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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Did Sweden’s state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

For his supporters, it was well-deserved, for his detractors a case of failing upwards. But when Sweden's Public Health Agency announced this month that state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell was taking a job at the World Health Organisation, both sides assumed it was true.

Did Sweden's state epidemiologist really get a big job at the WHO?

Now, it seems, the job might not be there after all. 

At the start of this month, Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced that Anders Tegnell was resigning to take up a post coordinating vaccine work with the World Health Organisation in Geneva. 

“I’ve worked with vaccines for 30 years and have at the same time always been inspired by international issues,” Tegnell said in the release. “Now I will have the chance to contribute to this comprehensive international work.”

During the first and second waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, Tegnell shot immediately from obscurity into the spotlight, gaining such celebrity status in Sweden that one fan had his profile tattooed onto his arm.

Internationally he was hailed by lockdown sceptics for his reasoned arguments against overly restrictive measures to control the spread of the virus. 

His new WHO appointment was reported all over the world. 

But on Tuesday, the Svenska Daglabdet newspaper revealed that the job had not yet been awarded. A spokesperson for the WHO said at a press conference in Geneva that “there is some confusion”, and that “this is an internal question.” 

According to the newspaper, there is even “a certain level of irritation” behind the scenes at the WHO that Sweden acted too soon and dispatched Tegnell to a job that did not actually exist yet. 

“We have received an offer from Sweden, which is still under discussion,” the organisation’s press spokesperson, Fadela Chaib, told the newspaper. 

On Thursday, the Public Health Agency’s press chief Christer Janson conceded that there had been a mistake and that the negotiation had not been completed.  

“We believed it was done, but it wasn’t,” he told Expressen in an interview. “It’s been a much longer process to get this completed than we thought. There’s been a misunderstanding and we regret that.”