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Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?

A report from a Norwegian commission appointed to assess the country’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic has concluded that while the government handled the situation well, it was poorly prepared for the crisis.

Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?
Photo by Eirik Skarstein on Unsplash

The 450-page report was submitted to Prime Minister Erna Solberg by medical professor Stener Kvinnsland, who led the review.

The commission found that, generally, Norway had handled the pandemic well compared to the rest of Europe. That was in part due to citizens taking infection control measures on board.

“After a year of pandemic, Norway is among the countries in Europe with the lowest mortality and lowest economic impact. The authorities could not have succeeded if the population had not supported the infection control measures;” the report states.

However, the commission’s report also outlined that Norway did not properly prepare itself for the pandemic.

“The authorities knew that a pandemic was the most likely national crisis to have the most negative consequences. Nevertheless, they were not prepared when the extensive and serious Covid-19 pandemic came,” it said.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg said during an interview with the commission, conducted as part of its work, that the government did not have an infection control strategy of its own.

“We had a ‘we have to deal with a difficult situation’ strategy. We had to do everything we could to gain control and get the infection down. It was really only at the end of March (2020) that we found the more long-term strategy,” she told the commission.

Low stocks of personal protective equipment were another source of criticism in the report.

“The government knew that it would in all probability be difficult to obtain infection control equipment in the event of a pandemic. Nevertheless, the warehouses were almost empty,” Kvinnsland said at a press conference.

Norwegian health authorities were praised for the swiftness with which they implemented infection control measures. But the commission said that the decision should have been formally made by the government, rather than the Norwegian Directorate of Health.

READ MORE: Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic 

The implementation of restrictions in March 2020 was critiqued for failing to ensure that “infection control measures were in line with the constitution and human rights.”

One-fifth of municipalities in Norway lacked a functioning plan in the event of a pandemic according to the report, and the government did not provide enough support to municipalities.

“We believe that government paid too little attention to the municipalities. The municipalities were given much larger tasks than they could have prepared for,” Kvinnsland said.

The report was also critical of Norway’s lack of a plan for dealing with imported infections in autumn 2020.

“The government lacked a plan to deal with imported infections when there was a new wave of infections in Europe in the autumn of 2020,” the report found.

“When the government eased infection control measures towards the summer of 2020, they made many assessments individually. The government did not consider the sum of the reliefs and it had no plan to deal with increasing cross-border infection,” it added.

The report also concluded that Norway allowed itself to be too easily lobbied by business when deciding to ease border restrictions last summer.

The division of roles in handling aspects of the pandemic was scrutinised in the report. Here, the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Health and Care Services, The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health were unclear.

The prime minister has asked the commission to continue its work.

“We are not done with the pandemic yet. Therefore, it is natural that the commission submits a final report. There will also be topics where the learning points can only be drawn later,” Solberg said.  

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TRAVEL

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

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