“What’s the point of vaccines if they mean nothing in Norway?”: Scenes from Norway’s quarantine hotels

Quarantine hotel hallway

Norway’s quarantine hotels are a COVID-19 measure that has stirred up controversy among the public and experts alike.

Norway’s government introduced the quarantine hotel measure on November 5, 2020. Then and now, the general rule is that anyone entering the country must stay in a quarantine hotel for a period of time – except for certain groups marked exempt according to the government.

The newest update, which you can read about here, allows travelers from EEA countries and the UK to forgo quarantine hotels… But only if they’re arriving from a low-infection-rate area as determined by the Norwegian government.

What do members of the public think about the quarantine hotel measure in Norway?

Norway Today spoke to people who have stayed in the hotels themselves, as well as those who are faced with an upcoming hotel stay.

Stories range from more disturbing to less disturbing.

Main concerns

A few main concerns of the public are:

  • Why stay in a quarantine hotel if one has a safe(r) place to quarantine in Norway?
  • Quarantining in a private home could be safer than in a hotel, where employees are coming in and out, and people who have just traveled are staying.
  • What’s the scientific basis of treating people (“essential” and “non-essential” travelers) so differently? For example, some seasonal workers might be able to avoid the hotel, but those visiting close family members might not.
  • 10 days is a lot of time to lose from a visa stay or work/vacation travel. If someone has 14 vacation days in a year to visit their loved ones, spending 10 days of that time in a quarantine hotel almost makes it impossible.
  • Many people can’t afford the quarantine hotel cost. People can save up for months to stay with their family in Norway – just for the plane ticket alone.
  • Why are quarantine hotels discriminatory against people with less wealth and less vacation days? Family reunification (and other forms of travel) seems to be made much easier for the rich and retired, or those with flexible time off.
  • What’s the point of vaccines if they mean nothing in Norway? Why can’t vaccinated people travel normally as is the case in other places such as Iceland?
  • How is it decided which medical conditions (don’t) qualify for skipping the quarantine hotel?

We recently reached out to Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security to get their take on the situation. One of their main defenses for quarantine hotels is curbing COVID variants. You can read more about what they had to say here.

Meet Carla

Carla Barata is originally from Portugal and has lived in Norway since 1996. She’s an accountant, working from home since October 2020. She works in Oslo but lives by Gardemoen.

She had to stay in a quarantine hotel (which was an unpleasant experience from the moment she landed in Norway) 5 minutes away from her empty apartment.

This is her story.

“Being at home alone all the time affected me mentally; I need people around me to laugh and to talk with. So, I went to Iceland to be with my boyfriend for a month since I worked from home. I stayed for Easter and my birthday. The police said since my flight stopped in Frankfurt and it was not direct I had to stay at the hotel. Iceland only had 7 cases of coronavirus the day I traveled but the FHI made it a red area (?!) I was tested for COVID before I traveled from Iceland, it was negative.

“So, you land in Norway, get to the police area, and get questioned. After questioning, they call security to take you to a waiting spot in front of everybody. It makes you feel like they are going to deport you.

“After almost 45 minutes, security comes and tells you to follow them. In my case, there were four or five of us. There was a security guard in the front, one in the middle of us, and one in the back.

Airport covid security
The airport security escort. Photo: Carla Barata

“They don’t inform you of what’s going to happen. They take you to get your bags and then take the group to get tested. Security sits there just looking at their phones.

“You get tested and have to wait over 45 minutes for your answer in a secure marked spot. Again, no information on what’s happening is given. Security just says follow me. And again, there’s a lot of security – in the front, middle, and behind us across the airport. They take us to get on a bus like we are criminals.

“Everybody gets into the bus and you still don’t know where they taking you. But I asked! I said, Where are you taking us?; the guy answered just the name of the hotel – like he is not allowed to talk with the inmates!

“It makes you feel small and like an inmate! Just because I went and stayed with my boyfriend in Iceland!

“The hotel I stayed at was the Clarion Hotel Congress Airport in Gardermoen. I was tested there again on day 7. I left after 8 days.

