capital's local Covid restrictions have been lifted to fall in line with national coronavirus rules, with new limits on guests at home and new guidance on face masks. Here’s a rundown of what the latest restrictions mean for you.

EXPLAINED: What Oslo's easing of Covid-19 restrictions means for you
Oslo's skyline. Photo by Oscar Daniel Rangel on Unsplash

Covid-19 measures in Oslo have been relaxed, with the majority of local restrictions being replaced with the looser national rules.

The new rules are a mix of steps three and four of the city’s five-step reopening plan and were introduced after the lowest infection numbers since last autumn were recorded in Oslo last week. 

Last week, 239 coronavirus infections were registered in the Norwegian capital. 

“The gradual, controlled opening of Oslo has been a success. Many of the rules that the people of Oslo have been expected to live with are now being removed, and we will essentially live with the same corona rules as people elsewhere in Norway,” Oslo’s Executive Mayor Raymond Johansen said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Not all local restrictions have been lifted however, meaning there are a mix of local and national rules in place. 

Below we’ll take a look at how the measures will affect everyday life in Oslo. 

At home 

The significant change here is that the ban on having more than ten people gathered at home has been lifted completely. Instead, this will be replaced with the national recommendation not to have more than guests. 

So while it will not be recommended to have more than ten guests, it’s not an enforceable rule anymore. 

READ MORE: What happens if you get caught breaking the Covid-19 rules in Norway

Shopping 

The local rules for shopping malls and stores have been tweaked too. There will no longer be any rule that makes face masks mandatory in shops. In addition to this, the official social distancing measure has been halved, to one metre, and the limit on the number of people allowed in shops has been scrapped. 

However, it’s worth noting that some shops may wish to keep some infection control measures in place if they feel it helps keep staff and shoppers safe, so it may be worth bringing a mask along on your next trip to the shops just in case.

Face masks  

The rule on mandatory face masks in public has also been given the axe, with two exceptions. 

You will still need one if you are taking public transport or taking a taxi. 

Masks will no longer be needed in shops, gyms, museums and galleries, indoor swimming pools, spa facilities and hotel facilities such as pools and dining areas. 

Although, some places may still wish to continue with a mask policy, so always remember to have one handy to be sure. 

Hospitality 

At indoor public places, such as restaurants, 50 people are allowed in venues without fixed assigned seats and 200 people at events with set, assigned seats.

Outdoors, 200 people can gather in cohorts of three, meaning a potential venue of 600 for places with the space and capacity and where there is fixed designated seating.

Soon, when the government changes its rules for events, up to 5,000 people will be able to gather when there is a seating plan in place, provided venues aren’t operating above 50 percent capacity.  

Up to 20 people can book a table at a restaurant or bar when indoors and 30 people outdoors. 

Alcohol will now be able to be served until midnight rather than 10 pm, and this rule will stay in place until July 4th. The cut-off point will remain in place even if national rules change and allow alcohol to be served later. 

Sports, leisure and entertainment 

Bingo halls, bowling alleys, arcades, playgrounds can now reopen.

Oslo’s numbers cap on the people allowed in gyms, museums, galleries, and indoor pools has been lifted. 

Now, 20 people can work out, go for a swim, or take in some art indoors, and up to 30 can do so outdoors. 

Schools 

Restrictions for schools and kindergartens haven’t changed, however. 

This means that schools and kindergartens in Oslo will remain at yellow level. 

Yellow level means that full class sizes are allowed, but mixing between classes must be kept to a minimum. Yellow level also means increased cleaning and hygiene measures are also in place. 

You can read more about yellow level here

Adult education and university are at red level, which means digital learning where possible and minimal contact between students and teachers. 

You can read more on red level here

Work

People are still required to work from home where possible until July 4th. 

Executive mayor Johansen has previously said the home office would be one of the last pandemic measures to go, meaning it could be here for a while longer. 

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