How and why is Norway easing coronavirus restrictions?

How and why is Norway easing coronavirus restrictions?
AFP
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.

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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