‘INDEFINITE’ ALCOHOL BAN, MOST OTHER COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS CONTINUED: Norway’s government relaxes some youth-related rules, but continues others due to uncertainty

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Good news: Norway’s Institute of Public Health decided it’s safe to lift the alcohol ban at bars and restaurants. Bad news: Norway’s government opted to follow other health officials’s advice and extend the ban indefinitely. Good news: “indefinitely” could end as soon as next week.

In all, it summarizes the government’s latest announcement on COVID-19 restrictions Monday: While the situation appears somewhat better than when a round of tougher rules took effect two weeks, things are still uncertain enough in the midst of a “third wave” of infections to leave most of the measures in place.

The primary difference in the restrictions, originally scheduled to end today, is some limits on children and youths under 20 years of age are being lifted, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said during a press conference Monday. Norway had the fifth-lowest infection rate in Europe for a two-week period ending Jan. 10 – 157.85 per 100,000 inhabitants – and the number of infections has dropped about 40 percent since, but Solberg said the rate is still too high for comfort.

“Even though the measures seem to work and the infection rates have decreased somewhat, the situation is still uncertain,” she said. “We see how the infection strikes the countries around us, and causes disease and death. We will try to avoid this in Norway. That is why we are continuing strict national measures and one of the most stringent border controls in Europe.”

The change in youth-related rules means they can participate in sports and recreational activities, and be exempt from the one-meter distancing requirement when necessary for the activities. But while they can train and do other “internal” activities, external activities such as matches and conventions must be postponed.

In Svalbard the practical impacts include Svalbardhallen and Karlsberger Pub remaining closed. The University Centre in Svalbard announced last week it will conduct digital-only learning until at least Feb. 1 in anticipation of the government’s announcement.