Norway government seeks extra powers to deal with coronavirus

OSLO (Reuters) - The Norwegian government will propose emergency legislation granting it the right to make decisions without consulting parliament to address the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo

Calling it a once-in-a-generation national crisis, Solberg said in a rare address to the nation that the oil-producing Nordic country of 5.4 million people would be willing to do “whatever it takes” to protect jobs and that the crisis was a time for national unity.

“This is not a time for ‘me’. This is a time for ‘us’,” Solberg said in a televised speech hours after announcing the emergency legislation.

“We trust each other. It is this trust that will carry us through this crisis.”

Solberg, 59, added: “No one in my generation has experienced our country facing such challenges as it does now.”

The government has already offered at least 100 billion crowns ($8.85 billion) in funding in the form of guarantees for loans and bond issues to support the economy.

It can also draw from its sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, which had a value of $885 billion on Wednesday - down from $1.17 trillion on Feb. 13.

The bill, to be presented to parliament on Thursday, would be valid for six months and cover only matters related to handling the coronavirus outbreak.

It would permit the requisition of buildings to house patients or to allow annual general meetings to go ahead without those involved attending in person.

The government said the powers could be used widely.

“We do not know in what context they will be used. We will have to see from case to case,” Justice Minister Monica Maeland told an earlier news conference to announce the bill.

Solberg heads a minority centre-right government. It was not immediately clear whether she had the backing of the opposition for the proposal.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Norway rose to 1,423 on Wednesday, up 116 from a day earlier, with six confirmed deaths, Norway’s Public Health Institute said.

“The only thing we know for sure is that it will get worse before it gets better,” Solberg said.

Reporting by Victoria Klesty and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Edmund Blair, Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney