Just before Christmas, we learned that a significantly more contagious variant of the coronavirus had been detected and was spreading in the United Kingdom.
On 21 December, we halted air traffic and introduced a testing requirement for everyone who had travelled from the UK in the last 14 days.
Since that time, the Government – following expert advice – has been tightening and strengthening the rules that govern who is permitted to enter Norway.
What we see is that the mutated virus has spread widely since then in many countries that do not monitor the extent of mutations in the same way that Norway, Denmark and the UK do.
That is why the Government today has decided – on the recommendation of the health authorities – to introduce very strict rules on who may enter the country. Starting at midnight, in the earliest hours of Friday morning, we will introduce the strictest rules on entering Norway since 12 March of last year.
In practice, the border will be closed to everyone who does not live in Norway.
Exemptions are provided for:
- people who work in critical public functions
- people who conduct transport of goods and passengers
- health personnel from Sweden and Finland who work in the Norwegian health and care services
- people who plan to carry out formalised contact with children
- and other people who have decidedly special reasons for coming to Norway.
This will ensure that critical goods and services can enter Norway.
But it means many immigrant workers will not be able to come in the weeks ahead.
On 3 January, the Government introduced strict national measures to counter the spread of infection.
This was not only because of our deep concern about the contagion in Norway.
It was also because we were unsure whether the mutated variant from the UK – and other infectious variants of the virus – had come to this country and could spread.
The same considerations were on the table on 18 January when, for the most part, we extended these national measures until further notice.
We can see that the measures have worked.
The entry restrictions will now entail stricter testing and quarantine controls.
We are discovering more people who are infected, and they are being placed in quarantine.
The domestic measures have also worked.
The weekly report by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health for the third week of January shows a 53-per-cent decrease in the number of infection cases since the first week of the month, which was the worst for infections since the pandemic began.
The R number is now estimated to be 0.6.
I asked everyone in Norway to join a forceful collective effort on 3 January.
The apparent result of this effort is that the mutated virus has not spread as much as it could have otherwise.
You stepped up to the challenge – as you have again and again throughout the pandemic. To all who took part, thank you!
Last weekend, the Government introduced strict measures in Nordre Follo and 24 other municipalities in eastern Norway.
The aim was to block the spread of the more contagious variant of the virus and to gain an overview of the situation.
These strict measures are intended to be short term.
We may also introduce similar measures elsewhere in the country if this variant of the virus is found to be spreading.
The spread we are witnessing in the rest of the world is serious.
In our current circumstances, the Government believes strong restrictions are absolutely necessary to reduce the risk of importing more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
These are intrusive measures, and the Government will reassess the situation in two weeks. We seek close cooperation with employer and employee organisations to identify good solutions within a strict regime.
And to be able adjust measures if that becomes necessary.
In any case, we must be prepared to live with stricter entry restrictions for a while longer than the 14 days.
We are aware that this tightening of entry rules will affect a great many people. Important work may come to a stop, companies may find it hard to fulfil contracts, and friends and families will be unable to meet and visit.
Many will ask if these actions are proportional to the situation we face, at a time of declining contagion in Norway.
The answer is yes.
The Government shares the assessment of the Directorate of Health and the Institute of Public Health that this is the right thing to do, precisely because the infection situation in Norway differs significantly from that of most other countries.
The share of Norway’s population that is infected is lower, and we are able monitor the more contagious variant better than most other countries.
That is why it is right for us to continue having entry rules that are among the strictest in Europe.
At the same time, we must learn from what has happened elsewhere.
The experience of other countries indicates that the new variant of the virus has the potential to be highly transmissible.
We have watched as other countries, such as Ireland, have gone in a matter of weeks from low rates of infection to national transmission rates that are out of control.
The consequences for children and young people, places of work and society as a whole are significant when it becomes necessary once again to shut down for a long period of time.
Our joint efforts after Christmas have given us an advantage in tackling the new coronavirus variant.
The fact that our borders in practice are closed will help us to keep that advantage.
Fortunately, we have reached the point where more and more people are getting vaccinated, so that the most vulnerable in society are protected against infection.
This work is well underway.
Successfully cracking down on this more contagious variant of the virus, and delaying its ability to spread in Norway, will therefore be of tremendous value.
So that fewer people become seriously ill and die of COVID-19 in our country.
When we announced our measures in early January, I said …
That we were well into a marathon.
That we could see the end of it.
But it turns out that the final stretch of this marathon may include some very steep hills, which all of us must climb to ensure a result where everyone – as many Norwegians as possible – crosses the finish line.