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Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?

A report from a Norwegian commission appointed to assess the country’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic has concluded that while the government handled the situation well, it was poorly prepared for the crisis.

Was Norway ill prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic?
Photo by Eirik Skarstein on Unsplash

The 450-page report was submitted to Prime Minister Erna Solberg by medical professor Stener Kvinnsland, who led the review.

The commission found that, generally, Norway had handled the pandemic well compared to the rest of Europe. That was in part due to citizens taking infection control measures on board.

“After a year of pandemic, Norway is among the countries in Europe with the lowest mortality and lowest economic impact. The authorities could not have succeeded if the population had not supported the infection control measures;” the report states.

However, the commission’s report also outlined that Norway did not properly prepare itself for the pandemic.

“The authorities knew that a pandemic was the most likely national crisis to have the most negative consequences. Nevertheless, they were not prepared when the extensive and serious Covid-19 pandemic came,” it said.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg said during an interview with the commission, conducted as part of its work, that the government did not have an infection control strategy of its own.

“We had a ‘we have to deal with a difficult situation’ strategy. We had to do everything we could to gain control and get the infection down. It was really only at the end of March (2020) that we found the more long-term strategy,” she told the commission.

Low stocks of personal protective equipment were another source of criticism in the report.

“The government knew that it would in all probability be difficult to obtain infection control equipment in the event of a pandemic. Nevertheless, the warehouses were almost empty,” Kvinnsland said at a press conference.

Norwegian health authorities were praised for the swiftness with which they implemented infection control measures. But the commission said that the decision should have been formally made by the government, rather than the Norwegian Directorate of Health.

READ MORE: Norway saw fewer hospital patients in 2020 despite pandemic 

The implementation of restrictions in March 2020 was critiqued for failing to ensure that “infection control measures were in line with the constitution and human rights.”

One-fifth of municipalities in Norway lacked a functioning plan in the event of a pandemic according to the report, and the government did not provide enough support to municipalities.

“We believe that government paid too little attention to the municipalities. The municipalities were given much larger tasks than they could have prepared for,” Kvinnsland said.

The report was also critical of Norway’s lack of a plan for dealing with imported infections in autumn 2020.

“The government lacked a plan to deal with imported infections when there was a new wave of infections in Europe in the autumn of 2020,” the report found.

“When the government eased infection control measures towards the summer of 2020, they made many assessments individually. The government did not consider the sum of the reliefs and it had no plan to deal with increasing cross-border infection,” it added.

The report also concluded that Norway allowed itself to be too easily lobbied by business when deciding to ease border restrictions last summer.

The division of roles in handling aspects of the pandemic was scrutinised in the report. Here, the division of responsibilities between the Ministry of Health and Care Services, The Norwegian Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health were unclear.

The prime minister has asked the commission to continue its work.

“We are not done with the pandemic yet. Therefore, it is natural that the commission submits a final report. There will also be topics where the learning points can only be drawn later,” Solberg said.  

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COVID-19

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.” 

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