Norway takes ‘most far-reaching measures ever experienced in peacetime’, plans easing in April

The EURACTIV Network provides you with the latest news on how the country is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis. [Shutterstock]

**This article is continuously updated with the latest developments.

Norway’s government announced on 7 April that it will start easing its pandemic-related restrictions after it went into lockdown early. While schools and universities will start re-opening from 27 April, large events will continue to be banned until September, the government announced on 25 April.

“Norway has managed to gain control of the virus. The job now is to keep that control,” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on 7 April, adding that changes will be implemented in a controlled manner over time.

Norway follows into the footsteps of neighbouring Denmark, which is one of the first countries in Europe to have eased restrictions after having taken drastic steps at an early stage.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Authority of Public Health (FHI) revealed on 25 April that about 1.4 million people of Norway’s 5.5 million population had voluntarily downloaded the state’s new coronavirus tracker smartphone app in the first week, despite ongoing controversy on the security, privacy and procurement process for the app, Forbes reported.

As of Monday (11 May), Norway has recorded  8,105 confirmed cases, with 219 deaths.

Norway has had an enormous testing capacity, which experts believe has made the country so successful in keeping the virus under control. By 3 April, Norway had tested more than 100,000 people, which at the time, had put the country behind only Iceland and the UAE in terms of tests per head.  putting it behind Iceland 

Early lockdown
Norway took measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus on 12 March, which Prime Minister Erna Solberg said were “said to be “the most far-reaching measures Norway’s population has ever experienced in peacetime.” The government is doing everything to support the economy and importing medical equipment from China, Solberg told a press conference.
That day, the country introduced a ban on public events and activities, closed kindergartens, schools and educational institutions, but allowed certain groups to continue attending school and daycare facilities. When it comes to travel, the government also decided to quarantine travellers for 14 days who, as of 27 February, had entered the country from outside the Nordic countries, regardless of whether they had symptoms or not.
For travellers coming from non-Nordic countries, the country shut its borders and implemented extensive controls of its land entry points but did not shut its 1,630-kilometre (1,000-mile) border with neighbouring Sweden.

On 14 March, Oslo advised citizens against travelling to any foreign country and urged citizens to return home as soon as possible. Yet, planes carrying Norwegian citizens were still permitted to land in Norway as the government had been negotiating with Norwegian Air and SAS to bring nationals home, Solberg said on 14 March.

In an effort to stop the virus from spreading, Norway shut its ports and airports from 16 March, although exemptions are made for Norwegians returning from abroad as well as for goods imports, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on 14 March.

That same day, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology published a Facebook message encouraging students studying in countries with “poorly developed health services and infrastructure” to return home.

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Drastic decisions in the High North

In the north, local authorities even adopted measures to quarantine people travelling domestically, from south to north, the Barents Observer reported 15 March.

All people from southern Norway arriving in Lofoten, Vesterålen, and Tromsø, as well as from the regions inside the Arctic Circle, must go directly into a 14-day quarantine.

For winter-tourism, one of the fastest-growing businesses in northern Norway, the measures could mean a total economic meltdown as many operators already announced layoffs, while others have been forced to close activities entirely for the rest of the season.

According to Norwegian media NRK, the government in Oslo has set out a new coronavirus regulation to stop people staying in countryside cabins that are in a different municipality from where they live to avoid overwhelming rural hospitals.

Military exercises cancelled

In coordination with its civilian health authorities, Norway had cancelled its March NATO exercises dubbed “Cold Response” due to the coronavirus outbreak. More than 15,000 soldiers from nine countries missed out on the biggest NATO exercise this year as they had to return home since the beginning of March.

“After careful consideration and discussion with Allied and partner participants, Norwegian authorities have made the decision to cancel the remainder of Exercise Cold Response 20,” the US European Command (EUCOM) said in a statement on Wednesday (11 March).

“The virus is out of control in society, and that’s a new situation. Therefore, we have decided to start a controlled cancelling of the exercise,” said Lt. Gen. Rune Jakobsen, Commander at the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. “We would rather preserve our army’s combat capabilities so we can support society in the turbulent period to come,” he said, adding that military personnel should not contribute to a further spread of the virus.

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