“After 4 days it gets boring, and you start to think about how unfair it is to be there when you have an empty apartment. I live 5 minutes from the hotel.

“As for what a day in a quarantine hotel looks like… I usually got up at 6:30 AM, and breakfast would come before 8 AM. They knock on the door before leaving the food outside. They had tables by the elevator with coffee and tea.

Quarantine hotel meal
Food at the hotel. Photo: Carla Barata

“Towels and other stuff I could find in a trailer in my hallway. They don’t change your bed or clean it, so I changed my bed and towels. My trash I took with me when I went for coffee. They had places, also by the elevator, to put dirty laundry.

“I worked all day in the room. Lunch came between 12 and 1 PM, and dinner between 7 and 8 PM. I didn’t have dinner because I tried the meals and they had no taste at all. I had bread and other stuff. I had a bathtub, so right after work, it’d be in there for 1 hour.

Quarantine hotel
Carla’s makeshift workstation at the hotel, with her laptop resting on her suitcase. Photo: Carla Barata

“I only went outside to get stuff or food from my son by his car. I had a mini-fridge where I had extra food and drinks. I didn’t take walks; there were too many people outside smoking and hanging out.

“The employees from the hotel were nice and helpful. But the security by the elevator (which you’re not allowed to use) needs a class on how to say good morning. They are the only ones I saw every day, and 80% didn’t answer back when I said good morning.”

Meet Stian

Stian Jonassen is From Oslo. He works as a personal assistant for a man in a wheelchair.

He recently stayed in a quarantine hotel, where he didn’t have the best experience. He was (eventually) let out because of his official doctor’s orders.

This is his story.

“I landed in Norway on Monday, May 17. I tested negative on Sunday, May 16 before leaving, and I tested negative again on Monday. I’m also half vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and will get my second dose on May 28. 

“In my conversation with a Border Police officer when I landed, I explained why I traveled and why I should have the quarantine at home. He said he understood and wanted to send me home if I could prove it. I couldn’t at that moment, but he said I could go home after proving it for the hotel. I prefer to keep to myself the health reasons.

“I was sent to Scandic Hotel Helsfyr (by the way, I live on Lambertseter). Based on my doctor’s advice I shouldn’t be there. Still, my experience started positive, with nice and understanding people at the reception. But the following few days everything went crappy. 

“The next day, on May 18, I sent my doctor’s official advice to the Oslo Municipality Health Service, Helseetaten. Their doctor overweighed my own doctor’s medical note. They said it was not a good enough reason.

“So, I got a new note and waited until the next day. My lunch on May 18 and 19 was thrown in the garbage. It was undercooked pasta in some combination that was unedible. 

Quarantine hotel food
Undercooked pasta at the hotel. Photo: Stian Jonassen

“I had 4 hours of out time. Not sure if they monitor that properly. On May 19, I went for a walk and was looking forward to dinner. It was not present. When I addressed this to the reception they said it was thrown in the garbage since I didn’t pick it up on time – and there was no more food in the kitchen and no cooks to fix anything.

“The only thing that was outside the door was a paper bag with 2 pieces of dry bread and something to put on the slices. They offered me more pieces of dry bread as compensation.

“They also refused to clean my clothes. They said they could dry clean them for a fee. Also, no one offered me fresh towels or anything.

“I got to go home on Thursday, May 20, with a new doctor’s note.”

Meet Ana-Maria

Ana-Maria Derzsi is a person with disabilities who is concerned about the quarantine hotels.

“I hope they drop the hotel. As a person with a disability and short stature, I can’t stay in there.

“At the end of June, I need to go to Germany for a medical consult and I want to return back as soon as possible and be with my family here.

“Them keeping the hotel measure really gives me anxiety because I can’t be there. I can’t do everything on my own and if I have the ‘luck’ of finding a bathtub that’s pretty high who is gonna come help me in and out of it? No one. So, I hope they end this thing and let us quarantine home.”

Ana-Maria said that she would speak with her doctor about getting a note, but as we saw with Stian, it took a few tries and a few days in the hotel for his note to be approved.

