Infection prevention measures necessary during Christmas holidays

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Infection prevention measures will remain necessary during the Christmas holidays, but the government is introducing a number measures to allow people to celebrate Christmas and New Year in a way that is more similar to what they are used to.

‘Christmas is very much a time for closeness rather than distance. We want everyone to celebrate Christmas with as many of the people they want around them as possible. We deserve this much – especially this year. At the same time, we are concerned that Christmas celebrations may lead to a rise in infections across our society. We have no desire to start the new year with rising infection rates and new restrictions during January. None of us want that,’ says Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Based on advice issued by the Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the government has adopted the following measures for the Christmas holidays:

  • You must continue to limit the total number of people you come into social contact with across the entire period, including in the run up to Christmas.
  • We are retaining the recommendation that people should have no more than 5 guests in their home until the New Year.
  • On two days we are allowing people to have up to 10 guests. This will mean that up to 10 guests are permitted on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, or on two other days that you may choose during this period.
  • All guests must be able to maintain a distance of at least one metre from anyone who does not live in the same home as them. This applies when seated at the dining table, when distributing gifts and when the Christmas biscuits are served.
  • If you are unable to host 10 guests for Christmas while maintaining a distance of at least one metre, you must invite fewer guests.
  • If you come from areas with high rates of infection, you should maintain two metres’ distance from people in risk categories.

These recommendations apply to the entire country. In municipalities with high rates of infection, there may be stricter rules in place at a municipal level in terms of the number of guests and the degree of social contact permitted. You should therefore stay up-to-date with all the information relating to the place where you live.

‘In allowing more guests for two days during the festive season, we are expecting that everyone ensure they maintain distancing of one metre at all times and exercise caution in their number of social contacts during this period,’ says Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services.

Church walks

The government wishes to facilitate the opening of churches for church walks over Christmas. This means that people will be able to access the church building, light a candle and hear the music being played. This is on the condition that distancing measures are in place at all times, that no more than fifty people are on the premises simultaneously, and that track and trace details are taken for all people entering and exiting the church. This is also on the condition that the church building is big enough to allow compliance with all infection prevention measures.

Travelling home for Christmas – a necessary journey

‘The government recommends that you avoid unnecessary domestic and foreign travel. Journeys at Christmas can be quite rightly described as necessary for many. The alternative would be Christmas without family. However, I wish to emphasise: This is not a Christmas for you to travel abroad,’ says Bent Høie, Minister of Health and Care Services.

‘Many people usually use the Christmas holidays to visit families overseas. There is a real danger that those people who choose to travel abroad may return with the infection. If you choose to travel abroad this Christmas, you must follow the rules upon your return home. You must complete 10 days in quarantine after visiting a red country.’

Vulnerable groups and the lonely

This year, the government has granted NOK 25 million in extra funding to support Christmas activities and support services.

‘I hope everyone will remember to include people who are alone during advent and at Christmas. The most important acts can often be those that cost nothing. An invitation for a short stroll, a chat on the phone or a video call,’ says Prime Minister Solberg.

The government urges voluntary organisations that organise alternative Christmas and New Year celebrations to continue to do so provided that they comply with the recommended infection prevention measures.  In most places, this will mean that organisations may gather up to fifty people indoors with social distancing of one metre.

Further developments to risk assessment system

‘Both national and international experience has shown that it is important to react quickly with appropriate measures in order to stop the spread of the virus. In Norway, we have had good experiences with municipalities taking control of local outbreaks – but coronavirus does not respect municipal boundaries. We are now further developing the current system and our readiness plan to enable us to make more rapid interventions in several municipalities simultaneously when this is necessary,’ says Høie.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health will publish risk assessments at a county level on a weekly basis, with this system entering into force on 16 December. The risk assessment will comprise five levels:

  • Level 1 is under control.
  • Level 2 is under control with clusters of infections.
  • Level 3 is increasing spread.
  • Level 4 is extensive spread.
  • Level 5 is uncontrolled spread.

Each level will include proposals for a package of measures that may be implemented.

The risk assessments and packages of measures are flexible, and should be adapted to meet local and regional challenges.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health have been tasked with establishing the system, and county governors and municipalities will receive further details shortly.

Christmas guidance 2020
Illustration: Ingrid Asp (ASD) / Lars Rune Opsahl (DSS) / Colourbox.com