Letter to the Editor
Longtime contributor Christine Foster Meloni shares a letter from a cousin in Norway about life during the corona crisis
We are now going through very strange and turbulent times in Norway, like most countries in the world. We had heard about the coronavirus for several weeks, how China had isolated cities and regions. My impression is that most of us still thought it to be much like a typical flu. I then noticed a shift as we followed the situation in Italy and Austria, popular travel destinations for winter skiing. It all got more real here when in late February, many tourists returned home from those destinations with corona symptoms. At that time, no measures were yet in place to avoid further spread. It later turned out that a large number of cases could be traced back to those tourists.
The real turning point was a couple of weeks ago, around March 9. Business trips and all non-critical meetings started to be canceled, including an executive program I was supposed to attend on March 11-12. I started preparing to work from home, and on March 12, our government and health authorities finally officially presented the restrictions and regime we are now living under. Some municipalities and counties, as well as several companies, had already introduced local restrictions, and the government was increasingly criticized for not taking earlier action.
Our daily life has been so different for two weeks now that I don’t even know where to start. Social distancing was first encouraged; now it is enforced. Gatherings of more than five people are prohibited, you need to keep a safe distance from people, our borders are closed for anything but transportation of goods, most flights are canceled, and several airports are completely shut down. Everyone who is able to work from home does. All gyms, sports arenas, most bars and restaurants are closed. Many of us have cabins or recreational homes, but they are now illegal to stay at due to the strain it would cause on undersized local hospitals and healthcare staff should emergency assistance be necessary. Several non-critical shops are still open, not only pharmacies and grocery stores, but many are closing down due to little or no business. Only a few people and cars are out on the streets. All kindergartens, schools and higher education institutions are closed, and everyone is now studying or working from home, using digital classrooms and meeting tools. People are being very creative, and it seems this will accelerate new ways of working .
There has been a triple-effect on our economy with the corona pandemic, oil price collapse, and an all-time weak Norwegian krone. A year ago. $1 was valued at around NOK 8.50, already high, but now, the dollar is at an all-time high around 11.50. Prices will undoubtedly increase for imported goods in the near future. Thankfully, we have a gigantic pension fund worth over NOK 10 trillion, and a portion of the dividends is now being fueled into the economy. Our government has launched economic crisis packages, providing funding or loans for businesses and institutions in need, and people who are temporarily laid off will get full pay for at least the first 20 days, when other social benefits will apply. The cost of the crisis program so far is around NOK 280 billion, and this is sure to increase, as our country will be shut down until Easter or longer.
One last thing I would like to point out is the very high trust people have in each other, our government, and authorities. This trust is something that has been built and earned over decades and now seems to be our most valuable asset. We are a strong people and will survive this crisis together. The commonly used term for this now is a “nasjonal dugnad,” which is hard to translate, but means something like, “voluntarily making the effort and pulling the load together as a country.”
We hear that the United States may become the world’s pandemic epicenter in the weeks to come, and we can only wish you all the best and send our hopes, thoughts, and prayers that you will also deal with this in the best way possible.
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This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.