Norway relaxes Covid-19 restrictions but keeps face mask rules

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre on Tuesday announced an easing of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on February 1st.
Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre announced a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions on February 1st.File photo: Kay Nietfeld / POOL / AFP

“Today we have finally reached the point at which we can remove many of the anti-infection measures we have lived with this winter,” Støre told a press briefing.

Norway’s high vaccination rate and the milder Omicron variant enabled the country to ease off on restrictions, the prime minister said. 

The change in rules will mean bars and restaurants will again be allowed to serve alcohol after 11pm. A rule requiring table service for alcohol to be sold is also scrapped, but licensed business must still operate under anti-infection provisions.

A recommended limit on the number of people who can gather in private homes is meanwhile removed. Under the outgoing rules, no more than 10 people were advised to gather privately. Outdoor and indoor events will not have capacity limits.

Amusement parks, arcades and similar attractions can reopen but with anti-infection provisions in place (such as regular cleaning and sanitisation). Cinemas, theatres, churches and anywhere else that uses fixed seating for guests can now use their full capacity, with distance requirements for seated persons revoked.

The national recommendation for schools and kindergartens to operate at yellow level, meaning reduced class sizes and social distancing, is lifted, while universities and further education are advised that all students can again be physically present at classes without social distancing.

The self-isolation period following a positive Covid-19 test will be reduced to four days, Støre also confirmed at the briefing. Up to now, the isolation period was six days for people without symptoms of the virus.

A requirement to work from home where possible will also be scrapped. Instead, employers will be asked to assess how much home working is appropriate for individual workplaces. The home working requirement had been in place since December.

Travellers to Norway will no longer be required to take a Covid-19 test on arrival in the country. Previously, all persons arriving in Norway were required to take a Covid-19 test regardless of vaccination status.

The changes come into force with near-immediate effect from 11pm on Tuesday.

Some of the current rules are to remain in place, including a mandate on face mask use in stores, on public transport and at other locations when it is not possible to maintain a social distance of one metre.

Nightclubs will be allowed to open but will still be impacted by restrictions. The government said it will keep recommendations against dancing at nightclubs and ask the one-metre social distance to be kept at the establishments.

“Licensed establishments should not conduct activities which naturally promote a distance of less than one metre between guests, for example dancing,” updated guidelines released by the government state.

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said at the briefing that the government had gone further than health authorities had recommended in easing restrictions.

“In short, we are going from detailed rules to the meter [social distance, ed.], face mask and common sense,” Kjerkol said.

“We know this will have a price in the form of (increased) infections and sick leave (from work), but the price of restrictions is actually higher,” the minister said.

The remaining restrictions could be lifted as early as February 17th if the situation with the virus develops as expected, the government also said at the briefing. Municipalities will still be allowed to introduce local restrictions if they deem this necessary, however.

READ ALSO: Norwegian health authority changes guidelines for home Covid-19 tests

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”