Norway's capital tightens lockdown to combat more contagious virus variant

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway’s capital Oslo and nine neighboring municipalities imposed some of their toughest lockdown measures yet on Saturday after an outbreak of a more contagious coronavirus variant, first identified in Britain.

FILE PHOTO: People walk on the street in Oslo, Norway March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lefteris Karagiannopoulos/File Photo

Shopping centres and other non-essential stores will be closed from noon, for the first time in the pandemic, and will not reopen until Feb. 1 at the earliest, the government announced.

Shops selling food will remain open, along with pharmacies and petrol stations.

Organised sports activities will be halted, restaurants must close and schools must rely more on remote learning, while households have been asked not to have any visitors at home.

“Together we’ve managed to strike down the virus several times, and I’m convinced we can do so again,” Health Minister Bent Hoeie told a news conference.

Norway has so far identified 55 cases of the virus variant that has already spread widely in Britain, data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health showed.

Norway has imposed some of the toughest travel restrictions in Europe, and recently introduced mandatory COVID-19 testing at its borders.

The country’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants was at 149 in the week ending Jan. 17, the fifth-lowest in Europe behind Iceland, Finland, Greece and Bulgaria, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said.

As of Thursday, the nation of 5.4 million has vaccinated close to 72,000 people with a first dose, and nearly 1,900 have received two doses, according to data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Norway received news on Friday it would receive only 18% of the vaccine doses it had anticipated from AstraZeneca in February - 200,000 doses instead of the planned 1.12 million.

Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Terje Solsvik and Frances Kerry