As Europe opens, Norway decides to remain shut

Fjord Norway

“I believe I’ll never see her alive again.”

Bettina Wintermark worries that her adopted country Norway’s pandemic travel ban means she won’t be able to make one last visit to her dying mother in France.

The Scandinavian country, which was quick to bring the new coronavirus under control, has ignored calls to lift, or at least ease, its travel restrictions, making it probably the most closed nation in Europe, according to news agency AFP.

Most non-residents are still not allowed to enter the country, and while foreign trips are not forbidden for Norwegians, the 10-day quarantine requirement upon return to Norway — in place until at least August 20 —makes travel abroad prohibitive.

As a result, Norwegians will not be able to soak up the sun on the beaches of the Mediterranean this summer — even Prime Minister Erna Solberg has cancelled her planned holiday in Spain.

For some, the government’s cautious tack has serious consequences, reports AFP. Such is the case for Wintermark, who can’t travel to the southwestern French city of Bordeaux, about a two-hour flight from Oslo, to see her 84-year-old mother, who suffered an internal haemorrhage and whom doctors have given only weeks to live.

“It’s a nightmare,” says the 59-year-old hairdresser. “If Norway didn’t have these strict restrictions I would have left immediately,” she says. “But it’s impossible to make short trips to France because I can’t go into a 10-day quarantine each time.”

For the same reason, her son’s wedding — initially planned for July 20, also in Bordeaux — has been postponed indefinitely.

“The invitations had already been sent out,” laments Wintermark. “Most of the people coming from Norway had their hotels and tickets booked, and they’re having a hard time getting reimbursed.”

She herself is struggling to get the full deposit back from the local caterer, who couldn’t care less about the situation in Norway.

Broadly hailed for containing Covid-19, which has killed just 248 people in the country of 5.4 million, Norwegian authorities have stressed the importance of not throwing away its sacrifices by opening up too early and allowing a reimportation of the potentially fatal virus.

“A lot of people are sad and frustrated,” admitted Justice Minister Monica Maeland, tasked with coordinating the country’s virus response, the AFP report said.

“We’re not doing this to annoy people, but because we absolutely have to keep the situation under control,” she said last week.

In the only concessions so far, Norway, which is not an EU member but does belong to the Schengen zone of free movement, agreed to allow travel to Denmark, Finland and Iceland as of June 15. 

Oslo also said it would review by July 20 the possibility of opening up to other nearby countries. The tourism industry has meanwhile called for restrictions to be swiftly lifted for Germany, which accounts for almost a quarter of all foreign visitors each summer.

“Reopening to this country would be the best recovery plan for Norway’s tourism sector, without it costing authorities a cent,” insisted Per-Arne Tuftin, the head of the national tourism association Norsk Reiseliv.

Meanwhile, Norwegians are still advised not to travel to and from neighbouring Sweden, which adopted a softer approach to the virus and still has a high infection rate, though they are allowed to visit the island of Gotland, which has few cases.

That’s been a disappointment for the 12,000 Norwegian families who own secondary residences in Sweden and who can’t go for the summer holidays.

Unlike most European nations, Sweden never closed society down, opting instead to keep schools for under-16s open, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants and most businesses. Stockholm has also been slow to roll out mass testing.

Consequently, the country of 10.3 million has reported 5,122 Covid-19 deaths, far exceeding the combined total of its Nordic neighbours, all of which adopted much stricter measures.

Aside from Norway, the neighbouring countries of Denmark and Finland have barred Swedes from entry as well as they open their borders to tourists.