The coronavirus situation: Speech by The Minister of Justice and Public Security

Good afternoon everyone,

This autumn, we have faced a second wave of infection.

This means that we have been forced to once again close many of the services that we were able to re-open during the summer as we sought to ensure we did not lose control of the infection situation.

And while we have not yet made it across the finishing line, I want to thank everyone for their efforts during the autumn.

We hope that these positive developments will continue so that we can re-open society once again.

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When we faced the same situation in March, we effectively closed down everything.

That was not necessary on this occasion as we were able to draw upon our experiences during the first wave.

When we saw increased rates of infection being imported from abroad, we were obliged to introduce new measures to prevent people bringing the virus into Norway from outside our borders.

However, unlike in March, we were not forced to refuse entry to Norway to a number of groups.

Instead, we established rules that governed how to implement quarantine procedures.

These rules were quickly put in place and fortunately we are seeing infection rates declining once again.

Some of the rules have been the subject of criticism – they are perceived to be unfair.

I understand this point of view, which is why I am also pleased that today we are making proposals to amend the rules relating to quarantine hotels. 

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The main rule will remain that persons arriving in Norway from red countries must be confined to quarantine hotels during their quarantine period.

Exemptions will apply to residents of Norway or those who own homes in the country.

We are now proposing that those people who can prove they have a tenancy in Norway but are not Norwegian residents will be permitted to stay in this property during their quarantine period.

We are also proposing that persons who are neither resident nor own or rent property in the country will be permitted to stay in a ‘suitable location’ if the individual in question is able to document that they are complying with all quarantine regulations.

Such a suitable location must be a private room with access to dedicated toilet facilities, a separate kitchen or eating facility, and it must be possible to avoid close contact with others.

Persons within the same household arriving together in Norway may quarantine in the same location.

We wish to implement these changes as quickly as possible, and we will be submitting the proposals for consultation this afternoon with a deadline for responses in 48 hours’ time. The changes will thus be established as quickly as possible following consultation, and no later than during the weekend.

The current rules will continue to apply until these changes take effect.

And it is important for me to emphasise: the quarantine hotel scheme changes apply only to requirements relating to where quarantine is undertaken.

Persons arriving in Norway from red countries must undergo 10 days of quarantine upon arrival – regardless of whether this takes place in a quarantine hotel, at home or at another suitable location.

It will also remain the case that any breach of the quarantine rules may result in punitive fines.

However, we hope that these changes will make it easier for people without compromising our infection controls. 

We will draw up a form that must be used to document that the home an individual is to stay in during their quarantine period is suitable. This form and further information will shortly be available online at helsenorge.no and via the government’s Covid website.

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We are aware that many people will be travelling in and out of the country over the Christmas holidays.

As a result, the health authorities will be communicating information relating to quarantine rules for arrivals in Norway via several channels.

In addition to information available online in several languages, text messages will also be sent out.

A text message will be sent before Christmas to all foreign mobile phones in Norway including information in recipients’ own languages about the quarantine rules.

A text message will be sent to all Norwegian mobiles that are abroad at Christmas, and another text message will be sent after Christmas to the same recipients to remind them of the quarantine rules upon their return to Norway.

Target groups include all arrivals in Norway, foreign employees, international students and other Norwegians overseas, Norwegian citizens travelling abroad at Christmas and foreign visitors to Norway.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health are already engaged in targeted campaigns aimed at these groups in order to disseminate quarantine information in a range of languages distributed through many different channels.

Small cards will be handed out at ports of arrival featuring a QR code that links directly to relevant information available in several languages.

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I also have a few things to say about the Lofoten fishery.

There will be three to four thousand seasonal workers arriving in the country – primarily from Eastern Europe – in connection with the seasonal fishing season in Lofoten.

Several meetings have been held recently between a number of relevant stakeholders, and we are now working to establish a separate action plan to reduce the risk of infection during the Lofoten fishing season.

This plan will include measures across multiple government sectors, including justice, health, industry and fisheries. These measures will be national, regional and local.

It is also the case that the fishing industry itself will have to take responsibility for ensuring that season workers have satisfactory living quarters, as well as ensuring that the local authorities are kept informed on an ongoing basis.

The county governor of Nordland had established quarantine hotels in the region with the assistance of select host municipalities. The large number of seasonal workers will present challenges in terms of quarantine hotel capacity. This situation is being monitored by the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection.

The health authorities will also monitor their own capacity within the region.

The police will be maintaining active border controls throughout the region to ensure that only workers with valid documentation from employers are admitted to the country.

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Finally, I would like to mention that we are working to establish a digital system for recording travel in order to improve our infection controls here in Norway.

This system will require persons wishing to enter Norway to register data such as their name, contact details, quarantine location, and – if applicable – their employer.

The main rule is that anyone crossing the border – including Norwegian citizens – must be registered in the system.

The system will be of great value to the health sector in its infection control and track and trace work, while also allowing the police and the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority to carry out their work investigating breaches of quarantine regulations.

We will announce details pertaining to this solution at a later date, but we are aiming to launch the system on 1 January 2021.

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And with that, I would now like to hand over to the Minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie.