Could Norway further tighten travel restrictions?

Although Norway de facto closed its borders in January, justice minister Monica Mæland believes Norwegians are still travelling too much and says the government could consider even tighter rules.

Could Norway further tighten travel restrictions?
File photo: Christof STACHE / AFP

Many people are still many flying in and out of Norway despite advice to avoid travel, Mæland said in an interview with broadcaster NRK.

Since January 29th, when the latest measures were introduced, over 40,000 people have travelled abroad in the five weeks since the border closed, according to figures obtained by NRK from airport operator Avinor.

“I think the numbers are high, given how strict (restrictions) are. We also see that the majority of those who travel in and out are people who live in Norway,” Mæland said.

She is urging people not to travel out of the country for leisure and is asking people to think about whether any planned trips out of the country are necessary at the current time.

Travelling to visit and take care of sick relatives, for example, is considered a necessary reason to travel according to the justice minister.

Under current restrictions, everyone who arrives in Norway via air travel is tested with a rapid Covid-19 test, which takes between 15-20 minutes to deliver a result.  

They will then have to quarantine for 10 days either at home or a quarantine hotel.

READ ALSO: Norway tightens Covid-19 quarantine rules for incoming travel

Just under one percent of the rapid tests at airports are positive, Peder Anker, medical manager at Oslo’s Gardermoen airport, told NRK.

Passengers are also required to complete a registration form prior to crossing the border, which has to be presented to border control.

Foreign travelers must also present a negative test taken less than 24 hours before entry.

Those who already live in Norway, citizens, children under 12 and people who have had Covid-19 in the previous 6 months (confirmed with a valid lab test), or those who travel between Sweden or Finland regularly for work or study, and health care workers are exempt.

Those arriving from Great Britain, South Africa, Ireland, Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Brazil are subject to additional rules, such as taking a more thorough Covid test. 

This, however, could change under new rules where everyone would have to stay at a quarantine hotel regardless of whether they are a resident or a citizen.

“To ensure that the quarantine is maintained, we can do so by ensuring that everyone who has traveled and defied the travel advice, must go to a quarantine hotel. This is something we consider essential to be completely confident that quarantine is properly carried out”, Mæland said.

A requirement for all quarantine to take place at hotels could potentially be brought in to ensure quarantine is properly observed, according to that suggestion.

That would represent a draw back on a previous decision by Norwegian authorities to ease rules on where entry quarantine can be observed.

In December, the government said that travellers arriving in Norway would have the option of spending 10-day quarantine period at alternative locations to the country’s ‘quarantine hotels’, if they are able to secure suitable accommodation

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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