Oslo tightens up anti-Covid restrictions as infections rise

The Norwegian capital Oslo on Monday announced tougher measures to stem the spread of coronavirus, closing secondary schools and restricting the number of visitors to homes, as Covid case numbers rise.

Oslo tightens up anti-Covid restrictions as infections rise
Photo by Arvid Malde on Unsplash

Of particular concern to the municipality is the spread of the more contagious British variant of the disease.

A record number of Covid-19 cases, 1,960, were detected last week in Oslo which has a population of 700,000 people.

“We have never before seen such a high level of recorded cases,” the capital’s mayor Raymond Johansen told a press briefing.

“If the spread of the virus is too high for too long the system collapses and you lose control,” he added.

The municipality announced the closing of secondary schools, with students to be taught remotely. This will also be the case for younger children in the worst-hit districts.

Kindergartens will be closed during the Easter holidays except for children of essential workers.

Also under the new Oslo rules, a maximum of two visitors will be allowed in homes.

“These will be the most intrusive measures taking by Oslo during the pandemic,” said Johansen. “It’s tough, it’s difficult but it’s necessary”.

The Norwegian capital has already been subject to some strict containment measures, including the closure of non-essential shops and sports halls while bars and restaurants may only offer takeaway food.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Norway has been relatively lightly-hit by the pandemic compared to other European nations, but the number of new cases has been on the rise in recent

The country’s Covid-19 vaccine programme took a hit last week when the national authorities decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca jab, over fears of a link to blood clots.

As of Monday a dozen countries have decided to suspend using the AstraZeneca vaccine, including Germany, France and Italy, pending advice from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which plans to meet on Thursday.

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How a new energy tax could impact public spending in Oslo and Bergen 

A new energy tax proposed by the Norwegian government could significantly reduce the public spending powers of the city councils in Oslo and Bergen.

How a new energy tax could impact public spending in Oslo and Bergen 

Earlier this week, the government unveiled plans for new taxes on fish farming and energy production. The basic interest tax on hydropower will be increased from 37 to 45 per cent if proposals are given the green light by parliament.

“The community needs greater income in the coming years so that we can together protect good welfare for all. After many years of increased inequality, it is absolutely necessary that those who have the most, and in many cases have received significantly more in recent years, contribute more,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said at a press conference. 

Bergen and Oslo may lose out on income as a new energy tax will hit the bottom lines of electricity companies owned by local authorities in Oslo and Bergen. In turn, this may affect the municipal budgets of both cities. 

Power firm Eviny estimates that it will have to pay an extra 2.5 billion kroner in tax in 2022 due to the government’s proposal for a tax increase for farming companies and electricity companies, Bergensavisen reports. Bergen Municipality holds 37.75 percent stake in Eviny. 

“We have no idea the extent of these changes yet, but we must expect the yield to be reduced. The uncertainty is a disturbing element in our budget planning,” Per-Arne Larsen, finance councillor with Bergen Municipality, told Bergenavisen. 

In Oslo, the city council could feel the squeeze of the tax rule even more than in Bergen, as Oslo Municipality owns energy firm Hafslund in full. 

Oslo City Council depends on its energy firm’s income to fund public spending. Finance councillor Einar Wilhelmsen told newspaper Avisa Oslo that if the proposed tax increase goes through, the municipality would need to rip up its budget for 2023 and start over. 

Next week will see the state budget for 2023 announced. Municipalities will be waiting to see how much the government is willing to allocate to local authorities- as this may offset losses from the new energy tax. 

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