Sept 11, 2020
***Bergen became the new Corona capital of Norway on Wednesday, with a Corona-related death and a rash of Covid-19 infection, not least at the city’s main Haukeland University Hospital. City officials responded with strict new containment measures that were quickly branded as “a catastrophe” for the bar and restaurant business.
The new report of a Corona-related death, the first in several weeks, involved an elderly resident of a nursing home in Bergen, Domkirkehjemmet. It was the first death from Covid-19 in Bergen since May 13 and the first nationwide since August 20. The victim reportedly was infected with Covid-19 last week.
City officials, meanwhile, were already cracking down with new Corona containment measures. Private gatherings have been limited to just 10 people, down from 20, and public gatherings can only have a maximum of 50 participants, down from the state limit of 200. All employers in Bergen are being urged to reinstate home office provisions for all employees, to reduce the need for commuting. All bars and restaurants were ordered to maintain lists of all guests, to enable eventual infection tracking if needed, while everyone using public transportation was asked to use face masks. Health care institutions are restricting visitors again.
All new restrictions will be in force for at least the next 10 days. “We see that we now have the highest number of confirmed cases (of Covid-19 infection) since the pandemic began,” stated Beate Husa, Bergen’s city government leader in charge of health issues, at a press conference Tuesday evening. City government leader Roger Valhammer stressed that Bergen “is now in a situation where we have to limit the spread of infection. We have to crack down on this outbreak.”
‘Terrible:’ By Wednesday morning, neighbouring communities were urging their residents to avoid going into Bergen, while bar and restaurant owners were in despair. “This is a catastrophe for the business,” complained Gard Haugland, who owns several restaurants in Bergen. “I don’t want to blame anybody, but this is terrible.” Bars have already been losing business after the state ordered all to stop serving at midnight.
Bergen’s Covid-19 outbreak has been traced mostly to large parties held by students returning to local colleges and universities for the fall semester. No charges have been filed against any party organizers, unlike in Sarpsborg in Southern Norway where city officials have reported organizers of a large religious celebration to police. All instruction at the University of Bergen and business school NHH, meanwhile, has reverted to digital platforms.
***With hundreds of new cases in the past two weeks, Norway has been re-classified as a “red country” for the first time in months. It’s recorded more than 20 new cases for every 100,000 residents, and that puts it off limits for traveling in or out without quarantine.
A major outbreak in Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad in the south (see below) plus a spike in the numbers of people testing positive for Covid-19 in Bergen is behind the overall rise in infection. It’s disappointing news for all those hoping that Corona restrictions would soon be eased.
The outbreaks in the south and west were said to be under control. At the same time, state health director Dr Bjørn Guldvog noted that people “should have good reasons for traveling to Bergen, given the increase in infection there. It’s not illegal, but everyone must be careful.”
Among the more serious cases were the confirmed infection of 10 employees working in seven divisions of Bergen’s Haukeland university hospital. Around 76 others have been put in quarantine and 42 new cases of Corona infection were report Tuesday afternoon. Bergen officials have responded by setting up a new crisis staff and restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people at a time.
***A major outbreak of the Corona virus in Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad is sending Norway’s overall infection rate up and left nearly 2,500 people in quarantine. Local officials were considering closing all schools in Sarpsborg. Local newspaper Sarpsborg Arbeiderblad reported that the teachers’ union and city officials are discussing closure of schools, with day care center leaders also worried. “We’re getting a lot of feedback from (day care) employees that everyone is afraid of getting sick on the job,” Stine Alsterberg Larsen, who represents day care center workers, told the paper.
The sheer numbers of those already sick are worrisome, with more than 200 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among both adults and children. There also have been major outbreaks in Bergen, involving several university students, with 78 new cases reported during the weeken. state broadcaster NRK reporting Monday morning that Norway’s infection rate is now going up just as neighbouring Sweden’s is going down.
***Norwegians seem to be completely ignoring warnings from state government officials not to organize or attend large parties. Police were once again busy throughout the weekend responding to complaints of noise and excessive drunkenness in residential neighbourhoods all over the country. Police broke up parties that involved up to 50 or more participants, reports news bureau NTB, since Corona containment regulations limit private gatherings to just 20. Violations were reported from Agder in the south to Sørreisa in the north, along with Ålesund, Molde and Bodø in between. Health Minister Bent Høie was clearly disappointed, and chided the partygoers by saying that “my advice is that you should be able to wake up on Sunday and think that you haven’t done anything you regret. If you have been at a party where it wasn’t possible to stay a meter apart, you should be extra careful when you meet others later, and get tested if you develop any virus symptoms.”
***Norway’s justice minister issued a stern warning to Norwegians to refrain from crossing the border to go shopping in areas of Sweden that recently have had a reduction in Corona infection levels. They’ve gone from “red” to “yellow,” meaning there won’t be any quarantine restrictions upon arrival back in Norway from early Saturday. “But there aren’t any ‘green’ areas,” Justice Minister Monica Mæland warned, where there’s no risk of Covid-19 infection. “To those of you thinking about driving over the border to shop, we still advise against any trips out of the country that aren’t strictly necessary.”
Lots of Norwegians crossed the border when restrictions were earlier eased in Swedish regions including Värmland in the southeast. Prices and taxes are so much lower in Sweden, and selection better, that many just couldn’t resist the temptation of stocking up on everything from beer to coffee and sweets. Covid-19 cases went up in Southern Norway afterwards, though, and now some health care employers in areas of Norway close to the border are declaring mandatory testing of any workers who’ve been to Sweden. They were also threatening on Friday to cut workers’ pay if they have to go into quarantine.
Most of the rest of Europe remains “red” on the Norwegian authorities’ map and thus requiring quarantine on arrival in Norway. Only Finland, the Baltic countries, Slovakia, Hungary and much of central- and northern Sweden are now yellow, plus some areas of Denmark.
***Health authorities extended their face mask recommendation when riding on public transport in Oslo for another week on Friday (Sept 4). The decision was made after the state public health institute FHI studied the public’s use of face masks. “Our conclusion is based on this study and other information we have, and we see no reason to change the recommendation we have made,” Frode Froland of FHI said at Friday’s government press conference on Corona issues. “We have advised the health ministry to maintain the face mask recommendation.”