National radio and television, 1 January 2021.
On New Year’s Eve a year ago, we were excited to be embarking on a new decade.
It marked an opportunity to open ourselves up to hope, and to dream in a bigger format.
But the decade did not start the way we had hoped or dreamed about.
2020 has turned out to be a very difficult year.
At the beginning of the year we were confronted by the outbreak of COVID-19. At the end of the year, we were witness to the destructive power of the forces of nature. The municipality of Gjerdrum in the district of Romerike has been struck by one of the worst quick-clay landslides in recent times.
Many people have been affected. Many have lost their homes. Many have been evacuated. And many are apprehensive about what will happen next.
Out thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this disaster. We would like to express our deepest appreciation to the rescue workers for their tireless efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on our society for most of this year.
The disease has taken lives.
Many have become ill.
Many have lost their jobs.
More and more people have found themselves feeling lonely and isolated.
Our natural desire for closeness has been overridden by the need to keep a safe distance.
The Government has been forced to take decisions very quickly. Often in situations fraught with uncertainty.
We did not get everything right on our first try.
But we have revised our decisions to incorporate what we are learning along the way.
Two waves of infection have hit Europe since March.
In both instances, Norway has coped better than many other countries.
Fewer people here have needed to be admitted to hospital, and fewer have died. Our economy has fared better as well.
There are many reasons why we have managed to cope so well so far.
We introduced measures at an early stage. The countries that waited have been more severely affected.
And Norwegians by and large have willingly taken part in the national effort.
People have put their own interests and dreams aside in order to protect the elderly and other risk groups. This has helped to save lives.
I am deeply grateful for, proud of and touched by the way the Norwegian people have handled the greatest challenge to our society since World War II.
We were there for each other when it really counted.
Even though 2020 has brought many hardships, we will always look back with admiration on the way the people have contributed.
Twenty years ago, Tore Gjelsvik, a Norwegian WWII resistance fighter, published his reminiscences from the war years.
The title of that work expresses the same hope I have for 2021:
Better days are coming soon.
Soon the day will come when we can hug each other again.
Sit close to one another at a concert and sing at the top of our voices.
Gather family members together across the generations to celebrate birthdays and holidays.
And the high-school graduating class get up to its traditional capers.
Better days are coming soon.
I wish I could say that better days will come tomorrow.
But unfortunately, I can’t.
We will still have to live with restrictive measures for some time to come.
Most of us can cope with not being able to live our normal lives for a while.
It is not much fun, and it is exhausting, but we can get through it.
But for those who were already feeling isolated to start with, the pandemic has made the situation worse.
So I have a request for everyone tonight:
Take a look around you.
If you think someone you know is sitting at home all alone, pick up your phone.
Give them a call. Find out how they are doing.
It costs so little, but can mean so much.
Better days are coming soon.
To put it somewhat facetiously: they will be coming by lorry and air freight.
Obviously, I am thinking of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The successful production of new vaccines in such a short time is a triumph for science and for international cooperation.
That is worth reflecting on at a time when conspiracy theories spread like wildfire.
A time when more people appear to be questioning the value of science and knowledge.
And when some assert that each nation should be an entity unto itself.
I beg to differ.
The pandemic has made it very clear that no country will be able solve these challenges on its own.
The EEA Agreement has been a vital tool for providing Norway with access to vaccines. Our good neighbour, Sweden, has provided special help as well.
We are grateful for this.
Norway has also taken responsibility.
We played a key role in establishing the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI) in 2016. CEPI’s mission is to accelerate the development of vaccines against rare and emerging infections diseases.
We are proud of this.
The pandemic has truly taught us that the countries of the world can achieve much more working together than each on its own.
If you become ill with COVID-19, a ventilator from Switzerland may help you to breathe.
The medicines you need may have been manufactured in Italy or India.
One of the vaccines we will be using was developed in the US and Germany. And has been tested on over 40 thousand volunteers across six countries on five different continents to ensure that it is safe for you.
Norway has also contributed. Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have developed a method that makes it possible to test thousands of people each day. This method has been exported to Denmark and India, among others.
There is a lot that we in Norway can achieve.
But there are only just over five million of us here.
We will never be able to meet all of our needs all by ourselves.
We will always have a better, safer country if we can take advantage of the advancements made by the nearly eight billion people outside Norway.
I first became involved in politics almost 45 years ago.
Much has changed over these years. And mostly for the better.
This has of course also led to changes in which issues should be given priority.
But the need for everyone to have a secure job to go to has always been a priority for me.
Which has made it all the more distressing to witness the negative impacts of COVID-19 on so many businesses.
Particularly in the travel, food and beverage, culture and entertainment, and transport industries.
I know that the situation is tough for many of you now.
Better days are coming soon. For us, and for you.
We will once again be able to go to concerts, cafés and restaurants together.
Allow tourists to enjoy the best that Norway has to offer.
I am looking forward to that.
But until that day comes, we will work to support the businesses that are struggling.
