Today, Norway’s new and stricter national measures to limit omicron entered into force. Here are the details

Jonas Gahr StørePhoto: Heiko Junge / NTB
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On Monday, the Norwegian government introduced new national infection control measures to prevent the health and care service from becoming overwhelmed and to protect critical societal functions. 

The measures include stricter rules on events for adults and nightlife, the culture sector, and organized leisure activities. A ban on serving alcohol at public venues throughout the country has been introduced.

“The infection rate in Norway is rising sharply, and we have learned more about the omicron variant and how quickly it spreads. The situation is more serious now. The Norwegian government is therefore introducing stricter measures to keep the pandemic in check,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on Monday.

The great challenge is that omicron is highly transmissible, which means that more people will become infected. Some of these people will become seriously ill, even if the virus variant turns out to involve a lower risk of serious illness. Hospitals, nursing homes, GPs, and emergency medical services are reporting increasing pressure as a result of sick patients, greater sick leave among health care workers, and reduced access to temporary staff from abroad.

“We have received clear advice from the health authorities to introduce new and stricter measures at this point. It is important to us that we protect children, adolescents, and vulnerable groups, but, unfortunately, they, too, will be affected by the measures in everyday life. We are also aware that many people who work in the health service and at kindergartens and schools are weary now. This reinforces the gravity of the situation,” Støre accentuated.

Vaccination

According to a preliminary scenario from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), the forecast is that the number of cases could rise to 90,000–300,000 per day three weeks from now, and 50–200 hospital admissions per day if the measures do not adequately slow down developments in the pandemic. 

Such a situation could completely overwhelm the health service. Both the FHI and the Norwegian Directorate of Health recommend immediate implementation of substantial measures. It is also urgent that booster doses be given.

The Norwegian government has therefore asked the Norwegian Armed Forces and the pharmacies to aid municipalities that need help with the vaccination effort. 

“It is particularly important that all people over the age of 65 and people at high risk of serious illness receive a booster dose as soon as possible, within the defined interval between doses. We must also try to reach as many people as possible who are not yet fully vaccinated. The interval between the second dose and the booster dose has today been changed to 4.5 months for all people who have been recommended a booster dose,” Minister of Health and Care Services Ingvild Kjerkol said on Monday.

She stresses that it is also important that the municipalities and the hospitals vaccinate their own health personnel at a higher pace than we have seen so far.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health will dispatch extra vaccine doses to the municipalities before Christmas so that they are able to vaccinate all people over the age of 45, with an interval of 4.5 months between the second dose and the booster dose. 

All people over the age of 45 should be offered a booster dose by mid-January.

New measures

The Norwegian government is tightening measures for events for adults and nightlife, the culture sector, and organized leisure activities. A ban on the serving of alcohol at public venues is being introduced.

“We are doing this because there are situations where there is a high risk of transmission, and many people can become infected over a short period of time,” Kjerkol said.

All kindergartens and primary and lower secondary schools must move to yellow level from Thursday, December 16, at the latest. Upper secondary schools and adult education must operate at the red level. Kindergartens and schools must be prepared to move to the red level quickly.

Universities, university colleges, and vocational schools must prepare to offer digital teaching.

There will be a single set of rules regarding isolation and transmission quarantine, regardless of the virus variant. There will also be increased use of face coverings and stronger recommendations regarding working from home.

“We are also making a clear recommendation for unvaccinated people to shield. People who are admitted to hospital with COVID-19 are mainly unvaccinated people aged 40–60, in addition to elderly people who are fully vaccinated who have not received a booster dose yet. The proportion of unvaccinated people in hospital is very high, compared with the proportion of the population who are vaccinated,” Kjerkol accentuated.

The regulatory measures entered into effect on Wednesday, December 15. The measures will remain in effect for four weeks, but it is possible that they may be extended or may need to be tightened further.

