Last Wednesday night, Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg went on television to make a confession: she had panicked at the start of the pandemic. Most of the tough measures imposed in Norway’s lockdown were steps too far, she admitted. “Was it necessary to close schools?” she asked. “Perhaps not.”
She isn’t the first Norwegian official to acknowledge that the lockdown wasn’t necessary. On May 5th, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) published a briefing note reporting that when the lockdown was imposed on March 12th Norway’s R number had already fallen to 1.1. It slipped under 1 on March 19th.
“Our assessment now… is that we could possibly have achieved the same effects and avoided some of the unfortunate impacts by not locking down, but by instead keeping open but with infection control measures,” Camilla Stoltenberg, NIPH’s Director General said in a TV interview earlier this month.
An expert committee charged with carrying out a cost-benefit analysis into the lockdown measures in April estimated they had cost Norway 27 billion kroner (£2.3 billion) every month. The committee concluded last Friday that the country should avoid lockdown if there is a second wave of infections.
“We recommend a much lighter approach,” the committee’s head, Steinar Holden, an Oslo University Economics Professor, told the Sunday Telegraph. “We should start with measures at an individual level – which is what we have now – and if there’s a second wave, we should have measures in the local area where this occurs, and avoid measures at a national level if that is possible.”
“If it’s necessary to have very strict restrictions for a long time, then the costs are higher than letting the infection go through the population,” Holden told the Telegraph. “Because that would be immensely costly.”
In particular, Holden’s committee said schools should not be closed again if there is a second wave. It estimated in April that the measure had cost 6.7 billion kroner (£520 million) a month, while having “little impact” on the spread of infection. The NIPH has gone further and said that school closures may have even increased the spread.
Margrethe Greve-Isdahl, the doctor who is NIPH’s expert on infections in schools, tells the Telegraph that if schools hadn’t been closed they could have played a role in informing people in immigrant communities – which were hit disproportionately hard by the epidemic – of hygiene and social distancing rules.
“They can learn these measures in school and teach their parents and grandparents, so at least for some of these hard-to-reach minorities, there might be a positive effect from keeping kids in school,” she said. “There’s now a lot of information available on how it has impacted negatively on the economy and on vulnerable children.”
What refreshing candour from Norway’s Prime Minister and senior public health officials. I look forward to the press conference in which Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty admit the lockdown was a mistake and apologise for it.