Mutated variants of the coronavirus may make it difficult for schools and kindergartens to stay open, Assistant Director Espen Rostrup Nakstad at the Norwegian Directorate of Health told broadcaster NRK.
“March and April could be the hardest in the whole pandemic because of the risk of a third wave with a mutated virus,” Nakstad told the broadcaster.
Authorities in Norway are closely following developments in neighbouring Denmark and Sweden, where more infectious variants are adding quickly, he said.
The B117 variant, first detected in the United Kingdom, now constitutes around half of new cases in Denmark, according to recent data from health authorities in from the country, which has maintained falling hospitalisation numbers and has a national lockdown in place.
“If we follow the development in Denmark, more infectious virus variants will be in the majority in around a month. That will significantly affect the reproduction rate so that we will see more people getting infected than before,” Nakstad said to NRK.
“That will make it significantly harder to control infection spread in Norway without significantly tightening restrictions,” he added.
But the emergence of mutations could make it difficult to maintain school openings, according to Nakstad.
“A classroom can quickly become a place where not just 1-2 students get infected with the old variant, but a whole class quickly gets infected, if the new variant spreads,” he said.
A number of outbreaks at Oslo schools and kindergartens are suspected to be linked to mutated variants, NRK reports.
The largest kindergarten in Norway – Oslo’s Margarinfabrikken – is currently closed due to an outbreak.
While Norway is vaccination its population, the vaccination programme is not likely to prevent the spread of infections in the immediate months, according to Nakstad.
“The problem the next two months is that a quite small part of the population has been vaccinated, and those who have been vaccinated are in groups which do contribute significantly to spreading infections,” the Directorate of Health Assistant Director said to NRK.
“The consequence of increased infections at the current time could therefore contribute to many new hospitalisations and deaths in the age group up to 75 years,” he added.