These are the national measures

Advice and recommendations

Distance and social contact

  • All people should keep a distance of 1 meter from other people than those within their household or corresponding close relations.
  • The recommendation to keep a 1-meter distance during leisure time does not apply to children in kindergarten and primary school.
  • There is also an exemption for adults who work with services for children and young people, as well as vulnerable groups.
  • People at risk of serious illness and unvaccinated people should shield. (new)
  • A maximum of 10 guests at home in addition to household members. Up to 20 guests on one occasion between Christmas and New Year, but the guests should keep a distance of 1 meter from each other. Everyone must consider how many close contacts they have in total.
  • Children in kindergarten and primary school may receive visits from other children in their cohort/class/section, even if this exceeds the maximum number of guests recommended.
  • Reduce the number of close contacts, but do not isolate yourself.
  • Meet other people outdoors when possible.

Organized leisure activities

Children and adolescents
  • Children and adolescents in kindergarten or primary or lower secondary school may participate in organized leisure activities, such as football training or band practice, but the numbers will be limited. A maximum of 20 participants at indoor activities, unless all of the participants come from the same cohort at kindergarten or school. (new)
  • Children and adolescents of kindergarten or primary or lower secondary school age can train or practice together, but we do not recommend going ahead with cups, matches, or tournaments that gather children from different places. (new)
  • An exemption is made for outdoor sports events for children and adolescents of kindergarten or primary or lower secondary school age. These can go ahead if the children can keep a 1-meter distance at all times and if it is possible to follow the other rules regarding maximum numbers for all events.
  • Children and adolescents who have completed lower secondary school should also keep a 1-meter distance in their leisure time. This means, for example, that they should not play football or handball if it is difficult to keep a distance. (new)
Adults
  • We recommend postponing or canceling indoor and outdoor events connected with organized sports and leisure activities across groups. (new)
  • We recommend postponing or canceling indoor organized sports and leisure activities for adults.
  • Adults may train or participate in other outdoor leisure activities, with a maximum of 20 people, and keep a 1-meter distance.
All people
  • We recommend that all people spend time outdoors. However, it is important to keep a good distance from each other also outdoors.
  • Changing rooms may remain open if their use can be organized in such a way as to prevent crowding and close contact between people. If open changing rooms result in crowding, they should be kept closed for ordinary use but toilets and handwashing facilities should be kept available if there are no other such facilities at the premises.

Kindergartens, schools, and after-school programs

  • The yellow level is introduced nationally in kindergartens and primary and lower secondary schools. Local provisions to move to red level take precedence over the yellow level introduced nationally. (new)
  • The red level is being introduced nationally at upper secondary school and in adult education. (new)
  • Kindergartens and primary and lower secondary schools must be prepared to move to the red level quickly. (new)
  • Universities, university colleges, and vocational schools are required to prepare for digital teaching, skills training, and examinations as far as possible. (new)
  • Gatherings can be organized for children in kindergarten or primary school for whole classes/sections/groups, with the necessary number of adults present.

Work

  • Anyone who can, must work from home. (new)
  • The recommendation to work from home and wear a face mask does not apply to services where this prevents employees from performing necessary statutory tasks for vulnerable groups, as well as children and young people.
  • Recommendation of a 1-meter distance.
  • Recommendation to wear a face mask when it is not possible to keep a distance, unless physical barriers like partitions, etc., have been put in place.
  • A requirement to wear a face mask in some public-facing areas of working life. 
  • Good ventilation is recommended when people spend long periods of time in the same room as people outside their household or corresponding close relations.

Regulatory measures

Events and gatherings

  • People are recommended to reduce the number of close contacts. They should spend more time at home. This means that they must also limit the number of visits, social gatherings, and events they attend. (new)
  • People are recommended to avoid using public transport to get to events. (new)
  • The following rules apply to events:
  • A maximum of 20 people at indoor private gatherings at a public venue or in a rented or borrowed venue.
  • A maximum of 50 people at indoor and outdoor memorial services after funerals or burial services. Funerals are considered public events – see below.
  • A maximum of 20 people at indoor public events without designated seating and 50 people with designated seating. (new)
  • The organizer must ensure that all of the people present at indoor events are able to keep a distance of at least 1 meter from people who do not belong to the same household or corresponding close relations. An exemption is made for several groups, including participants at cultural and sports events, participants on certain courses, and people who belong to the same cohort in kindergarten or primary school.
  • At indoor events where all of the participants are in designated seating, there will be an adequate distance if the organizer ensures that there is at least one vacant seat between each person in the same row from the time they arrive at the event. People from the same household may sit closer together after arrival.
  • At outdoor public events: up to 100 people without designated seating, and up to 3 cohorts of 200 people each with designated seating. (new)
  • Organizers must keep a list of where each attendee or guest sits at public events when everyone in the audience is in designated seating. (new)
  • A ban on serving alcohol at indoor and outdoor events that have a license to serve alcohol. (new)
  • A requirement to wear a face mask at indoor events. (new)
  • In Christian communities, people who want to visit a church can be let in on a continuous basis when other visitors exit. Similar exemptions will be granted to other religious communities on important religious holidays if the infection situation continues to require strict measures. (new)

