How Covid-19 gave Norwegian kids a lesson in democracy

Can we hug now? Is the coronavirus still as dangerous? When will a vaccine be ready? Norway's prime minister on Thursday answered a volley of questions from children eager to see the end of the pandemic.

How Covid-19 gave Norwegian kids a lesson in democracy
Norwegian PM Erna Solberg during a school visit in April. Photo: AFP

Flanked by her education and family ministers, each respecting social distancing rules, Erna Solberg tried to assuage the fears of a generation longing for life to return to pre-Covid days.

“I hope that next year we will be able to start living a little bit more normally,” Solberg replied to a question from a class of eight- and nine-year-olds which had been sent in advance.

“In the meantime, we have to continue like this and look out for each other.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the leaders of the Nordic countries have all held question-and-answer sessions for children, initiatives hailed by child psychiatrists.

But none have persisted with the format as much as Norway: this is the third time since March that the three ministers have held a “press conference” solely for children's queries, broadcast live on television.

In the prime minister's official press room, the three ministers use simple language, without hiding any of their uncertainties, to answer questions collected by a children's programme and relayed by a moderator.

“Summer is over, children are back at school, their daily lives have changed and new questions have arisen, as well as the need to talk about the way forward,” Solberg explained to AFP in an email.

This time, the children's questions ranged from travel possibilities to playing football with other classes in the schoolyard, and when their grandparents living abroad would be allowed to visit them.

Asio, 12, wanted to know what Halloween was going to be like.

“You can celebrate Halloween, respecting the one-metre distance rule, knock on the door and dress up and have fun,” the prime minister assured him.

“Everyone just has to make sure the precautions are respected.”

Experts welcomed the effort directed at the young.

A French child psychiatrist, Daniel Marcelli, called it a “pretty good democratic initiative”.

“For kids over the age of seven or eight who have reached the age of reason, to be able to speak directly to the president, prime minister or an important figure — that's an important act of acknowledgement that fuels a sense of citizenship,” he told AFP.

Norway frequently organises political debates specifically for children ahead of elections.

“It's both a responsibility and an obligation that we have,” said Rune Alstadsæter, state secretary in the prime minister's office.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its article 17, says the state must ensure that all children have access to information,” he said.

In a sign of their popularity, the Covid-19 press conferences typically yield hundreds of questions.

“It's normal” for kids to probe virus policy, said psychiatrist Serge Tisseron. “It's the generation of tomorrow. They're very attentive to all this.”

“When you're 40 or 50 years old, you've experienced other things. But when you're 10, it's normal to wonder if it's going to continue like this,” he said.

At worst it's an “election operation”, at best a “lesson in democracy”.

But, according to Tisseron, in order to be truly beneficial, the press conferences should be preceded by a debate in school before the questions are asked.

Either way, there's usually something for everyone.

“Children ask questions very directly and without any complexes,” said Marcelli. “Often the answers can be just as interesting for adults.”

READ ALSO: How the Nordic welfare model helped cushion the economic fall

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Public Health Agency recommends two Covid doses next year for elderly

Sweden's Public Health Agency is recommending that those above the age of 80 should receive two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn, as it shifts towards a longer-term strategy for the virus.

Public Health Agency recommends two Covid doses next year for elderly

In a new recommendation, the agency said that those living in elderly care centres, and those above the age of 80 should from March 1st receive two vaccinations a year, with a six month gap between doses. 

“Elderly people develop a somewhat worse immune defence after vaccination and immunity wanes faster than among young and healthy people,” the agency said. “That means that elderly people have a greater need of booster doses than younger ones. The Swedish Public Health Agency considers, based on the current knowledge, that it will be important even going into the future to have booster doses for the elderly and people in risk groups.” 


People between the ages of 65 and 79 years old and young people with risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes, poor kidney function or high blood pressure, are recommended to take one additional dose per year.

The new vaccination recommendation, which will start to apply from March 1st next year, is only for 2023, Johanna Rubin, the investigator in the agency’s vaccination programme unit, explained. 

She said too much was still unclear about how long protection from vaccination lasted to institute a permanent programme.

“This recommendation applies to 2023. There is not really an abundance of data on how long protection lasts after a booster dose, of course, but this is what we can say for now,” she told the TT newswire. 

It was likely, however, that elderly people would end up being given an annual dose to protect them from any new variants, as has long been the case with influenza.