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Norway to ease COVID restrictions if infections decline, PM says

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway hopes to gradually unwind many restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of June, but must see a decline in infection rates and hospitalisations before it does so, Prime Minister Erna Solberg told parliament on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg visits troops of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Pabrade, Lithuania September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

Norway has had some of Europe’s lowest rates of infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic early last year, but saw a rapid increase in hospitalisations in March led by more contagious variants of the coronavirus.

Solberg presented a four-step plan for easing Norway’s restrictions, and said the first three steps could be completed by the end of June, possibly removing many curbs on travel ahead of the summer holidays, unless new setbacks emerge.

She did not say how long the fourth phase, which will still contain some restrictions, is estimated to last.

“Before we open up we need to see low and stable infection rates. It is important that the number of hospitalisations come down from today’s level,” Solberg said.

The government’s best estimate is that everyone aged 18 or older will have been offered their first vaccine shot by the end of July, Solberg said.

Solberg had originally planned to present a plan for reopening the country before Easter, but instead introduced tougher national measures, such as a ban on the public serving of alcohol and mandatory quarantine at a designated hotel after returning from holidays abroad.

Next week, the government will consider removing some of the restrictions imposed in late March, depending on how the pandemic unfolds.

Norwegians could again be allowed to receive up to five guests in private homes and restaurants could be allowed to serve alcohol under certain conditions.

The second phase, which Solberg said could start in late May, would raise the maximum number of guests in homes to 10, gradually open universities for in-person teaching, allow more team sports and also remove restrictions on domestic travel.

In the third phase, more guests would be allowed at home while international travel, including for migrant workers, could be eased considerably.

The fourth phase will still maintain rules for social distancing, home office and quarantines for travellers from some parts of the world.

Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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