The Norwegian Government has decided to introduce a number of national infection control measures to reduce the strain on the health and care sector, and delay and limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
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The measures are based on advice from the Norwegian Directorate of ) Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
‘We really wish we were done with the pandemic. As the situation is so serious now, however, we need to implement new measures to keep the pandemic under control. This is why the Christmas holiday will be different again this year. The risk of an overwhelmed health service and the spread of the more infectious Omicron variant make it necessary to adopt strict new measures to reduce social contact in society,’ says Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.
The Prime Minister states that the vaccines will gradually increase our immunity.
‘We are placing all our hopes precisely in the vaccines. If you have not gotten vaccinated yet, my message is: do it. If you have been offered a booster dose: accept it,’ says Mr Støre.
Risk of the health service reaching breaking point
There is considerable pressure on the municipal health service and the hospitals, and it is increasing. Further transmission and an increase in hospital admissions will reduce the capacity to treat COVID-19 patients and other groups of patients.
‘The measures that are being introduced are meant to delay the spread of Omicron. We do not know if the Omicron variant will further increase hospital admissions. However, the measures will give us time to obtain more knowledge about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant and its level of severity, as well as to vaccinate more people,’ states Minister of Health and Care Services Ingvild Kjerkol.
Over 300 patients are currently in Norwegian hospitals with COVID-19, at the same time that hospitals also have many patients with other respiratory infections and children who have been admitted with RSV. Combined with high numbers of employees on sick leave and difficulty finding temporary staff, this has created capacity issues for the entire health and care service. Several hospitals have postponed planned treatment and assessment of patients. There are also capacity issues within the GP service and the emergency health service. The municipalities are also very busy with vaccination and TISK work (test-isolate-trace-and-quarantine).
As Omicron has arrived on top of widespread Delta transmission, and people have many close contacts, the TISK work in the municipalities is very demanding.
‘The municipalities are currently involved in the vital task of vaccination. Municipalities with outbreaks have worked hard to reduce the infection rate. This is tough when both employees and the population are tired after working long days and living through an unrelenting pandemic. I’m impressed by their efforts. I’m also impressed by all of the health and care workers who have worked hard for almost two years. We don't have any substitutes who can take over when people need a break. If the health service becomes overwhelmed, we will all be affected. This is why we need to lower the infection rate and reduce the strain on the health and care service,’ says Ms Kjerkol.
Restrictions on serving of alcohol
The Norwegian Government is reintroducing the 1 metre rule, including at venues that serve food or alcohol.
‘It is important that everyone gives some thought to how many close contacts they have. If you have many of them, you should reduce the number. We know that much transmission occurs in people's homes, which is why we are encouraging people to have no more than 10 guests in their home,’ states Mr Støre.
The Norwegian Government is reintroducing the rule that all catering outlets that have a licence to serve alcohol must have seats for all guests. Alcohol may only be served at tables, and only served until midnight.
‘I realise that this is unwelcome news for a sector that has struggled for so long. This is why the Norwegian Government will also follow up with financial assistance,’ says Mr Støre.
Th Norwegian Government is also introducing a requirement to wear a face covering when it is not possible to keep a distance of at least 1 metre in a number of venues, such as shops, venues that serve food or alcohol, and on public transport. Employers are also under an obligation to make it possible for people to work from home when possible.
Ms Kjerkol stresses that good access to active leisure time is very important to our physical and mental health – also because it gives people a way to spend time with friends.
‘Organised cultural and sports activities are important for children and young people. They are also very important for adults. Even though the COVID-19 situation is making us reduce group sizes for adults over the age of 20, we are not introducing a requirement to keep a distance of 1 metre when it is not possible to perform the activity while keeping a distance. Nor are we making any recommendations regarding group sizes for child and young people under the age of 20 when they train or participate in sports, cultural, and leisure activities. They can continue to train together like they have so far,’ stresses Ms Kjerkol.
‘It is important that we maintain social contact, but reduce the number of close contacts. We do not need to go into isolation unless we have a confirmed case of COVID-19. When possible, we should meet other people outdoors,’ says Ms Kjerkol.
These are the national measures
All new national advice and recommendations will be effective from 00:01 thursday Dec 9. They will last for four weeks, but will be reconsidered in two weeks.
Advice and recommendations
Distance and social contact
- All people should keep a distance of 1 metre from other people than their household members and corresponding close relations.
- The recommendation does not apply to children in kindergarten and primary school. There is also an exemption for adults who work with services for children and young people, as well as vulnerable groups.
- A maximum of 10 guests at home in addition to household members. Up to 20 guests on one occasion between Christmas and New Year, but the guests should keep a distance of 1 metre from each other. Everyone must consider how many close contacts they have in total.
- Children in kindergarten and primary school may receive visits from other children in their cohort/class/section, even if this exceeds the maximum number of guests recommended.
- Reduce the number of close contacts, but do not isolate yourself.
- Meet other people outdoors when possible.
