Norway authorities unsure when foreign travel will be able to resume

Norway’s travel restrictions are unlikely to be eased before everyone above the age of 45 has been vaccinated against Covid-19, a senior health official has said.

Earlier this month, the director of infection prevention and control at the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Geir Bukholm, said that travel to and from Norway could resume by the end of May.

Residents over the age of 45 years in Norway will have received their first dose of the Covid vaccine by that time, providing for a safe easing of the country’s travel restrictions, Bukholm said at the time.

“It will eventually 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.

In the most recent vaccination scenario published by NIPH on March 12th, the cautious estimate for completion of vaccination of over-45s is the beginning of June. Meanwhile, Norway has seen an increase in coronavirus infections described by health minster Bent Høie on Wednesday as a “third wave” of the virus.

READ ALSO: Norway in ‘third wave’ of coronavirus but no new national restrictions yet

Bukholm told ABC Nyheter on Wednesday that NIPH does not have an estimate for when travel may resume and that it is dependent upon the situation with the epidemic and progression of the vaccination programme as well as the intended travel destination.

“It was certainly not the intention in the interview in question to create hope that travel will be possible at the end of May,” Bukholm said in regard to his earlier comments, which were given to newspaper VG.

The senior NIPH official stressed that his message was that changes to travel restrictions would be justified once vaccination of people over 45 years old had been completed.

“It will not be until that point that the type of travel activity which could be permitted will be reviewed,” he said.

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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