Norway Introduces Alcohol Ban, Remote Work Due to Omicron

Norway has announced a slew of measures to curb the explosive spread of the Omicron strain.

These include a stop in serving alcohol in nightclubs and a recommendation to work remotely whenever possible. Citizens are encouraged to stay at home as much as possible and limit their social contacts. Maximum limits at public and private gatherings are being introduced as well. Lastly, requirements for mouth protection at indoor events is being re-introduced. The measures will apply starting from Wednesday and will be valid for at least for weeks onwards.

“Now it is serious," Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said at a press conference. “It hasn't been many days since we introduced new measures, but since then the infection has increased sharply."

The Omicron strain is spreading rapidly in Norway, now present in all counties, with a doubling of cases over the past week, national broadcaster NRK reported.

At the same time, the number of hospitalised with COVID-19 reached a record high since the start of the pandemic, 358, the Norwegian Directorate of Health reported.

In addition to concrete measures, the government also voiced plans to speed up vaccination and has set the goal that everyone over the age of 45 should receive their booster shot before mid-January.

According to calculations from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), in three weeks there may be between 90,000 and 300,000 new cases of infection daily (in a nation of only 5.2 million), with a risk of up to 200 new hospital patients every day, if the spread of infection isn't slowed down significantly.

Assistant Health Director Espen Rostrup Nakstad compared the infection situation with the Omicron strain to that of March 2020, before the vaccination programme was underway. He emphasised that infection and hospitalisation rates are rising and that the vaccines don't seem to provide full protection against the Omicron variant.

“We are back to March 2020 a bit, when no one in the population really had particularly good protection against the new virus. Now it seems that the vaccines don't protect us very well against this new variant. So we are back in the same situation somewhat, except that the vaccines may protect you from becoming seriously ill”, Nakstad told TV2.

Frode Forland, director of infection control at FHI, argued that in the current situation it is better to be safe than sorry.

“Even if the Omicron strain would prove to cause milder illness, there is a risk that there will be such a large spread in society that there will still be an increased burden on healthcare," Forland told Swedish national broadcaster SVT, predicting that the new strain is about to take over in all of Scandinavia.

Forland, too, emphasised the benefits of speedy vaccination in order to prevent congestion within the healthcare system.

Norway has fully vaccinated 72 percent of its population. Since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a total of 318,000 cases, with 1,136 deaths amid a rising COVID-19 curve and record infection rates.

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