Towards the end of January and in February, Norway will have enough for one quick test per inhabitant per week. But not everyone will get a test a week.
It is now about four weeks since the omicron variant was discovered by South African researchers and three weeks since the variant was first detected in Norway.
– We got a lot of omicron infection very quickly and were perhaps the country that had the biggest outbreak at some point. This contributed to the fact that handling omikron quickly became particularly important in Norway. Then we have seen in recent weeks that it has become important in almost all European countries. This characterizes the handling of covid in most countries, says health director Bjørn Guldvog.
But the health authorities would like to have even more knowledge about the variant:
– That is the most important thing. We now need knowledge about how serious the disease it creates in those who become infected. We know it has a better dispersal ability also for those doubly and triple vaccinated. But we believe that the vaccine affects infectivity. It is good because it protects well against serious illness, not as good as participating, but still good, says the health director.
Acquires multiple quick tests
The big question is whether the ability to spread means that one will still have such a large number of seriously ill people that it challenges the health service’s capacity.
– In the absence of that knowledge, several measures have been initiated, says Guldvog.
He points to an important measure to have control over the infection situation in the future: Rapid tests.
But the availability of rapid tests in Norway has been a recurring theme throughout the autumn. The health authorities pointed out at the beginning of December that more tests could replace more intrusive measures in the future.
– We will now procure self-tests and quick tests so that we can on average test everyone in the population once a week, says Guldvog.
But not everyone will get a quick test this week. In Oslo, only priority groups receive self-tests.
– Is there a problem with the availability of tests internationally?
– We have experienced that it has been possible for us to enter into contracts and we have received assurances about deliveries this year and the next few weeks in January. With the large quantities comes especially in the third week of January, says Guldvog.
He elaborates that Norway is scheduled to receive 3.4 million rapid tests in week 51 and 2.2 million in week 52.
– But the 30 million that have been mentioned earlier will not come until January?
– How much comes at different times is uncertain.
Spends millions of kroner
– In the UK, people can order a free package of seven self-tests every day. Why can we not do it like this in Norway?
– We have gone in and looked at the need for testing in various areas, in schools, kindergartens, critical societal functions and for the use of corona certificates, says Guldvog.
– Do you get enough funding from the government to procure the tests we need in the future?
– It is the government that decides what we are to procure, but we continuously assess whether there is a need for new framework agreements so that it can be increased. Of course, many millions and billions of kroner are used for this, says Guldvog.
– But is there a risk of falling behind if we do not acquire the tests we need in the future now?
– We do not think so. The situation can always change and look different in the future. In January and February, we believe that we will be able to carry out the testing we need, he says.
The municipalities now have a requirement to be able to test five percent of their population a week. In the last two weeks, Oslo has been at 7-8 per cent, which has led to test queues of two days at the most popular test stations.
– Should the municipalities scale up the test capacity?
– It has already been done, far more are being tested about looking at the rapid tests and the PCR tests. Then there is the question of whether it is possible to create systems for posting positive self-tests yourself, he says.
Must weight scenarios
– With increased infection with delta, which has been quite effectively managed in several parts of the country, the overall burden became so great that it became clearer that national measures were needed. Then came the brand new variant omikron which changed the rules of the game, he says.
– Were we prepared for that?
– Yes, we were prepared for that to happen, but we did not consider it very likely at this time, Guldvog says.
– How you assess the situation now: Can the measures be eased, or do they need to be tightened further?
– I believe that the measures we have now chosen are well adapted to the situation we are in. We follow the situation closely from day to day and will give the government new recommendations when necessary. We see a flattening or decrease in infection, but there is uncertainty as to whether this is due to the number of delta cases decreasing at the same time as the omicron rises. We can have a hidden spread with omikron. We have to wait for omikron to dominate into next year, says Guldvog.
The director of health says that they constantly have to plan and weigh which scenarios are probable and which are more serious.
– We must take into account that the situation can become serious. There is a balance in finding the right approach, he says.