Norwegian health chiefs mull new national Covid measures as cases rise

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and the Norwegian Directorate of Health will recommend the government adopt new national Covid-19 measures to combat rising infection rates. 

Pictured is a busy shopping street in Oslo.
Health authorities in Norway are working on new measures following a rise in infections. Pictured is a busy shopping street in Oslo. Photo by Nick Night on Unsplash

On Tuesday, a record 2,126 people tested positive for Covid-19 in Norway, the highest number of daily coronavirus cases recorded since the pandemic began. 

As a result, Norway’s health authorities are working on new recommendations on measures government could implement nationally. 

READ MORE: Norway records highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since pandemic began

“Now we see that the curves are heading upwards at full speed. It will, in a short time, affect planned activity in hospitals and many other patients. Therefore it is necessary to go through the measures and see if we can adjust it a bit,” Bjørn Guldvog, director of health at the Norwegian Directorate of Health, told public broadcaster NRK.

The health director emphasised to NRK that this wouldn’t necessarily mean a return to previous infection control rules but did say that measures such as random Covid testing at the border and more testing for unvaccinated healthcare workers with lots of patient contact. 

“For the health workers, this is not just about themselves, but it’s also about the patients they are responsible for,” Guldvog said. 

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) has said that it too is working on new Covid rules and advice for the government. 

“I can confirm we are working intensively with advising the government on future measures. Together, with the Norwegian Directorate of Public Health, we are making assessments of ways to make current measures work better as well as making assessments of new measures,” Camilla Stoltenberg, director of the NIPH, told newspaper VG.

One of the things the NIPH was looking at with the Norwegian Directorate of Health was the reintroduction of Covid-19 certificates for domestic use. 

Covid passports haven’t been required to attend large events in Norway since late September when the previous government lifted most Covid measures in Norway. 

Minister of Health Ingvild Kjerkol said that the government would act quickly on any recommendations it received from health authorities. 

“We have given an assignment to our agencies to continuously assess the need for regional and national measures. If we receive recommendations on this, we will quickly take a position on it,” Kjerkol told newswire NTB.  

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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.