Norway in ‘third wave’ of coronavirus but no new national restrictions yet

Norway is currently in a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, health minister Bent Høie said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Norway in 'third wave' of coronavirus but no new national restrictions yet
Illustration photo: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

Høie spoke to media after a record 1,156 new cases of the virus were registered in the country’s latest daily update.

The figure is the highest recorded in a day in Norway since the beginning of the pandemic. It should be noted that testing was less widespread during the original wave in spring 2020.

“We are now setting records which none of us wanted to set and we are into a third wave,” Høie said at the briefing.

The more infectious B117 variant of the virus, first identified in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant form in Norway. B117 is responsible for 72 percent of new infections currently, according to data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). In Oslo, the proportion is as high as 82 percent.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about new restrictions in Oslo and Viken

Norway’s reproduction rate or R-number for the virus is now at 1.4, the NIPH weekly report states. That means 10 infected people will pass the virus on to an average of 14 others, enabling the epidemic to grow.

There are currently 226 hospital inpatients with Covid-19 in Norway, which is the highest number of hospitalisations since April 2020.

Despite the concerning numbers, Høie said that restrictions to control the virus will remain largely in the hands of local authorities for now.

“If we were to introduce stricter measures nationally now, they would be influenced by the parts of the country where infections are lower,” he said.

If there are many more outbreaks in more parts of the country, we have plans to introduce national measures,” the minister also said.

Authorities did advise travelling domestically during the forthcoming Easter holidays, however.

“We are approaching Easter and many want to know which guidelines apply. The general advice to avoid travelling – including domestically – will also apply at Easter,” head of the Norwegian Health Directorate Bjørn Guldvog said at the briefing.

At Wednesday’s briefing, Norwegian health officials also commented on the AstraZeneca vaccine. Norway is amongst a number of European countries to have suspended use of the vaccine.

READ ALSO: Norway can’t ‘confirm nor exclude’ AstraZeneca jab connection after another health worker dies

NIPH director Camilla Stoltenberg said that Norway is currently investigating whether there may be a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and serious incidences of blood clots in a small number of vaccinated people.

But the consequences of the investigation for Norway’s vaccination programme could be limited regardless of the outcome, Stoltenberg said.

“After the recently announced delays in deliveries of the (AstraZeneca) vaccines, a full stop of the vaccine would not be so decisive (for vaccinating the population on schedule). But it would need other suppliers to deliver as expected,” she said.

“Regardless of what the European Medicines Agency and the Norwegian Medicines Agency find out, NIPH, which is responsible for Norway’s vaccination programme, will conduct an independent assessment of whether we will retain this vaccine in our programme,” she added.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.