Norway told to expect sharp rise in Covid-19 infections as Omicron becomes dominant

Pictured is downtown Oslo.
Norway's PM has warned the country to brace itself for a wave of infection in January. Pictured is downtown Oslo. Photo by Einar Storsul on Unsplash
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said on Monday that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was now dominant in the country after Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre earlier said a sharp rise in infections was likely within the next month.

Following daily infections over 6,000 in mid-December, the number of reported Covid-19 cases in Norway has fallen somewhat over Christmas. As of Monday, the seven day rolling average for cases was 3,174 recorded infections per day.

However, Støre said on Monday that the nation should brace itself for a wave of infections throughout January.

“We have low (infection) numbers compared to other countries. But we expect it (the number of infections) to go up sharply when people return to their normal work in January,” Støre told public broadcaster NRK’s Political Quarter show.

Regarding Covid measures, the PM said that the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) would continue to assess the effect of the current rules, introduced in mid-December, until the 14th of January.

“We must spend the ten days ahead of us evaluating and looking at what the NIPH says. Christmas is a period where it is difficult to measure, test and count coronavirus infections,” he said.

Støre would not be drawn on whether the current measures would be tightened, relaxed, or extended. These include a national ban on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants and social distancing and face masks used in places such as shops and public transport.

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He did, however, say that the government hopes mess testing of students could lead to upper secondary schools moving from red level, which sees measures such as much smaller class sizes or cohorts and partial online schooling being implemented, to green level, which is mostly standard teaching.

Camilla Stoltenberg, director-general of the NIPH, said she is apprehensive about the infection situation in the country heading into the new year.

“We are uncertain about the infection numbers because people behave a little differently in connection with public holidays and in general when it comes to both testing and social contact. It is difficult to say how Christmas will have turned out if we look 2-3 weeks ahead,” she told newspaper VG

On Monday, the NIPH announced that the Omicron variant was dominant in Norway. During the last week of 2021, the variant accounted for 65.4 percent of sequenced virus samples. The variant dominated in all counties except Adger. 

“The figures show a small increase in the Omicron variant through Christmas, but it is difficult to know whether these figures reflect the actual situation in the last couple of weeks,” Line Vold, director of the infection control department at the NIPH, said in a statement. 

In an earlier risk assessment of the variant, the health institute outlined a worst-case scenario whereby hospitalisations could top 5,000 by the end of January. In its more optimistic best-case scenario, the NIPH estimated that hospitalisations would reach around 130 patients. As of Monday, there were 325 patients in hospitals with Covid-19.

However, the NIPH has repeatedly cautioned that these are just scenario-based predictions rather than solid forecasts and that a lot of uncertainty remained concerning the spread of Omicron.

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