Norwegian health minister: “We have control over the corona epidemic”
According to new numbers, every person infected by the coronavirus in Norway now infects 0,7 others. But this is not a time to ease up on the strict corona measures, warns the health minister.
“New numbers show that every person infected with the coronavirus most likely is now infecting 0,7 other people”, Bent Høie, Norwegian health minister, announced this evening at a press conference.
“This means that we have the spread of corona under control”, he said according to a report from NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster.
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«Before we implemented strict measures, every infected person was infecting 2,5 new persons. If this development had continued, we would have seen the same development as elsewhere in Europe”, Høie said.
The director of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), Camilla Stoltenberg, warned that there are uncertainties around these new numbers and estimates, and that no models for coronavirus-estimates are perfect.
“But we do believe we have seen a positive development”, she said, according to NRK.
If the so-called R-nought number is indeed 0,7, then the health authorities believe that the peak of hospitalization of patients may have been reached.
“The measures we have taken to control this virus have given us a solid upper hand. We now need to keep it this way”, health minister Bent Høie said.
“The numbers also show us that it won’t take much to lose control again”, he warned.
Lowest spread in Europe
Around a week ago, a report from the Imperial College in London estimated that Norway was one of the countries with the lowest spread of the virus in Europe.
The researchers estimated that around 22 000 Norwegians had been infected by the virus, and the rate of spread to be 0,97.
The report took into account the Norwegian lockdown measures implemented on March 12, which included closure of schools and kindergardens, the prohibition of public gatherings and recommendations of social distancing. Norwegians are per today advised to not be together in groups larger than five people, and to keep a distance of 2 meters.
Some Norwegian scientists warned against the reports bright results, pointing out that there are many varieties of lockdowns in Europe – with the Norwegian one not being of the strictest sort. They therefore believed the R-nought number to be higher than 1.
Having discovered a fault in the numbers from the Imperial College report, specialist director Frode Forland from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) believed the actual number of infected people in Norway to be higher than 22 000. Looking to Iceland, who have tested a large part of their population for Covid-19, he figured Norway was closer to having 40 000 infected – 0,8 per cent of the population.
Today however, based on the new estimates, FHI believes the number of infected people in Norway is 14 000 – 0,26 per cent of the population.
The reports that the government now have in hand, and that these numbers come from, are to be the foundation for future measures. The current measures are to be in place until April 13th. However, several municipalities such as the capital, Oslo, have already said that they will not open schools and kindergartens after Easter.
Health authorities have also said that they are considering different measures for different parts of the country. Northern Norway is the least affected area in Norway and have – despite the government asking them not to do so - enforced 14-day long quarantines on all those who have travelled to the south of the country. Oslo and surrounding areas are the hardest hit.
Testing, testing, and maybe some digital tracking?
Norway has been quite good at testing, having tested 20 530 people per million according to the most recent figures from worldometer.info.
Of the more than 111 000 tested, 5760 were infected. 74 people have so far died and a little over 300 people are hospitalized.
More testing is part of the plan for how to keep control of the virus in the coming weeks and months. Frode Forland from FHI said to NTB, the Norwegian News Agency, a week ago that they are working hard to find ways of increasing test capacity.
To NTB Forland says that the plan is to do a representative study to get a clearer image of the actual spread of the virus. This work will hopefully be started after Easter.
Norway also plans to do serological tests to get an idea of how many people have been infected and gained immunity.
Finally, Simula, a non-profit research organisation, is developing an app for FHI to be used for digital tracking of infections.
“No reason to celebrate”
Filter Nyheter, who first broke the news of the low R-nought number this morning, warn that there is no reason to celebrate.
“In the long run, Norway hasn’t solved any problems by stopping the spread of the virus in this phase”, the online newspaper writes. “Since probably only a few thousand Norwegians have been infected and thereby may be immune, the danger of a full-blown epidemic is the same as it was before, if the measures to stop the spread are changed and the number of infected rises”.
The newspaper warns that if all the measures are eased up on, Norway could find itself back at point zero. They speculate that as the idea of maintaining strict measures for a couple of years is unlikely, we may see a strategy of letting up a bit, and then tightening up again.
“Easing up on a large scale will, at best, have to be followed by an enormous effort to monitor the spread of the virus and tracking down cases”, the newspaper maintains, adding that epidemiologists are worried that Norwegians over time may get worse at complying with the corona measures if for instance the death rate stays low.