At least 50 people in and around Norway’s capital have been infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant, with the cases connected to a Norwegian company’s Christmas party in an Oslo restaurant, officials have said.
The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that those affected lived in Oslo and surrounding municipalities, and that “the infection detection team in Oslo has contacted the municipalities concerned to start infection detection”.
The government agency said there was “a high vaccination coverage” in the group, adding that overall “more than 50 cases” had been recorded in Norway. The country’s first two cases were announced on Monday.
“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.
The city of Oslo on Wednesday urged people who visited two restaurants in the capital to be tested. One reportedly was where the Christmas party was held.
It is customary in Scandinavia for companies, associations and individuals to hold Christmas parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas Eve.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can undermine vaccines.
But in response to Omicron, the Norwegian government said new national and regional restrictions would take effect from Friday.
Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Store said the strictest measures were regional and would apply to Oslo – a city of nearly 700,000 – and surrounding municipalities.
He said they included working from home where possible, a 100-person attendance limit at private indoor events in public places or rented venues, and restaurants and bars having to register patrons.
Nationally, anyone entering Norway must be tested within 24 hours, either at the border, at a public test station or by self-test. If a rapid test comes back positive, a traveller must take a PCR test within 24 hours, the government said.
“It is likely that the Omicron variant will spread in Norway, and that is why the government believes in stricter measures,” Mr Gahr Store said.
Health minister Ingvild Kjerkol added that the situation was “worrying” and “we now pull the brake”.
On Tuesday, Norway recommended the use of face masks on public transport and in shops and shopping malls.
“We still have to keep our distance to get control of the spread of infection, but that does not mean that we cannot have good contact with each other,” Mr Gahr Store said.