Organised leisure activities
- Leisure activities should be organised outdoors as far as possible, and changing rooms should be kept closed.
- For indoor organised leisure activities, a recommendation of groups of up to 20 people for adults over the age of 20. Indoors, adults are recommended to keep a distance, when possible, in order to perform the activity, and a recommendation to keep a distance of 2 metres for high-intensity training.
- No concrete recommendation regarding distance and numbers when children and young people under the age of 20 train and participate in sports, culture, and leisure activities.
- Elite sports may go ahead as normal.
Kindergartens, schools, and after-school programmes
- Regular testing in schools with a high infection rate.
- When necessary, the municipalities must reintroduce the traffic light model in kindergartens and schools. They will operate at green level, unless a different level is adopted locally.
- Gatherings can be organised for children in kindergarten or primary school for whole classes/sections/groups, with the necessary number of adults present.
- Universities, university colleges, and vocational schools should switch to teaching in smaller groups as soon as feasible, and offer more digital teaching. Students who need to carry out experiments in laboratories or receive skills training should be prioritised for physical teaching.
- Universities, university colleges, and vocational schools should organise examinations and compulsory courses either digitally or physically with good infection control measures in place when this is feasible. The same applies to other educational institutions for adults.
- Recommendation to keep a distance of 1 metre and people must work from home to a greater extent.
- Recommendation to wear a face covering when it is not possible to keep a distance, unless physical barriers like partitions, etc. have been put in place.
- The recommendation to work from home and wear a face covering does not apply to services where this prevents employees from performing necessary statutory tasks for vulnerable groups, as well as children and young people.
- Good ventilation is recommended when people spend lengthy periods of time in the same room as people outside their household or corresponding close relations.
Events and gatherings
- A maximum of 20 people at private gatherings at a public venue or in a rented or borrowed venue.
- A maximum of 50 people at memorial services after funerals or burial services. Funerals are considered a public event with designated seating – see below.
- 3 cohorts of 200 people each with a 2-metre distance between each cohort for the duration of public events with designated seating.
- A maximum of 50 people at public events without designated seating.
- Indoor events must have an organiser who keeps a list of attendees, and the event must be organised in accordance with the infection control measures.
- Alcohol may not be served after midnight at events that have a licence to serve alcohol.
- The organiser must ensure that all of the people present at indoor events are able to keep a distance of at least 1 metre from people who do not belong to the same household or corresponding close relations. An exemption is made for several groups, including participants at cultural and sports events, participants on certain courses, and people who belong to the same cohort in kindergarten or primary school.
- At events where all of the participants are in designated seating, there will be an adequate distance if the organiser ensures that there is at least one vacant seat between each person in the same row from the time they arrive at the event. People from the same household may sit closer together after arrival.
Venues that serve food or alcohol
- A requirement that the venue ensures that all guests can keep a distance of 1 metre from other people than their household members and corresponding close relations. There must be a distance of at least 1 metre between seats when guests arrive. However, people from the same household or corresponding close relations may sit closer to each other.
- Venues with a licence to serve alcohol must have seating for all guests, but this is not a requirement for cultural events at the venue.
- Alcohol may only be served at tables.
- Alcohol may not be served after midnight.
- The venue must register the contact details of guests who permit such registration.
Compliance with infection control rules
- A requirement for kindergartens, schools, and other training and educational institutions to comply with the infection control rules. The municipalities must reintroduce the traffic light model. They will operate at the green level of measures unless a different level is adopted locally. There may be a need to move all kindergartens and schools in the country to yellow level again.
- The following enterprises must operate under the infection control rules to remain open: libraries, amusement parks, indoor swimming pools, water parks, spa facilities, hotel pools, fitness centres, bingo halls, amusement arcades, shopping centres, shops, trade fairs, temporary markets, etc.
- This involves a requirement to ensure that it is possible to keep a distance of at least 1 metre from people who do not belong to the same household or corresponding close relations, and for the enterprise to have drawn up procedures for good hygiene, good cleaning, and ventilation.
- With the exception of libraries, shops, and shopping centres, the enterprises must register the contact details of guests who permit such registration.
- Industry guidance should be reintroduced for fitness centres and indoor swimming pools, among others.
- A requirement to wear a face covering when it is not possible to keep a distance of at least 1 metre in shops, shopping centres, venues that serve food or alcohol, public transport, taxis, and indoor station areas. The requirement also applies to employees unless physical barriers have been put in place.
- The requirement to wear a face covering also applies to hairdressers, skin care professionals, and other businesses with one-to-one contact.
- There is already a national recommendation in place to wear a face covering in places where there are many people and it is difficult to keep a distance – for example at the cloakroom after attending an event or when you are in a crowd leaving a football stadium.
- Employers are required to make it possible for people to work from home when this is possible without having a negative impact on services that are important and necessary for the business, for example to protect children and vulnerable groups.
- The duty of quarantine for close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in cases of suspected infection with the Omicron variant is expanded to include other close contacts, not only household members and corresponding close relations.