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Norway announces tightening of national Covid-19 restrictions

Norway announced on Tuesday new Covid-19 measures which will be in place over the upcoming Easter holidays.

Norway announces tightening of national Covid-19 restrictions
Photo by Timelynx on Unsplash

A limit of two guests at private homes and national ban on businesses serving alcohol are among new coronavirus restrictions presented by the Norwegian government Tuesday evening.

The new restrictions come with Norway registering record numbers of new daily infections and hospitals treating as many Covid-19 inpatients as they did during the peak of the Spring 2020 wave of the virus.

The government is now following up on a promise made last week that new national restrictions would be introduced if infection rates did not improve.

Both the national Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) have advised the new restrictions, health minister Bent Høie said at Tuesday’s briefing.

“I know this will cause reactions in places that have barely had a case (of the virus) before,” Høie said, referencing parts of Norway with very low Covid-19 incidences which will now be encompassed by strict national rules.

MAPS: Which parts of Norway are free of coronavirus?

The measures are a combination of requirements and recommendations and will apply throughout the country during the Easter period.

A summary of the measures which were announced on Tuesday follows below. They come into effect on March 25th and will be reviewed on April 12th.

Restrictions

  • National ban on serving alcohol
  • Ban on organised indoor sports and leisure activities for adults, professional athletes exempt
  • Gyms closed but can be used for individual treatment or rehabilitation
  • Swimming pools closed but can be used for children’s swimming lessons or rehabilitation
  • Amusement parks, bingo halls and similar attractions closed
  • Employers must facilitate home working for staff wherever possible
  • Persons returning to Norway after non essential foreign travel must isolate in quarantine hotel for full 10 days, may not leave early on negative testing
  • Cancellation of all planned events requested, attendance limits and social distancing rules apply to any that take place.

Recommendations

  • One metre social distancing guideline increases to two metres
  • Maximum of two guests at private homes
  • People in high infection regions asked not to have any guests at all, or to stay overnight away from their own homes
  • Use face masks anywhere when not possible to maintain a two-metre social distance
  • Only use stores and supermarkets in the municipality in which you live
  • All non-essential travel should be avoided. Students traveling to family residences and households traveling together to stay at cabins are permitted
  • Online classes at universities, vocational colleges and folk high schools until April 12th

The Easter holidays in Norway normally see many people travel across the country on skiing trips, to visit family or friends or to stay at their country homes and cabins. Last year the government introduced a cabin ban to try and prevent the spread of coronavirus. 

The government had previously set out its guidelines for Easter 2021, but these are now superseded by Tuesday’s announcement.

On Monday, assistant health director at the Norwegian Directorate of Health Espen Rostrup Nakstad said that both the directorate and NIPH were looking closely at which measures would apply during Easter.

“We look at how many people can be together, when you should wear a face mask and when you should keep your distance. We consider all these things and where it may be relevant to tighten them,” he told TV2.

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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