Thousands celebrate in Norway as the government abruptly ends Covid-19 restrictions
Police in Norway have reported dozens of disturbances and violent clashes including mass brawls in the Nordic country’s big cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were on Sunday filled with people celebrating the end of Covid-19 restrictions that lasted for more than a year.
The Norwegian government abruptly announced on Friday that most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions would be scrapped from Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal.
Norway is the latest country to scrap pandemic restrictions and health policy experts say that others will join the movement in the coming weeks and months.
The unexpected announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg to drop coronavirus restrictions the next day took many Norwegians by surprise and led to chaotic scenes in the capital, Oslo, and elsewhere in the country.
“It has been 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime,” Solberg said on Friday at a news conference. “The danger from the Covid virus is declining rapidly and now is the time to return to a normal daily life.” He added: “This virus will probably continue at a lower level but we will live with it like we do with cancer, heart attacks and car accidents.”
Rowdy celebrations by hundreds of citizens across Norway started on Saturday afternoon and lasted until the early hours of Sunday. Police said unrest was reported in several places, including in the southern city of Bergen and the central city of Trondheim, but the situation was the worst in Oslo.
Long lines were seen outside Oslo’s nightclubs, bars and restaurants late on Saturday and police registered at least 50 fights and disturbances during the night. Neither vaccination status certificates nor negative test results are required to enter such venues in Norway.
“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen,” angry nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo told Norwegian newspaper VG. “It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they [the government] didn’t give us at least a few days’ advance notice. This was a dangerous situation as police said all places were packed.”
Among other incidents, Norwegian media reported that police received an alert about a man carrying a machete on a bus in Oslo and people fainting while waiting to get into pubs in Trondheim.
“There was a significantly greater workload (on Saturday) than during the summer. There were a lot of people out already in the afternoon, and it continued during the night,” Oslo police spokesman Rune Hekkelstrand told the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
Solberg responded to criticism of the sudden move to reopen society by saying that Norwegian health experts had supported the measure. “We shall not have strict (coronavirus) measures unless they are professionally justified. People must be allowed to live as they wish,” Solberg told VG late on Saturday.
Norway is the second country in the Nordic region to lift Covid-19 restrictions after Denmark did so on September 10.
More than 76 per cent of Norway’s population has received one vaccine dose, and nearly 70 per cent has had both shots, according to official figures.
Credit: New Zealand News