Meet Amanda

Amanda Costa is a customer care analyst who points out the implications of a quarantine hotel for people who have a hard time getting time off.

“The quarantine hotel for most of us who have formal jobs is a huge problem.

“I tried to contact Human Resources at my company asking if I could work extra to take these 10 days of quarantine with my days of vacations. They said it’s not possible.

“Then I tried to ask them if I could take a non-paid leave of 10 days, but with the guarantee I would keep my job. They said to me if I do this I would be fired right away after my return.

“So, how am I going to see my partner in such conditions?

“Another problem is the money. It’s too expensive and my partner and I can’t afford this. Tests and tickets are expensive and the government still wants to force us to stay in these places that are NOT SAFE AT ALL.

“I really hope this could be fixed soon. It’s too tiring to have to deal with all the uncertainty. I don’t want to spend another 1 year and 9 months without seeing my boyfriend.”

Meet Shirley

Shirley Schnellenberger from Austria also notes how valuable the 10 days are that have to be spent in a hotel.

“If they do not drop the quarantine hotel, I will not be able to see my man at all there! I can barely get 10 days off at once!

“I have 3 weeks off for the whole year left. So, I have to spend 2 in the quarantine hotel and then for 1 week, I can see my man. 

“All days gone at once, so I will not be able to see him another time during the year.

“It should be possible to test and quarantine together and see each other!

“Here in Austria we test like crazy and I feel super safe. We get a 20 pack of self-tests and a QR code where we have to upload the result. This is basically our entrance ticket to restaurants, hairdressers, etc. We also have free testing places where you can get free quick or PCR tests. I’ve had more than a test a week since September last year.

“Maybe that’s what Norway should do also if they do not have trust in people: open up with self-test entrance tickets.”

Two final quarantine hotel stories

Two additional stories were shared with Norway Today by members of the public who wished to remain anonymous.

A rough journey to justice

“My fear with going public about my experience is the impact it may have on my future trips; the government will not be happy with what I am saying and I don’t want to end up on some kind of banned entry list.

“On May 9, my pregnant wife and I arrived at the airport from the USA. One day before our travel to Norway we took 2 COVID-19 tests each (PCR tests 48 hours before departure and antigen tests a couple of hours before departure). Once we landed we took an antigen test at the airport. We did a lot of research ahead of time and were fairly confident we would not have to stay in a quarantine hotel. I am a USA citizen and my wife is a Norwegian citizen. The whole purpose of coming to Norway was to visit family.

“Due to entry requirements and restrictions from the TravelDoc website before we departed, there were several exemptions that applied to us for hotel quarantines. The main one was under section 2 which states Passengers holding a negative PCR test result obtained within 72 hours prior to arrival and documentation confirming they are married to or have children of the relationship with a person residing in Norway. This also applies to their minor children, including cases where the children are not of the relationship.

Covid travel
Photo: Anon

“I had this paper highlighted and printed out, then presented this to the Border Police, who told us that the rules have changed and everyone has to stay in the hotel unless we were coming from a funeral. We presented our argument but complied with the orders to go to the quarantine hotel. 

“It took about 2 hours to get through the Border Police and then another 2 hours to get our onsite antigen COVID test, pick up luggage, and arrive at the hotel. We were greeted by two employees at the front desk. I asked questions about the pricing and rules. At the airport, we asked the employee organizing the onsite testing about hotel prices. Since my wife and I were sharing a room I wondered if we would have to pay 500 NOK per person each night or would it be 500 NOK total per night for both of us since we would be sharing a room. She told us it would only be 500 NOK per night total since we were sharing a room.

“But the employees told us on arrival it would be 500 NOK per person because it covers the food. And after traveling all day my pregnant wife and I were very hungry. The employees told us that we would not get any food that night because it was already late and also the kitchen was closed. They told us we could buy a bag of chips from them, which I thought was extremely rude. It was disappointing to be treated this way.

