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VACCINE

Norway extends pause of AstraZeneca vaccine until April 15th

Norway on Friday extended a suspension of the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine until April 15th, with health officials saying they needed more time to investigate a potential link to severe blood clotting.

Norway extends pause of AstraZeneca vaccine until April 15th
Photo: Fred TANNEAU / AFP

“It is a difficult but correct decision to extend the pause for the AstraZeneca vaccine. We believe it is necessary to carry out more investigations into these cases,” Geir Bukholm, Director of the Division of Infection Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), said in a statement.

The vaccine was originally suspended on March 11th following reports of suspected serious side effects. 

In the Nordic country, several healthcare workers under the age of 55 have suffered symptoms including blood clots, bleeding and a drop in blood platelets after receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

Four deaths have been reported, with three from combinations of these complications and one from a brain haemorrhage.

No link has been established with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s vaccine, although a Norwegian medical team said it saw these rare but serious cases as the result of a “powerful immune response” triggered by the serum.

EU drugs regulator EMA last week said the vaccine was “safe and effective” and not linked to a higher risk of blood clots, but could not “rule out definitively” its role in the rare clotting disorder.

The World Health Organization has also urged countries to continue using the vaccine, arguing the benefits outweigh any potential risks.

READ ALSO: Norwegian experts conclude ‘strong immune response’ from AstraZeneca vaccine linked to blood clots

“The most important thing is to determine whether there is a causal link between the vaccination and these very serious side effects, as we suspect,” NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg told public broadcaster NRK radio.

The deputy leader of the Norwegian Nurses Association (Sykepleierforbundet), Kai Øivind Brenden, told broadcaster NRK that he is satisfied that the NIPH has decided to extend the suspension.

“We think it is a wise decision, as long as there is so much uncertainty, we think it is wise (to take the time) to make the necessary risk assessments,” Brenden said. 

Among the first to suspend AstraZeneca’s vaccine, the Nordic countries are now adopting different strategies.

While Denmark on Thursday announced a three-week extension of the pause to allow time for a closer look at possible side effects of the vaccine, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are restarting their rollouts, although only for older people.

In a statement released on its website, NIPH said it wanted to get more information surrounding the following questions:

  • Is there an increased incidence of the combination of blood clots, bleeding and low platelet counts among those who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to those that haven’t?
  • If so, what is the reason for such a connection?
  • Are there any factors in the patients that may have contributed to the condition such as age, gender, or other underlying diseases/conditions?

Prime Minister Erna Solberg told news wire NTB that she believes that valuable information can be gained from the United Kingdom in regard to the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The UK is the country that has used AstraZeneca the most in the largest groups and must have a basis to be able to say something about this,” Solberg said. 

So far 120,000 people in Norway have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

The suspension is expected to delay the Norwegian vaccination programme by one to two weeks, NIPH said, and people who have already received a first dose of the vaccine would not be offered a second injection at this stage.

The health authority said that data from United Kingdom suggested that the first does should provide good protection against a severe disease course.

In the NIPH’s best case scenario plan it had hoped to have everyone over the age vaccinated by June. 

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OSLO

EXPLAINED: What Oslo’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions means for you

Most, but not all, of the Norwegian capital's local Covid restrictions have been lifted to fall in line with national coronavirus rules, with new limits on guests at home and new guidance on face masks. Here’s a rundown of what the latest restrictions mean for you.

EXPLAINED: What Oslo's easing of Covid-19 restrictions means for you
Oslo's skyline. Photo by Oscar Daniel Rangel on Unsplash

Covid-19 measures in Oslo have been relaxed, with the majority of local restrictions being replaced with the looser national rules.

The new rules are a mix of steps three and four of the city’s five-step reopening plan and were introduced after the lowest infection numbers since last autumn were recorded in Oslo last week. 

Last week, 239 coronavirus infections were registered in the Norwegian capital. 

“The gradual, controlled opening of Oslo has been a success. Many of the rules that the people of Oslo have been expected to live with are now being removed, and we will essentially live with the same corona rules as people elsewhere in Norway,” Oslo’s Executive Mayor Raymond Johansen said at a press conference on Tuesday.

Not all local restrictions have been lifted however, meaning there are a mix of local and national rules in place. 

Below we’ll take a look at how the measures will affect everyday life in Oslo. 

At home 

The significant change here is that the ban on having more than ten people gathered at home has been lifted completely. Instead, this will be replaced with the national recommendation not to have more than guests. 

So while it will not be recommended to have more than ten guests, it’s not an enforceable rule anymore. 

READ MORE: What happens if you get caught breaking the Covid-19 rules in Norway

Shopping 

The local rules for shopping malls and stores have been tweaked too. There will no longer be any rule that makes face masks mandatory in shops. In addition to this, the official social distancing measure has been halved, to one metre, and the limit on the number of people allowed in shops has been scrapped. 

However, it’s worth noting that some shops may wish to keep some infection control measures in place if they feel it helps keep staff and shoppers safe, so it may be worth bringing a mask along on your next trip to the shops just in case.

Face masks  

The rule on mandatory face masks in public has also been given the axe, with two exceptions. 

You will still need one if you are taking public transport or taking a taxi. 

Masks will no longer be needed in shops, gyms, museums and galleries, indoor swimming pools, spa facilities and hotel facilities such as pools and dining areas. 

Although, some places may still wish to continue with a mask policy, so always remember to have one handy to be sure. 

Hospitality 

At indoor public places, such as restaurants, 50 people are allowed in venues without fixed assigned seats and 200 people at events with set, assigned seats.

Outdoors, 200 people can gather in cohorts of three, meaning a potential venue of 600 for places with the space and capacity and where there is fixed designated seating.

Soon, when the government changes its rules for events, up to 5,000 people will be able to gather when there is a seating plan in place, provided venues aren’t operating above 50 percent capacity.  

Up to 20 people can book a table at a restaurant or bar when indoors and 30 people outdoors. 

Alcohol will now be able to be served until midnight rather than 10 pm, and this rule will stay in place until July 4th. The cut-off point will remain in place even if national rules change and allow alcohol to be served later. 

Sports, leisure and entertainment 

Bingo halls, bowling alleys, arcades, playgrounds can now reopen.

Oslo’s numbers cap on the people allowed in gyms, museums, galleries, and indoor pools has been lifted. 

Now, 20 people can work out, go for a swim, or take in some art indoors, and up to 30 can do so outdoors. 

Schools 

Restrictions for schools and kindergartens haven’t changed, however. 

This means that schools and kindergartens in Oslo will remain at yellow level. 

Yellow level means that full class sizes are allowed, but mixing between classes must be kept to a minimum. Yellow level also means increased cleaning and hygiene measures are also in place. 

You can read more about yellow level here

Adult education and university are at red level, which means digital learning where possible and minimal contact between students and teachers. 

You can read more on red level here

Work

People are still required to work from home where possible until July 4th. 

Executive mayor Johansen has previously said the home office would be one of the last pandemic measures to go, meaning it could be here for a while longer. 

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