Long-term COVID-19 strategy to normalise everyday life

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The pandemic is now in a different phase, but we must continue to live with COVID-19. The Norwegian Government has devised a strategy and emergency preparedness plan for the continued handling of the pandemic, and is closely monitoring the situation. Good monitoring, sound plans, and vaccination are critical factors in living with COVID-19 going ahead.

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The objective of the strategy is to protect life and health, while keeping society open, and the economy functioning as normally as possible. Good monitoring, capacity, and preparedness are required to detect and handle different scenarios for the future.

‘We have reclaimed everyday life. Now we are going to normalise our attitude towards COVID-19 and the way we handle it. This means that, as a general rule, the Norwegian Government will no longer make decisions regarding infection control measures. Main responsibility for offering advice about COVID-19 will lie with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the municipalities,’ says Minister of Health and Care Services Ingvild Kjerkol.

Emergency preparedness in society

The Norwegian Government's emergency preparedness plan for the way forward with COVID-19 has been designed to enable society to respond quickly if monitoring and risk assessments indicate that the pandemic will result in a considerable disease burden or critical overload of the health service. This plan will be in place until June 2023.

The situation will be handled in a targeted way, based on the infection rate, risks, and consequences in society. Decisions must be based on overall assessments, including in relation to the economy.

‘The handling must have a clear public health and societal focus, not a unilateral focus on COVID-19. Good monitoring, updated knowledge, and good emergency preparedness are key factors in the success of this approach,’ states Ms Kjerkol.

Each sector must be prepared to mobilise and implement necessary and proportionate measures as quickly as possible. The sectors must assess their own plans and the need for emergency preparedness in relation to the Norwegian Government's strategy.

Packages of measures developed as part of the emergency preparedness

The Norwegian Government has prepared packages of national infection control measures that can be deployed as a general framework in the event of outbreaks and new virus variants. Similar packages of measures have been devised for entry into the country.

‘To improve predictability and flexibility in the handling of the pandemic, the Norwegian Government has devised packages of infection control measures as part of the emergency preparedness plan. The packages of measures allow planning, dialogue, and adjustment of measures,’ says Ms Kjerkol.

Measures must be assessed concretely and in light of the current situation and updated knowledge before they are deployed. All ministries and their subordinate agencies must update their emergency preparedness plans according to the packages of measures, and they must be prepared for outbreaks and new virus variants.

TISK

The TISK strategy (testing-isolation-tracing-quarantine) has been a key element of the Norwegian Government's COVID-19 strategy and handling. The TISK measures are part of the emergency preparedness plan, and can be introduced quickly when necessary. For now, the municipalities have been asked to maintain preparedness to administer PCR tests to 1% of the population per week. The municipalities have also been asked to devise plans for increasing capacity by reassigning personnel. In addition, the municipalities must have plans to establish a contact tracing system within 2 weeks by, among other things, keeping the necessary infrastructure, like telephone and IT systems.

‘The municipalities will be compensated for the necessary additional expenses associated with the increased emergency preparedness. The Norwegian Government will present a new assessment of the emergency preparedness level later and offer compensation in connection with the Revised National Budget, states Ms Kjerkol.

The vaccination rate is high, and many people have had COVID-19. This means that the population has a high level of protection against serious illness, which is why there is less need for measures to limit infection. The specific advice to stay home for 4 days after testing positive for COVID-19 is being rescinded. From now on, advice regarding COVID-19 will be left to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Vaccination

Vaccines are the most important instrument to fight the pandemic, and the COVID-19 vaccination programme will continue until June 2023. The vaccination strategy will remain dynamic, and will be based on updated knowledge about the illness and developments in the pandemic. Vaccinations must continue to be made available by the municipalities, so that anyone who wants to start or complete vaccination can do so.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health regularly assesses the need for a fourth dose, and the Institute may recommend a booster dose for the elderly and risk groups in the winter of 2022–2023. This is why the municipalities must have plans, so that they can quickly increase vaccination capacity,’ says Ms Kjerkol.

The Norwegian Government has ordered vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna through its agreement with the EU, which also includes vaccines developed for the Omicron variant. It is not clear when work on these vaccines will be completed or whether they will be better than the ones that are being used today.

COVID-19 certificate

The COVID-19 certificate is not in use in Norway, but such certificates are still in use in certain other countries. We need to be prepared for the COVID-19 situation to change and that it may become necessary to reintroduce strict infection control measures which apply nationally and to arrival in Norway. The Norwegian Government therefore recommends that the temporary rules in the Control of Communicable Diseases Act regarding COVID-19 certificates be extended.

Delegation of authority

On 28 March, the Ministry of Health and Care Services revoked the authority it had granted to the Norwegian Directorate of Health to coordinate efforts in the health sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authority was granted on 31 January 2020. Developments in the COVID-19 pandemic indicate that there is no longer a need for a delegation of authority.