“I actually feel our human rights were violated this first night when we were denied food, and they confirmed we were still expected to pay 500 NOK per person for this first night which completely blew my mind. After expressing my frustration with this, an employee brought us 2 apples and a sandwich (which wasn’t edible due to how disgusting it was). 

“We got to our room which had lots of dust and was especially bad around the tiny refrigerator which had an especially large amount of dust. Our TV had 12 channels (all in Norwegian except Sky News) which made it impossible for me to understand. So, we rented about 7 movies for our entertainment during the stay.

“We had no choice to what food or drinks we were given. The breakfast was the same every day: bread, ham, cheese, tomato, 2 slices of cucumber, pepper slice, milk, and yogurt. A very simple and basic breakfast that was the same every day. We were also included instant coffee mix in the mornings. Our lunch and dinner were different almost and some meals were good and some were awful. And some we had no idea what we were eating, I would have loved to receive a piece of paper with our meal letting us know what we were being served.

quarantine hotel dinner
Photo: Anon / Norway Today

“We received one drink of apple or orange juice a day (this came either with lunch or dinner, but never more than once a day). I assume we had to drink the sink water any other time we were thirsty.

“I called the front desk on our first morning to report a problem with our refrigerator not getting very cold. I was told they would send someone to check it out and that never happened. The phone in our room also didn’t work, so anytime we wanted to contact the front desk we had to do so with our own mobile devices.

“We were told that we were allowed to walk outside which we did 3 times during sunset but it was rainy and cold other nights and honestly, we were not prepared for our stay at a hotel, did not have enough clothes, and did not have heavy enough jackets or rain gear which was needed for the rainy weather.

“We were told that we would take our mandatory 7th-day COVID test. But on the 7th day, no one had arrived to provide this test to us. We contacted the front desk and were told that they have no idea when the testers will show up and they had no idea how we would be contacted to schedule this test. The whole process was very unorganized and no one knew what was going on. So we waited another night and the next morning we got a knock on our door around 9:00 AM from nurses that gave us 5 minutes to get ready and arrive downstairs for testing. 

“The same morning (it was May 17), we received a letter with our breakfast stating the hotel would be having a large buffet for Constitution Day (at first we were excited thinking that we would be getting some good food in honor of the days’ celebration) but with the continued reading, we found out that they were basically telling us not to interfere with everyone else’s celebration. This especially offended my wife; as a Norwegian citizen, this day is special for her, and could not believe we would be treated in such a way.

Quarantine hotel
Quarantine Constitution Day. Photo: Anon / Norway Today

“We also started to question the legality of such a large party due to Norway’s current COVID-19 restrictions. But how a quarantine hotel could host such a large buffet is another thing that completely blew my mind during this whole experience. 

“Thankfully, we got our negative COVID-19 results around 8 PM that night. Because I am not a citizen, I had to wait until 8:30 PM to call the hotline they provided us at check-in to receive that result.

“Then finally it was time to check out and they wanted to charge us 9000 NOK for our 8-night stay. This math does not make any sense to me and it’s obvious to see we were overcharged. After being told by the front desk that the price could not be negotiated I demanded to speak to the manager. Since it was May 17 the manager was not available.

“I left my card number with the front desk and told them I wanted to speak with the manager before my card was charged. We headed home, which was a 4-hour drive away and I emailed the manager. When I woke up the next morning I saw my card was charged the full amount. So, I was upset that they charged me before I had the chance to explain my frustrations and ask my questions. I also came across this information on the Norwegian government website:

Quarantine rules
Photo: Anon / Norway Today

“One of the paragraphs states: People who stay at a quarantine hotel during their quarantine period under section 5 subsection 3 are exempt from paying a fee as long as they are able to provide documentation that the trip began before 29 April 2021, and their stay at the quarantine hotel began before 20 May 2021. This 100% applies to my wife and she should not have been charged any fee according to this article.

“The acting manager of the hotel did call me back and agreed that we were overcharged by a night. She also agreed to take one night off as well for our negative experience. I also told her I was going to the press and if she could help us out any more and she agreed to take another night off. When confronted with the paragraph from the regjeringen.no website she had no idea how to respond but said that didn’t apply to us and could not explain who it did apply to. So that charge remained. She said those other fees would be refunded to my card but two days later, the refund was still not made.