Venues that serve food or alcohol

  • A requirement that the venue ensures that all guests can keep a distance of 1 meter from other people than those within their household or corresponding close relations. There must be a distance of at least 1 meter between seats when guests arrive. However, people from the same household or corresponding close relations may sit closer to each other.
  • A ban on serving alcohol indoors or outdoors. (new)
  • Venues that serve food or alcohol must not organize activities that naturally entail a shorter distance between guests than 1 meter. A typical example of this is dancing. (new)
  • Venues with a license to serve alcohol must have seating for all guests, but this is not a requirement for cultural events at the venue.
  • The venue must register the contact details of guests who permit such registration.
  • Venues that serve food or alcohol may not serve more than 20 guests at private indoor events or more than 50 outdoors. The rules for private events do not apply to venues that serve food or alcohol. The venue must operate in accordance with the infection control rules. (new)

Operation in accordance with the infection control rules

  • A requirement for kindergartens, schools, and other training and educational institutions to operate in accordance with the infection control rules.
  • Amusement parks, soft play centers, amusement arcades, etc., must be closed. (new)
  • Indoor swimming pools, water parks, spa facilities, hotel pools, and fitness centers may open for: (new)
  1. individual training – a distance of 2 meters must be kept during high-intensity training;
  2. school swimming sessions, swimming lessons, swimming training, and competitive swimming training with an organizer;
  3. rehabilitation and retraining offered on an individual basis or to small groups on an organized basis;
  4. other individual treatment for which an appointment can be booked and where swimming constitutes part of the treatment.
  • The following enterprises must operate under the infection control rules to remain open: libraries, museums, bingo halls, indoor swimming pools, water parks, spa facilities, hotel pools, fitness centers, shopping centers, shops, trade fairs, temporary markets, etc.
  • This involves a requirement to ensure that it is possible to keep a distance of at least 1 meter from people who do not belong to the same household or corresponding close relations, and for the enterprise to have drawn up procedures for good hygiene, good cleaning, and ventilation.
  • With the exception of libraries, museums, shops, and shopping centers, the enterprises must register the contact details of guests who permit such registration.
  • Industry guidance should be reintroduced for fitness centers and indoor swimming pools, among others. In practice, this means that there will be stricter requirements regarding infection control.

Face masks

  • A requirement to wear a face mask when it is not possible to keep a distance of at least 1 meter in shops, shopping centers, venues that serve food or alcohol, public transport, taxis, and indoor station areas. The requirement also applies to employees unless physical barriers have been put in place.
  • The requirement to wear a face mask also applies to hairdressers, skincare professionals, and other businesses with one-to-one contact.
  • The requirement to wear a face mask also applies to indoor events, libraries, and museums. (new)
  • The requirement to wear a face mask does not apply when sitting at a table in a venue that serves food or alcohol (currently in force) or when eating or drinking while seated. (new)
  • There is already a national recommendation in place to wear a face mask in places where there are many people and it is difficult to keep a distance – for example, at the cloakroom after attending an event or when you are in a crowd leaving a football stadium.

Home office

  • Employers are required to ensure that employees work from home if this is feasible and does not have a negative impact on services that are important and necessary for the business, including activities to protect children and vulnerable groups. (adjusted)

Quarantine

  • A single set of rules regarding isolation and quarantine, regardless of the virus variant. A duty to quarantine for household members and corresponding close relations, with the possibility of taking a test to end quarantine early after seven days. Other close contacts may take a test to end quarantine early after three days, but must remain in quarantine during their leisure time until they receive a negative test after seven days. (new)

Source: The Norwegian government / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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