While deep in the mountains and hours away from the closest town, 26-year-old Stine Samland was given just a few hours to pack and get back home to Bergen. What was supposed to be a fun and relaxing ski trip with friends turned into a panic and rush to get home after news of a mandatory lockdown hit Norway.
Rumors of the global COVID-19 pandemic had been circulating a few days prior to the lockdown, but on Wednesday, March 11 at 12 p.m. the entire country shut down. Businesses were given a notice of just four hours to completely shut down and the entire population was confined to the inside of their homes by noon, making Norway one of the first countries to respond to the pandemic in a serious manner.
Schools, shops, bars, restaurants, and other public services closed almost immediately after the first reported case, leaving only supermarkets and pharmacies open.
After being together in such a large group, Samland and her friends decided to self-quarantine for two weeks in order to ensure that if any of them were sick, no one else would be exposed.
“I self-isolated for two weeks completely alone in my house,” Samland said. “The only time I saw anyone was when my mom came and dropped groceries off at my front door. She even took my dog, so it was the longest two weeks of my life.”
Luckily, neither Samland nor her friends ever got sick, so after two weeks of isolation, they were able to practice social distancing, a much better alternative.
The outbreak in Norway is speculated to have come from people who were infected while abroad, causing the Norwegian government to take drastic steps, introducing some of the strictest emergency measures seen in decades, including closing the borders to non-citizens and non-residents. Even domestic travel within the country is discouraged.
These strict regulations fall under the Control of Infectious Diseases Act and anyone caught breaking quarantine can face a hefty fine. According to Samland, fines as high as $1500 U.S. dollars have been given to people breaking the rules, but most people have been cooperative in following the rules.
“I think what we’ve done which is really good is that people go above and beyond the regulations,” Samland said.
Norway’s lockdown lasted from March 11 to April 27, according to Samland, but businesses adapted quickly. Retail stores began opening online shops, groceries were delivered, and most people were able to work from home.
Like the United States, Norway’s government has issued a variety of helpful benefits to its citizens. Mortgages and student loans are being deferred and interest rates are not currently accruing. Those unable to work have been put on furlough. Rather than get a one-time stimulus check or file for unemployment like many in the United States, Samland said, Norwegians who are put on furlough are getting a much better deal.
“Once [people] get put on furlough, they have a month of full pay from the government and then it’s 65 percent of their salary in the following months,” Samland said. “More people are getting furloughed rather than fired.”
While the United States’ unemployment benefits average around $830 each week, Norway’s furlough benefits match each individual’s annual salary from the previous year for the first month, while the remaining months are 65 percent of their annual salary.
With a career in Marketing, Samland is able to work from home, which, along with her online classes, has kept her busy. With her job consisting of the majority of work done online anyway, she hasn’t had any trouble adjusting to being at home full time.
“Most of the marketing I do is already online and I was already doing my degree entirely online before this all started, so the only big difference for me is that I’ll be taking my final exams at home rather than at the exam hall,” Samland said.
Most of Norway’s strict regulations are now being relaxed and it seems as though these restrictive emergency measures worked. According to Worldometer, Norway has had a total of 7,783 cases and 210 deaths while the United States has had a total of 1,131,015 cases and 65,748 deaths. As of April 30, there were less than 100 people hospitalized in the entire country of Norway.
While Norwegian kindergartens and elementary schools have reopened, U.S. schools remain closed for the remainder of the year. Businesses, including hair salons, have also been permitted to reopen as long as capacity remains under 50 percent. In the United States, hair salons are not considered essential businesses and remain closed, but in Norway, there is no distinction between essential and non-essential businesses.
Although things are looking good for this Nordic country, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg does not see Norway returning to its pre-pandemic ways for quite some time and warns citizens not to get too relaxed.
“We must all still adhere to infection control rules and the recommendations given by the health authority. If we are careless, it could have serious consequences for others. In the worst case, we must tighten the measures again. We must work hard to avoid this, and we must do that together,” Solberg said in a recent press conference.
Solberg is also encouraging all Norwegians with smart phones to download the Smittestopp app, designed to help track and control the spread of the virus. The app tracks users’ locations and can be used to alert users when they have been close to someone who has been tested positive for the virus.
“If someone you’ve been around has tested positive for Corona, the app will send you a text letting you know and you’re supposed to self-quarantine and go get tested yourself,” Samland said.
Norway’s strict rules and regulations are being updated every two weeks in order to see the affects, both positive and negative, on society. At the end of every two weeks, they are able to see what worked and what didn’t and make changes accordingly.
“I’m quite proud of the way we’ve handled this situation,” Samland said. “The way that we dealt with it was so quick and so reactive, so I’m hoping that it’s going to turn out to be the right way.”