“After confronting the local government directly with the paragraph stating we are exempt from paying, they sent an email to the hotel. I contacted them and was able to get all the funds refunded thankfully, in the end.

“The entire process was completely unorganized and chaotic. We were receiving different information from everyone; the border police, the municipality, the hotel, websites, and the COVID-19 testing nurses. And the price of being forced to stay at a hotel, when I have a suitable place to quarantine at, is completely outrageous and unfair. I want to add that I believe the corona testing to travel has been very expensive. During the entire process, we took a total of 4 tests each. I have never paid for a corona test in the USA and at the Norwegian airports they are charging 2600 NOK.”

A story in which police intervention was required

“I am not going public with my name, as I fear retaliation from UDI. The reason why I fear UDI retaliation is that I am waiting for my nationality request to be processed and I have heard enough stories of how UDI treats people they feel have done something against Norwegian state rules.

“In short, I came back from a necessary work trip with all documents required: permanent residency; letter from my employer on the need to conduct a necessary trip; copy of my rental contract and letter from landlord confirming how I had access to my own bedroom, bathroom and kitchen; a PCR from the last 24h, etc.

“When at the border control at the airport, it became clear that all those that traveled with me in business class and had a Norwegian passport were let go without any problem, and all those who didn’t got put aside. I had never experienced that treatment in Norway before, being discriminated against for being a foreigner.

“When doing the COVID test at the airport, the nurse that took it called the security guy saying I didn’t belong there as I had all the documents to go home, but no one cared. We were then escorted in groups of 10 to buses that drove us to the quarantine hotel.

“When there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were dozens of people cramped together in a room made into a reception. There was no security distance whatsoever, no marked spaces to wait within 2m, nothing. I refused to go inside and waited outside the hotel until it was less crowded.

“Inside, I explained I didn’t belong there and demanded to speak to those in charge. I was informed that someone from the Kommune would stop by in the afternoon and I could speak to him then.

“When I finally was heard by the Kommune person, he seemed to know little about the law and basically told me: It is not up to you or your employer to define what necessary work travel is, it is up to the Norwegian authorities and I think you should stay here for the 10 days.

“It became clear that there were several people in my situation and it was a Swedish student that eventually lost it and called the police. When that happened, the tone of the person from the Kommune eased and said they would find a solution for us.

“I was eventually released from the hotel by the police, several hours later, with an apology.

“But 2 days later, I was being contacted by the Norwegian state service for controlling incoming travelers (innreisende) and they were furious I was home. They threatened to send the police to get me. By then I had little patience left and asked them to send it in writing so that I could take it to a lawyer. 30 minutes later I received an SMS stating that if I traveled for necessary work, I didn’t have to stay at a quarantine hotel.

“I can’t imagine what it is like for people to stay in quarantine hotels for 10 days with children. The stories I’ve heard are terrible. I think it’s good for you to know that irrespectively of the reason one is put in a quarantine hotel, some elements are common: 1) It is not a hotel, rather a prison; 2) one feels they’re being punished for doing something wrong and treated poorly; 3) the actual risk of being infected inside the hotel common areas is huge – you either spend 10 days locked inside a tiny room or you risk infection as corridors and common areas are packed with people; 4) you’re given a plastic bag with a sandwich, a cereal bar, and a fruit 3x a day, no room service, cleaning or laundry available – the only way you can have a warm drink is to queue up for the coffee machine in the common area, which is always full of people.”

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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1 Comment on "“What’s the point of vaccines if they mean nothing in Norway?”: Scenes from Norway’s quarantine hotels"

  1. We are both fully vaccinated and live in an area of the UK with very low infection rates. Our grandsons live in Norway (their father is Norwegian). We were able to come over for a long weekend in August 2020, when briefly travel was permitted and fairly safe, but now Norwegian restrictions prevent us seeing them, even via a quarantine hotel. The boys are growing up without a part of their family, and we are missing so much of their young lives.

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