The border closure between Norway and Sweden will last at least until the end of March next year, Strömstad Mayor Kent Hansson fears.
“No one believes that the border will open before Easter. With each passing day, the situation in Strömstad only gets worse and worse,” he told news bureau NTB.
He and the rest of the municipal council in the Swedish border town are now steeling themselves for an unemployment rate that will climb to around 20 percent in the new year.
From being a line across the asphalt, the border between Norway and Sweden has become an invisible wall due to the entry quarantine.
Hansson’s repeated requests to Norway to ease the quarantine rules have not been heard.
Now he thinks it will happen after Easter next year, which starts on March 29.
“It’s depressing. Many families will lose all their income. It will create major social problems,” Hansson said.
“It hurts in the heart, especially now before Christmas.”
Norwegian authorities told NTB that they have no idea when free movement across the border will be allowed again.
“The quarantine rules are updated continuously and can change quickly. It is too early to say at this time about how the situation will be around Easter,” State Secretary Maria Jahrmann Bjerke (Høyre / Conservative Party) said.
There is a limit
Strömstad depends heavily on income from Norwegian shoppers and tourists. But the supermarket in Nordby, Sweden’s largest, has lost up to 95% of sales. The giant car park outside the center is deserted.
Center manager Ståle Løvheim is trying to keep his spirits up.
“Is there a limit to how long you can wait?”
“I have chosen not to have those thoughts, but rather focus on what we are going to do when we open. But of course, somewhere out there, there is a limit.”
In Halden, a few kilometers away, the situation is diametrically different.
The Christmas lights are shining in competition with the trade stand, and new sales records are being celebrated.
“It’s completely sick. We always believed that cross-border trade accounted for a lot. But now we know,” center manager Britt Brattli said.
At Vinmonopolet, turnover has increased by 200%, store manager Anneli Christiansen noted.
Hiring new staff
“We had to hire five new staff. It’s pretty funny now,” she said.
Measured in liters, turnover has almost tripled from last year. In December, Christiansen estimates that they would sell over 88,700 liters of beer, wine, and spirits compared to 29,400 liters at the same time last year.
“These are absolutely incredible numbers,” she added.
In Strömstad, Norwegians spent almost NOK 2 billion at Systembolaget before the pandemic.
Now it’s anything but busy.
“We had the most customers in all of Sweden, but that is no longer the case,” store manager Alexander Johansson said.
Hoping for opening
But also in Halden, the border closure has had its price. At least 200 of the city’s residents who work in Swedish shops have lost their jobs.
Some of them have gotten new jobs in Halden, but not all of them.
“As of today, there are 88 vacancies in Halden and 1,137 jobseekers. It goes without saying that this isn’t working out,” head of NAV in Halden and Aremark Jon Harald Thorsås said.
Most people in Halden hope that the border will soon reopen.
“The Swedes are family and have always been,” Halden Mayor Anne-Kari Holm (SP / Center Party) stated. When the border closed this spring, she thought it would last only a few months.
“We did not anticipate then that it would be a disaster for Strömstad,” she said.
What will happen when the border opens remains to be seen. In Halden, hopes are growing that changed shopping habits and tax breaks on, among other things, alcohol and tobacco will dampen some of the trade leakages to Sweden.
“Perhaps people have become more aware that by shopping in Halden, we keep more jobs,” Holm said optimistically.
On the other hand, Swedish traders do not think the tax cuts will have much impact.
In any case, the prices will remain much lower in Sweden, according to all the people NTB / TT spoke to.
© NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today