Combatting pandemics in Norway

For over a year the world is in a bizarre virus-caused disorder, which our generation have not experienced in the entire life, so no authorities possess routines how to react on such an unexpected flow. Decisions on pandemic treatment were made in emergency, and the exposed countries responded in a different way. To find out what worked well-thought-of or what not, the main questions of concern ought to be contemplated: Which decision-making authority managed the crisis? What preventive measures against infection spread have been applied? Was health care system prepared? How information for citizen have been procured? How the vaccine supply and roll-out was organized? What support the harmed business- and social activity received? How citizens reacted? 

Standard solution does not exist, but shared experience may help to learn. In Bloomberg’s report, April 2021, Covid-19 resilience ranking was presented, with relevant collected data, placing Singapore as the world`s best, followed by Australia, New Zealand and Asian countries. Among the top 20 there are only 3 European countries: Finland as number 9, Denmark 14 and Norway 15 (some weeks earlier Norway was best as number 10, Finland 13; graphics/covid-resilience-ranking/). WHOs declared pandemic threat 30.01.2020, national actions have started afterwards. 

In Norway The Government Corona Board (RCU) discuss solutions and actions, where The Norwegian Health Directorate and Norwegian Institute of Public Health present their professional recommendations, and government makes decisions on imposing national rules. Local authorities add local rules and manage implementation. The Corona Law of 18.03.20, allows government to enforce obligatory restrictions, if Parliament did not reject these with 1/3 of the votes. Information on enforced rules is presented on press conferences by Prime minister, Minister of Health, with presence and comments of General Director of Health Directorate, Director of Institute of Public Health and relevant Ministers, depending on subject. Corona testing centres were opened in all municipalities and tests are free of charge, available after accepted request. The lockdown 12th of March 2020 was more restrictive than health professionals advised, but partly released in April, as primary schools started to open from 20.04.20 for small- and later for older children. Children and youth were considered as the core group to be shield against consequences of lockdowns, to avoid increase of social disparities. Digital learning, facilitated in Norway, where all pupils have iPad from school, does not bring the same outcomes for all children, therefore open schools and after-school activities are of high importance for learning progress. 

The important factor for pandemic management is correct information. Information on Corona facts and rules are published on webpages of central- and local authorities and health institutions`, also in foreign languages of minority groups (The coronavirus situation – Central and local phone info is also available, as the rules and restrictions differed between regions, depending on infection spreading, with green, yellow and red zones warnings. Municipal authorities in consultation with chief municipal doctor decide and administrate the local rules. Warnings are also sent by sms. Norwegian health system worked efficiently, all inhabitants have access to free health care, and numbers of infected patients who required intensive care were not very high. 

Geography helped – both Norway and Finland have few big cities, where infection spreading is high. Vaccination program have started at the end of 2020, with priority order: 1. residents in nursing homes 2. age 85 years and above 3. Age 75-84 years, so following younger age groups. On 12th of May the Institute of Public Health suggested change in priority, to vaccinate the group 18-24 together with 40 – 44, to breakdown spreading more efficient. Economic consequences of pandemic are extensive. Already 7th of April 2020 the expert group led by prof. Steinar Holden from University of Oslo, presented the report “Socio-economic evaluation of infection control measures – covid-19”, later two new reports were published, where strategies, consequences, and long-term effects of pandemic have been presented and solutions suggested. Government started to pay out compensation for activity stop, extra health-care expenses, unemployment prevention, and more, summarize to 252 billion NOK in 2020 and 229 billion NOK this year (Revised National Budget 2021) GDP in 2020 fell -0.8 % and is expected to grow 3.7% this year. 

Summing up – what did contribute to place Norway among the top-ranking countries in contesting pandemic? I think that the crucial factor is a non-pandemic one – citizens trust to public institutions, so people accept and follow up inconvenient restrictions, as they trust that government acts for their best. 

This analysis is written by AreaS member Danuta Aniela Tomczak and is published in Baltic Rim Economies, Special issue, nr 3, June 2021