During a press briefing on Tuesday, health minister Bent Høie warned that a recent rise of infections may be the beginning of a third wave of Covid-19 in Norway.
Infections rose throughout February with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) reporting that the reproduction number for the virus is currently at 1.3. As such, 10 people infected with the virus are currently infecting 13 others, causing the epidemic to spread.
Oslo and the neighbouring Viken region has seen a tightening of restrictions, accompanied by ramped-up testing, following the recent winter holiday (vinterferie), when many Norwegians are given annual leave and travel domestically to go skiing or stay at cabins.
Last week saw 2,936 new cases of Covid-19 according to NIPH’s weekly report. The national infection rate of 92 infections per 100,000 inhabitants for the last two weeks is a 45 percent increase on the two-weekly rate given in the preceding report.
There has also been an increase in transmission of the more contagious mutant viruses. 1,091 cases of the variant known as B117, first detected in the UK; and 110 cases of the B1531 variant, first identified in South Africa, have been confirmed in Norway since December last year.
But the last two weeks saw 320 cases of B117 confirmed using genome sequencing and a further 1,217 “likely” cases of the variant detected with PCR testing, according to NIPH’s report.
Despite this, there is of cause for optimism in Norway. According to NIPH´s infection control director, Geir Bukholm, it may be possible to escape the cooler climates of Northern Europe and travel abroad again as early as May.
“Eventually the borders will open, and you will get 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 to newspaper VG.
When asked by national broadcaster NRK about the prospects for this year’s summer holidays Camilla Stoltenberg, director general of NIPH, said:
“We are quite optimistic, but we should also point out that there are still uncertainties. This applies both in terms of vaccine deliveries, the development of the pandemic and especially how we deal with new virus variants.”
Although only around three percent of Norway’s population have been vaccinated so far, NIPH believes that the vaccination program will soon pick up the pace.
The health authority said Norway will soon start to receive much larger deliveries of vaccines, particularly in May and June. This means that they will be able to vaccinate many more people than they are currently. NIPH has also said that it will consider extending the interval between the first and second dose of the mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer vaccine, so that people will receive the first dose earlier.
“Currently there is a three-week interval for the Pfizer vaccine. By extending it we will be able to give more people the protection of the first dose alone before they have to have the second vaccine,” Stoltenberg told NRK.
Thanks to the availability of more data Stoltenberg, also said that NIPH will begin to look into the possibility of administering the AstraZeneca Vaccine to people over 65. Initially there was not enough data to suggest that the company’s vaccine was effective enough to be used for those in risk groups and over the age of 65.
Although there might be a light appearing at the end of the tunnel it is worth bearing in mind that nothing is set in stone and things can change quickly in a pandemic.
“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 (restrictions) too early and allow the epidemic to run wild, we’ll get a lot of sick people in the group down to 45 years,” Bukholm told VG earlier this week.