A long list of new COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations – including a nationwide ban on serving alcohol in restaurants and pubs and a major reduction in the size of public gatherings – will be in effect starting Thursday, Norway’s government announced late Tuesday.
The new preventative measures, in effect until at least April 12, are the latest of several incremental expansions due to a resurgence of COVID-19 nationally and globally due largely to mutated strains. Central government officials acknowledged the newest measures are likely to severely disrupt spring and Easter holiday plans, but concerns about travel and communal gatherings during that time is largely the reason for the extra enforcement.
“The infection situation has become more unstable,” Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie said in a prepared statement. “We are seeing outbreaks in more and more places in the country. Hospitals must cancel planned treatment to make room for patients with COVID-19 and infection detection is under pressure in many municipalities.”
Svalbard remains one of the few places in the world with no official COVID-19 cases, but Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said this week there have been several cases where visitors turned out to have close contact with people infected on the mainland. She said the governor’s office and Longyearbyen city officials are evaluating if stricter measures are needed in Svalbard, including reinstating a mandatory quarantine for all people arriving from the mainland.
Svalbard’s remoteness and lack of medical facilities has made the possibility of a local outbreak a concern of officials since the onset of the pandemic a year ago. Norway’s government announced last week all residents in the archipelago are now considered a priority for getting vaccinations, with shots scheduled to be administered beyond the most-vulnerable population this month.
Included in the latest mandatory nationwide restrictions nationwide:
• A ban on serving alcohol.
• Closure of swimming pools and indoor fitness centres for adults, except for some organized training. Cancelation sports competitions except at the professional level.
• Reductions in the size of group activities. Indoor with fixed seating is limited to 20 people (down from 100), funerals and similar events with assigned seats 50 people (down from 100), indoor sports events for youths limited to 50 people. Outdoor activities limited to 50 people (down from either 200 or 600 in three separated groups).
• People returning from non-necessary travel outside of Norway will have to spend the full 10 days in quarantine, with no exceptions for antibody or other tests.
Recommendations include no more than two house guests, and keeping a minimum of two meters distance from people in public (instead of one), “home office” work for all public and private employers, and limiting outings such as cabin trips to immediate family members.
Norway’s government says it will add 500 million kroner in emergency assistance to tourism and other businesses affected due to reduce travel by the new measures, on top of 750 million kroner already in this year’s national budget.
This is a breaking story. Details will be added as they become known.