The new self-isolation rules for Covid-19 in Norway

Only those who test positive for Covid-19 have to self-isolate after the Norwegian government relaxed the country's pandemic restrictions.

"Trikken", the Norwegian tramway, is off limits to people in quarantine. But since the government eased the country's pandemic restrictions, only those who test positive for Covid-19 have to self-isolate. Photo: Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

The Labour Party-led coalition government has decided that the health situation allows for easing restrictions, even though that likely will mean higher levels of coronavirus spread in the population.

“Many of us will be infected,” said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre during a press conference on Tuesday evening.

READ ALSO: Norway relaxes Covid-19 restrictions but keeps face mask rules

The Norwegian Public Health Institute (NIPH) estimates that between 3 and 4 million people could become infected with the Omicron variant before the summer, according to the Prime Minister. Norway has a total population of roughly 5,4 million people.

“We therefore maintain some measures to prevent too many people from becoming ill and away from work at the same time,” Støre said.

In addition to maintaining some rules, the government has eased the self-isolation rules in place so that fewer people will be prevented from going to work.

The new self-isolation rules, which came into effect at 11pm on February 1st, are laid out in a government press release.

Who has to self-isolate?

Only those who test positive for Covid-19 have to self-isolate. Previously, people living with someone infected by Covid-19 or who were defined as a close contact case also had to self-isolate, but this requirement has now been scrapped.

How long is the isolation period? 

The total self-isolation period for Covid-infected people has been shortened from six to four days.

However, there is a requirement to having been fever-free for at least 24 hours, without taking paracetamol or other fever-reducing medicines, before breaking the quarantine period.

What about contact cases?

People living with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 are recommended – but not required – to get tested every day for five days in a row. The same goes for contact cases with symptoms. Contact cases without symptoms are not recommended to get tested, but are asked to be aware of any symptoms that might develop.

Those who cannot avoid close contact with a Covid positive person during the isolation period are recommended to get tested every day during that period and then every day for five days, so nine days in total.

The government recommends self-testing at home over getting tested a public health station with an antigen or PCR test.

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

Close contact cases are also recommended to wear a face mask in public places indoors and avoid large gatherings for 10 days after their last contact with the infected person. If they develop symptoms, they should stay at home and get tested.

What are the rules in quarantine? 

The rules of the actual quarantine remain unchanged. When self-isolating you are asked to stay at home and only go out for necessary errands that others cannot do for you. This means you can’t go to work and you need to avoid public transport.

You are also supposed to socially distance at home, stay in a separate room and use a different bathroom if possible. You are encouraged to frequently clean surfaces that are often touched. 

Previously, people who were isolating due to close contact with a confirmed Covid case were allowed to leave their homes to walk outside, if they could do this at a distance from others. With contact cases no longer required to self-isolate, this provision becomes obsolete. People who have tested positive should not go outside if they can avoid it, and those rules haven’t changed.

Those who test positive for Covid-19 are also asked to register with the “smittestopp” tracing app.

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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.