Travel to and from Norway could resume ‘near the end of May’

A senior official from the Norwegian Directorate of Public Health (NIPH) has expressed optimism over the return of travel before the end of the spring.

Residents over the age of 45 years in Norway will have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine by May, according to the current schedule for vaccination.

That would provide for a safe easing of the country’s travel restrictions, Geir Bukholm, director of infection control with the health authority, told newspaper VG.

“I would assume that we can begin to ease (restrictions) when risk groups have been vaccinated,” Bukholm told the newspaper.

That means at least one dose being given to everyone over the age of 45, a stage which will have been reached during May, VG writes.

“It will gradually be possible to open the borders and have normal tourist traffic. And everything related to social meetings. That could happen at the end of May, although I cannot be completely sure about it,” Bukholm said.

Norway’s vaccination programme is currently progressing relatively slowly, although the country has distributed roughly the same number of vaccines per hundred inhabitants as most EU countries, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The Nordic country is a participant in the EU’s procurement scheme for Covid-19 vaccines.

UPDATE: Norway agrees to regional Covid-19 vaccine prioritisation in change of strategy

“We will get a lot of supplies in May and June. It is an almost exponential increase. From having vaccinated a relatively small proportion, we’ll have vaccinated almost everyone, in the space of two months,” Bukholm said, adding that it “looks like (vaccine suppliers) Pfizer and AstraZeneca are delivering as planned”.

The NIPH is currently working with the Norwegian Directorate of Health on a plan for reopening, which is expected to be handed to the government later this month.

Optimism about a timescale for reopening should be tempered by the possibilities of potential delays related to various factors, Bukholm also noted.

“There are many factors we don’t have control of: we don’t know the effect of virus variants going forward, for example. If we relax too early and allow the epidemic to run wild, we’ll get a lot of sick people in the group down to 45 years,” he said.

Three scenarios: When will life return to normal in Norway?

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany