A law unto themselves? Corona guidelines ignored by politicians in Norway

Jonas Gahr Støre - Erna SolbergPhoto: Terje Bendiksby / NTB

In a week where new lockdown measures were reintroduced in Oslo and the vaccination rollout has hit hurdles, there was a need for a sense of reassurance and strong political leadership. What was offered, instead, was scandal. The Prime Minister revealed she potentially broken the rules celebrating her birthday in February whilst senior members of the Labor Party were also involved in a similar incident. In an election year, politicians are normally on their best behavior. However, this latest scandal shows that even here in Norway, at times, one set of rules apply to the people and another, clearly, to the politicians.

Sushi, skiing, and nightcaps

During February birthday celebrations with her family, in Geilo, Prime Minister Erna Solberg likely broke corona infection measures, according to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Gathering with the Prime Minister was her extended family.

Over the course of two nights, the family allegedly repeatedly broke both local and national government measures recommendations from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Folkehelseinstitutt – FHI).

The first night, Friday, February 25, saw a private dinner arrangement, in a restaurant, for more than 10 members of the family. The Prime Minister was not present that night. However, the next night saw the family, including the Prime Minister and 13 family members, gather in an apartment, to eat sushi. These two events were made public during questioning from NRK last week.

The main political opponents of the Prime Minister, the Labor Party (AP) was also embroiled in its own corona scandal last week. After the annual general meeting dinner, for the Nordland Labor Party, in Bodø, on March 12, eight local and national leaders gathered in a hotel room.

This included the Labor Deputy Chief, Bjørnar Skjæran, and the leader of the Nordland Labor Party, Mona Nilsen. The celebration, in the Scandic Havet hotel, happened on the very same day that much of Bodø was placed under stricter measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Which rules and recommendations did they break?

Both incidents involve the potential breaking of infection control measures as prescribed by the FHI and the relevant local municipality.

For the Prime Minister, the whole reason her family had organized a private event at a restaurant was to respect these measures. As there were more than 10 people gathered, it actually did count as an “event” and thus was more people than allowed under the health authorities’ recommendations.

The next night, where the family gathered for sushi in two apartments, though maintaining a safe social distance, according to the Prime Minister, didn’t break any rules but was against the health authorities’ recommendations.

On the other hand, the police opened a case against the Labor Party politicians but decided to drop the case after investigating. The reason? The police believe there was a conflict between national and local rules for regulating events.

In a press release, the police stated that in the national COVID-19 regulations, which were valid for Bodø at the time the party took place, there is a general ban on events, with some not relevant exceptions.

“However, a local regulation was also introduced in Bodø Municipality at the same time, based on the Infection Control Act. From this, it appears that events can be held with up to 10 people at an indoor event,” the police stated.

Harmless fun but smacks of double standards

Although both guilty parties have fronted the media and apologized, the question still remains: is this just another case of one set of rules for those that make laws and another for those that must follow them?

In both cases, those with political power felt that, quite simply, the rules and guidelines, put in place by the power structure they are very much a part of and help shape, simply did not apply for them.

Regardless of of the genuinely harmless motivations, both incidents could have had serious ramifications. No one is arguing that people shouldn’t celebrate a family members birthday or catching up with colleagues after a work related dinner. However, common sense, that most precious of virtues, is needed. There was, obviously, a severe drought of it in both Geilo and Bodø the nights in question.

Supposing a family member had infected the Prime Minister? The health of a Prime Minister is almost a national security issue for the country. Though not as politically important as the Prime Minister, the Labor Party leadership should have known better too. Again, supposing there was an infection and this led to hospitalization or even worse? Would the infected person be held responsible for bodily harm?

The police have already began an investigation into a possible breach of infection measures into the Prime Minister’s trip to Geilo.

NAV Sigrun Vågeng
Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen / NTB

Yet another scandal for Norway’s political class

With an election just months away, both of these two incidents are just the latest example of scandals that have plagued politics in Norway of late.

The biggest political scandal of recent times was, of course, the NAV scandal. The current government and its predecessor (Labor-led) both share a collective sense of guilt with their application and handling of this scandal.

The current government also saw a Minister for Justice, Tor Mikkel Wara, resign due to bizarre events. Commonly called the “Bertheussen-case”, it saw the eventual jailing, last September, of Warra’s partner for vandalism.

This was the crescendo of a symphony of surrealism. Involving left-wing theatre productions, burnt cars, and questions about the degree of free speech in Norway, it was rightly seen as Kafka-esque and hardly the sort of shenanigans you would want a key Cabinet Minister being involved with.

Future political repercussions and equality before the law

With scandals crossing the political spectrum in Norway, this latest scandal may have repercussions come later in the year when the country votes. The question will be asked: are these the type of people we want representation and responsible government from?

Assistant Director of Health summed it up best. Although the restrictions changing somewhat constantly can be confusing, the government has developed an app for further information.

Furthermore, it does not breed confidence in these measures if they are not even followed by those who drew them up. He noted to VG that, most of all, “people want equality before the law.”

Norway joins the list of countries where politicians flout infection measures

Norway now joins the infamous list of countries where those in power have flouted rules made to stop the spread of infection.

Last August, barely months after COVID-19 was announced a worldwide pandemic, EU Trade Commissioner, Phil Hogan, resigned after it had emerged he broke Irish rules meant to curb infection rates. Attending a dinner at a golf society with some 80 other people, totally breaching Irish guidelines for indoor events (with an allowed maximum capacity of 6) was the reason for the demise of Mr. Hogan, according to the BBC.

Hordes of Swedes, annually, escape the dark winter for a sunny Spanish Christmas. Last Christmas remained the same for the Director-General of the Swedish civil contingency agency, Dan Eliasson. Having urged all Swedes against all unnecessary travel during the holiday season, he was spotted, according to Swedish news website Expressen, holidaying with his family in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, where his daughter lives.

However, the world leader that takes the cake (or, more fittingly, the hand sanitizer bottle) is Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He was, according to the Euronews website, spotted having lunch, with 30 people, on the idyllic Aegean island of Ikaria on February 5. This was just one day after his government had enacted a more severe lockdown with a curfew from 6:00 PM and no private gatherings. This was the second time he had flouted infection rules after being spotted not wearing a mandatory face mask, in public, in December.

For further information on the preventive measures to help stop the spread of COVID19, follow the FHI guidelines.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

Do you have a news tip for Norway Today? We want to hear it. Get in touch at info@norwaytoday.no


Be the first to comment on "A law unto themselves? Corona guidelines ignored by politicians in Norway"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.