The state cannot assume all the risk. But we will provide good schemes that make it possible to save many of the viable companies.
I would also like to encourage everyone who can to support their local businesses during this period.
Many are finding that their jobs have become more demanding now. But it is even more demanding to be one of those who no longer has a job to go to.
Some people will be able to return to their former jobs. Others will have to look for new employment, and will receive help to do that.
The situation for newly qualified graduates will be especially unpredictable.
Our young people have sacrificed a lot to limit the spread of infection.
We owe it to them to do everything we can to offer them a bright future.
Secure jobs. An effective climate policy.
And not least – targeted initiatives to increase skills and knowledge.
In line with this, a greater number of teachers are receiving further education in the subjects they teach.
Funding has been allocated for several thousand new student places.
We will continue to expand our national knowledge society.
This is our way of thanking our young people for everything they have done in these trying times.
We need to create more jobs in Norway.
Fortunately, there are many businesses that are thinking proactively.
I recently visited Edgeir Vårdal Asknes, CEO and co-founder of the digital energy consumer service, Tibber, in Førde.
In the middle of the pandemic, Tibber has hired 50 % more staff.
And in Sunnmøre, they are producing furniture at an unprecedented rate.
When I visited the Ekornes facility I learned the company had hired 100 new employees. And the ambition is to hire another two hundred or so over the next five years.
These companies are leading the way.
The labour market of the future must be smart and innovative.
And it must also be green.
Moving forward, we will highlight hydrogen as an energy carrier.
Hydrogen has an important role to play in areas where electricity and batteries are less efficient.
We will work to produce more hydrogen-powered ferries.
Earlier this December, the industrial concern Yara announced plans to fully electrify its plant in Porsgrunn.
Production of emission-free fuel will further promote the development of green shipping.
This demonstrates how climate policy can lead to new jobs.
We have set ambitious climate targets to prevent dangerous climate change.
In the next few days, the Government will present the first climate policy plan showing how we intend to reach the targets for emissions reductions in non-ETS sectors by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Norway.
A number of the major challenges that were facing us before the pandemic will still be there after the pandemic is over.
The need to be more inclusive is one of these.
Having a job means having a source of income that puts food on your table and a roof over your head.
But a job is more than just a source of income.
A job is also an arena for fellowship. That is something I think everyone who has been confined to working from home has come to appreciate.
Having a job is also about mastering new skills and the feeling of being useful to others.
There are many people in Norway who have much more to give.
But they never get the chance. This may be because they have an unfamiliar name, gaps in their CV, or a disability of some kind.
In the time ahead, we must do more to address this.
It is my hope that, after the pandemic, Norwegian society will be more inclusive, and everyone’s value will be recognised.
At this time of year, our thoughts always turn to all those who are working in other countries. And who are unable to be with their families and friends.
There are many who are working hard, on behalf of us all, to make the world a better place.
This year COVID-19 has really turned things upside down.
I would like to thank you all for your efforts. We are thinking of you, particularly now at Christmas and New Year.
Many people in Norway have experienced being in quarantine this past year.
Including our beloved King and Queen.
I would like to refer back to what the King said in his speech to the Norwegian people on 15 March 2020.
He reminded us that we all need a little extra kindness during these days.
Those are wise words indeed. When we are under strain, it is easy to express ourselves more forcefully than we really need to when we disagree.
I would like to thank the King and Queen for all their support and wisdom at a particularly challenging time.
A little more kindness makes it easier for all of us to stay the course.
There are many who deserve to be thanked after a year like this one.
I would like to mention a few in particular.
The personnel working at hospitals and elder care facilities are in a class of their own. Their work has been critical for the patients they have treated and has made us all feel safe and proud.
The many dedicated individuals in our country, like the people at the Halden volunteer centre, who are making a huge effort to provide information about infection protection measures for those who are not so well-versed in the Norwegian language.
Everyone who reaches out to people who are isolated and lonely. Like Karl Laugsan and the members of the National Association for Public Health in Ytterøy, who phone up everyone in the community who is living alone and invite them to share a meal.
The staff and teachers at schools and day-care institutions, who work to give children and young people the best possible start in life. Who quickly shifted to online teaching and who have kept on working hard through the various levels of closure.
The individuals working in transport, cleaning and retail services. For helping to keep the wheels of society turning smoothly.
The staffs at the ministries, directorates, public agencies, counties and municipalities. And especially the employees at the National Institute of Public Health and the Directorate of Health. Many of you are still working long days and weekends. To provide advice, define rules, design compensation schemes and much more. Without you, it would not have been possible for Norway to manage the virus as well as it has.
I would also like to thank the other political parties in the Storting for their constructive cooperation when the pandemic broke out.
And finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to all of you who are following the advice and rules to prevent the infection from spreading. This is neither easy nor enjoyable. I know. But when we do it together, it works. And we have to hold out for a bit longer. That is how we have managed to make it through 2020. By working together. And that is how we will manage to get through the beginning of 2021 as well.
Happy New Year.
Better days are coming soon.