Profiles of Norwegian Science

Traveling to Norway during the pandemic

travel a plane wing looking out over Norway

Photo: Ilan Kelman
Author Ilan Kelman remembers flying into Norway in pre-pandemic days.

Agder, Norway

The fjords and forests beckon! As the COVID-19 pandemic continues raging, is now the right time to travel to Norway? The answer is: It is a risk assessment.

The main pro is straightforward: Being in Norway! For those with family in the country, it might have been especially difficult since March 2020 to have had little opportunity to see each other.

We rightly tally deaths from and positive tests of COVID-19. We do not know how many people were unable to see someone close to them before they passed away, nor the emotional toll this exacts.

Then, there is the pleasure of spending time with friends around Norway—or just spending time in the country. The gorgeous landscapes, rich history, and thriving arts and culture scene never fail to please—highly welcome after a series of horrendous seasons globally.

Even with travel not being the most sustainable activity (although it is far from the least sustainable), it is hard not to sympathize with the industry’s employees. Everyone depending on travelers for income, including tradespeople such as plumbers and electricians servicing hotels and restaurants, has been upended by lockdowns and border closures.

The need to shift services and products to be safer for COVID-19 has long-term hygiene advantages. It has not been easy because of the costs involved, alongside less income, and the lack of planning time. Health and sustainability gains might remain post-pandemic, but the suddenness of the changes is not simple to manage.

No matter the desire to help those who are hurting, the pros of visiting Norway are unfortunately balanced by major cons. In particular, who would want to cause even more damage by traveling?

The disease remains a major danger with travelers spreading the virus, including the new variants. Vaccination-related wins are put at risk when those eager to resume travel could infect many others, especially people who have not yet been offered a vaccine.

More selfishly, consider the cost of quarantine or self-isolation upon arrival in Norway or returning home. Rules change frequently and quickly, although it seems likely that for the near future, many arrivals in Norway cannot immediately go out in public. Added days and costs for the journey are a discouragement.

Besides, a family could be all set to go, with the paperwork and safety equipment in order—only for one member to receive a positive result in the mandatory pre-travel coronavirus test. In some places, travel restrictions have been introduced overnight to stem an outbreak.

Before the pandemic, it was frustrating to have a flight delay or to become ill just before a trip. At least we had the expectation of a new flight or itinerary soon. Now, it could be weeks or months before any new rules are relaxed.

How well can we deal with the surge in awful behavior from other passengers? Masks have an environmental cost. When used properly, they have some level of efficacy, which is sometimes impressively high, in stopping us infecting and possibly killing other people. Someone assaulting others because they do not wish to do something simple to try to help everyone else is the sad reality across the United States and elsewhere. Terrible behavior, from cover-ups by authorities in China to deliberate misinformation around the world, led to this pandemic when it was easily preventable. Parallel attitudes have made the body count far higher than it should have been.

So, to travel or not? In the end, it is about managing risk and, preferably, reducing risk.

Anyone who cannot be vaccinated (some people are exempt), should avoid non-essential travel until they are fully vaccinated. Then, while the pandemic continues, follow common sense to save lives.

First, give others as much space as possible. Not traveling achieves this goal while yielding space to those who might have to be on the move. Next, wash hands frequently, especially before touching food, your face, or anything coming near your face, such as a drink or makeup. Third, cover your mouth and nose whenever possible—obviously infeasible while eating and drinking. Wearing glasses or a face shield can help a bit, to reduce the chance of being infected through your eyes.

The difficulty is that so much depends on others. Doing everything right ourselves can end up with little result if others refuse to do the same.

It might be that, unfortunately, visiting Norway needs to wait until next year.

This article originally appeared in the July 23, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.