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Prime Minister’s remarks at press conference on changes to the coronavirus measures

Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s introductory remarks at a press conference to announce an easing of restrictions in Norway’s coronavirus measures, Tuesday 7 April.

Erna Solberg at the press conference.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg’ gives introductory remarks at a press conference to announce an easing of restrictions in Norway’s coronavirus measures. Credit: Arvid Samland

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Twenty-six long days have passed since we so drastically changed how we live our lives.

During this period, we have asked a lot of each of you.

The response we received has been one of enormous patience and willpower in the face of strict infection control measures.

Although it has been difficult. Although we are more isolated. Although we miss all the things we otherwise take for granted, we have been listening dutifully to the health authorities and their advice.

It is my sense that everyone wants to take part in this collective effort. That everyone wants to help suppress the contagion. So we will have a health service that is able to help all of us when we need it.

These days have shown us what we are made of.

They have shown that we are willing to pitch in for the common good. That we will go to great lengths to help each other. That we all step up when it really counts. And not least: that we stand together.

These weeks have shown Norway at its best.

On behalf of the entire Government, I would like to express thanks to everyone who has helped us to reduce the spread of the infection so that we can now begin to approach the virus in somewhat different ways.

The virus has exacted a heavy cost.

Many Norwegians have lost their lives. Their families are entering into the Easter holiday period without their loved ones. To you, I send my warmest thoughts.

The virus has also paralysed our business community. Our workplaces.

As we start the Easter holiday, 400 000 Norwegians are without a job. Most of them because they have been temporarily laid off.

To you I want to say that we are doing everything in our power to control the infection and to ensure that businesses and jobs will be there when the coronavirus crisis is over.

Together with the parties in the Storting, we have designed programmes and schemes which we hope will make a very difficult situation a little easier.

It is costly, but worth it.

Everyone has seen the pictures and read the horror stories from other European countries where the health care system has collapsed.

Our goal is not to end up in that situation.

The Government today has decided which measures to deploy in the continuing fight against the virus.

We have done so on the basis of new analyses by the Institute of Public Health and advice provided by the Directorate of Health.

The new analyses provide a basis for cautious optimism.

We can see that the infection curve has levelled off and that our infection control measures are working.

Together, we have achieved the goal of ensuring that each patient on average only passes the infection on to one other person.

As you heard yesterday, that figure is now estimated at 0.7.

It is gratifying. But it is just a snapshot.

I feel a strong need to emphasise that we cannot just lower our shoulders in the belief that we can now lean back into our everyday lives as they were before.

We are still far from halftime, if we compare this battle to a football match.

But with solid team play, Norway has managed to get the virus under control.

The job now is to maintain that control.

Therefore, we will keep doing what we know works. We will continue the virus-suppression strategy, but with some adjustment to the measures now in effect.

The changes we will now introduce we will do together, cautiously, and taking our time – three key elements to keep in mind.

Before we revise the strategy itself – and significantly change the measures that have been limiting contact between us – we must have better ways of tracing the infection.

We must be able to test more people, more frequently. And we must put in place a system for more rapid and more effective isolation of those who are ill.

To those of you who think this is taking too long: I understand your impatience. If we succeed in controlling the infection going forward, we can ease the restrictions more. But if we fail, we must make them more stringent again.

The Government today has decided to introduce seven changes.

All of them require the application of sound infection control rules. Therefore, the Institute of Public Health in concert with professional and industry organisations will have to work out infection control standards in the different areas.

When these are complete and ready for use, we will do the following:

From 20 April, we will open the country’s day-care centres.

From 27 April, pupils in primary school years 1–4 will go back to school and to out-of-school care programmes.

This should give the day-care centres and schools plenty of time to plan for re-opening. Parents, children and staff must all be confident that the necessary infection control measures are in place.

Our ambition is for all pupils, to return to school before the summer in one way or another.

Starting 27 April, we will re-open upper secondary school for second- and third-year pupils who are following vocational programmes, provided that this can be done in a way that meets infection control guidelines.

Starting 27 April, we will also permit some students who are at the end of their studies, and who are dependent on using facilities and equipment at their institution, to return to universities, university colleges and vocational technical colleges. The same applies to employees in recruitment positions who are in the final stage of their projects.

Minister of Education and Integration Guri Melby will say more about this afterwards, but I would like to stress that students may only return to carry out activities that are essential, and that infection control measures must be adhered to.

Starting 20 April, health practitioners who perform one-to-one services, such as psychologists, opticians and physiotherapists, will be able to resume much of their activity.

By 27 April at the latest, we will allow services where there is one-to-one contact, such as hairdressers, massage and skin care professionals to resume contingent on compliance with the standards that are to be prepared.

Everyone will be given time to familiarise themselves with the standards, prepare themselves sufficiently and ensure they have the necessary infection control equipment to do their jobs.

Starting 20 April, it will also be possible for people to stay overnight at their holiday cabins. The recommendation to limit unnecessary leisure travel remains in effect. We must continue to restrict our movement patterns in order to keep COVID-19 from flaring up again.

I have now gone through the restrictions we will be easing at this juncture. Other things will not be changed. Large sports and cultural events will not be possible until 15 June.

By 1 May, we will return with a new assessment for the summer with respect to major sports and cultural events. It is a matter of providing predictability for the organisers and seeing how well our infection control measures are working.

As we now ease the restrictions somewhat, I must emphasise as strongly as possible that this does not mean we can allow ourselves to grow more careless in other areas.

All other measures and guidance remain in effect, whether applicable to groups, large congregations or other forms of social life.

Those who can work from home must continue to do so.

We must still be conscientious about following the rules on social distancing.

We must wash our hands just as often, cough into our elbows and take all hygienic and infection control measures seriously.

Anyone experiencing symptoms must stay at home.

Quarantine and isolation rules must be respected as scrupulously as before.

If we become more careless in our everyday lives, the virus may spread out of control.

If it does, we will have to tighten the measures again.

We Norwegians are known for our ability to mount vigorous, all-out efforts. But when it comes to controlling a contagious virus, that is not what’s needed. Instead we must demonstrate long-term perseverance.

Together we have achieved the goal of suppressing the virus.

Together we will maintain control over the virus in the time before us.

And then – also together – we will be able to reclaim our everyday lives.

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