How could Norway’s Covid-19 rules change this week?

Norway's government will later this week assess current Covid-19 restrictions, with the PM and ministers already hinting at where adjustments could be made.

Pictured is Aker Brygge in Oslo, Norway.
The government is set to take a look at the current Covid rules later this week. Pictured is Aker Brygge in Oslo. Photo by Nick Night on Unsplash

Norway’s Covid measures, introduced in mid-December and including a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol, people being asked to work from home and red level in high schools, could be tweaked by Friday, January 14th.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said that that the government has a balancing act to maintain between stopping the healthcare system from being overrun by a wave of infection and trying to make sure measures don’t impact day to day life. 

“We have to have control throughout this wave of infection that we are expecting,” Store said to public broadcaster NRK on Monday.

“At the same time as this, we (will) try to ease restrictions as much as possible for people out there, especially children and young people,” he added.

Two areas the government could tweak are the nationwide alcohol ban and high schools being placed at the red level, which means partial home-schooling for students.

Education state secretary Hallvard Hølleland said that the government intends to move high schools away from red level while making the yellow level, which sees measures such as smaller class sizes, more fit for purpose.

“We want to change traffic lights in high school from red to yellow. There must be a yellow level that makes it possible for students to be present a lot, at the same time as we ensure infection control,” Hølleland told NRK on Monday.

According to the public broadcaster’s report, the changes to how the traffic light system work in schools could come before the rest of the current restrictions are looked at.

Another restriction that may be subject to change is the nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol in bars, hotels and restaurants.

Finance minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum earlier said the government wants to lift the alcohol ban if professional advice allows.

“If there is no heavy professional advice against it, then we must relax the alcohol ban this week. The norm must be to have as much of society as open as possible,” Vedum told newspaper Dagbladet on Sunday.

Støre said that he would be open to lifting the ban if professional advice suggested it was safe to do so. Government decisions throughout the pandemic have relied on advice from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and the Norwegian Directorate of Health. 

The government currently hasn’t outlined what it could do regarding working from home, social distancing and the use of face masks.

The PM told NRK that Covid certificates would also be reviewed but added that a decision wouldn’t be made this week.

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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.