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How and why is Norway easing coronavirus restrictions?

The mutated Covid-19 virus continues to cause concern in Norway, yet restrictions have been eased in Oslo and other hard-hit municipalities. Here’s what you need to know.

How and why is Norway easing coronavirus restrictions?
AFP

Since late January, the municipality of Nordre Follo, located half an hour drive south of Norway’s capital Oslo, has become the epicentre of an outbreak of the mutated Covid-19 variant first discovered in the UK.

A total of 73 cases of the variant has been discovered in the municipality, according to an overview by newspaper VG.

Oslo ranked in second place with 67 cases, followed by Ås municipality, which has recorded 15 cases.

The outbreak led the government to quickly impose strict restrictions in the region, including a lockdown in the so-called “Ring 1”-municipalities of Oslo, Nordre Follo and Ås.

But after two weeks, several of the restrictions are now being lifted. At the same time, data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) indicates that the spread of the mutated virus is beginning to slow. While 59, 45 and 47 new cases were discovered in the first three weeks of the year, only 25 cases have been reported in the week commencing on January 25th.

Flattening curve

The same trend can be spotted when looking at the number of Covid-19 cases overall. Data from Oslo Municipality shows a 50 percent reduction in the number of cases reported in the first and fourth weeks of the year, from over 1,113 to 580 cases.

For the country in general, the number of new cases has declined sharply in 2021. While close to 1,000 daily cases were reported one month ago, the average number of new daily cases has been around 250 in the last week.

Faster results

A new method for testing for mutated virus variants is also giving grounds for optimism. Currently it takes an additional two to three days to check for variants, but NIPH hopes a new technique will allow laboratories to drastically reduce this lag, reports Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

“We have given them all the information we have, and they have received the necessary materials,” head of the influenza section at NIPH, Karoline Bragstad told the broadcaster on Monday.

The method will not, however, be able to distinguish between mutated variants, which have also been discovered in South-Africa and Brazil.

“Our method identifies the three variants, but, as it stands now, will not be able to identify which variant it is,” Bragstad said. “The additional advances we are trying to implement, will be able to distinguish between the variants.”

‘Ring 1’ measures

The partial easing of restrictions marks a turning point for Oslo, where residents faced tough measures even before the lockdown in January.

“For the first time since November 16th, children in upper secondary school can participate in organised sports and other leisure activities indoors and outdoors,” said Oslo’s mayor Raymond Johansen at a press briefing Monday.

The updated restrictions, which will take effect from Wednesday February 3rd, also include “Ring 1”-municipalities Fordre Follo and Ås, and includes:

  • “Amber” level of the national traffic light model for safety and distancing protocols at schools, kindergartens and upper secondary schools. Universities to remain at ‘red’ level.
  • Children and young people under 20 may participate in organised leisure and sports
  • Libraries allowed to open
  • Shops can open, but malls and department stores must remain closed
  • Bars, cafes and restaurants can reopen, but the ban on serving alcohol will remain in place
  • Organised facilities allowed to operate under more ordinary rules for children up to upper secondary school age (fritidsklubbene). Indoor activities for older age groups will remain closed, however.

‘Ring 2’ measures

Restrictions will also ease in the surrounding “Ring 2”-municipalities (Asker, Bærum, Enebakk, Frogn, Indre Østfold, Lillestrøm, Lunner, Lørenskog, Moss, Nesodden, Nittedal, Rælingen, Vestby and Våler):

  • “Amber” level for safety and distancing protocols at schools, kindergartens and upper secondary schools. Universities should offer online teaching, but may have physical teaching if no other option is viable.
  • Sports and leisure activity is permitted for children and adults. Adults should avoid participating in indoor sports.
  • Malls and department stores must remain shut, but exceptions are in place for a range of shops such as pharmacies, opticians and pet shops.
  • Bars, cafes and restaurants can stay open, but the ban on serving alcohol will remain in place.
  • Most leisure centres, museums and entertainment venues will remain closed.

National measures

In addition, some municipalities will come out of the “Ring 2” restrictions. These are Aurskog-Høland, Drammen, Horten, Lier, Marker, Rakkestad, Råde and Skiptvet.

For these municipalities, the national measures, which are scheduled to last to mid-February, will apply:

  • “Amber” level for safety and distancing protocols at schools, kindergartens and upper secondary schools. Universities should offer online teaching when possible and avoid large lectures and seminars. University students in areas with low infection rates should be offered physical education once a week if possible.
  • People should avoid unnecessary foreign and domestic travel.
  • Everyone should reduce the number of people they are in contact with and avoid having more than five guests.
  • Sports and leisure activity is permitted for children and adults. Adults should avoid participating in indoor sports.
  • Cultural and religious events and activities should be cancelled if they contribute to people from different municipalities gathering together.
  • All private events and gatherings should be cancelled if possible.

Individual municipalities may impose stricter measures if they deem it necessary.

Useful links:

Government overview of restrictions in “Ring 1” and “Ring 2”-municipalities

Government overview of national restrictions

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TRAVEL NEWS

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. 

Testing

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.

Isolation

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. 

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