European authority deems Norwegian Covid-19 entry restrictions too severe
A European monitoring authority said Thursday that Norway had gone too far in its movement restrictions to curb the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the Nordic country is not a member of the EU, it is part of the European Economic Area (EEA), which includes the EU and the member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) -- except Switzerland -- and in which the free movement of people is the general rule.
The EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), which monitors compliance among EEA members, said Thursday it believed the movement restrictions adopted by Norway in response to the pandemic had been excessive.
"EEA States are permitted to restrict the movement of EEA nationals in their efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic," the ESA said in a statement.
"But such restrictions must not go beyond what is necessary, must be consistent, and must not be discriminatory," it added.
On January 29, Norway closed its borders to most travellers, with rare exceptions.
The rules have since been relaxed, but up until last week foreigners who were legal residents in the country were blocked from entry unless they were on a national registry.
"ESA has in recent months taken note of a substantial number of people negatively affected by the Norwegian entry restrictions," the authority said.
"These include people being restricted from accessing their homes, blocked from taking up new jobs or returning to their existing work, or prevented from seeing their partners and family members," it added.
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The authority has sent a letter of formal notice to Norway, the first step in an infringement procedure against EEA members.
The Norwegian government now has six weeks to state its case, before the authority makes its final ruling.
"Our strict entry rules are a major reason why, throughout the pandemic, we have had a lower level of infection than most other countries in the world,"
Justice Minister Monica Maeland told newspaper Dagbladet.
"But the rules must of course be in line with our legal obligations under the EEA," Maeland added.
Since the start of the pandemic, the country of 5.4 million people has recorded fewer than 124,000 cases of Covid-19, and 783 associated deaths.