I returned home to Norway exactly a week ago. A few hours before landing at Oslo airport, the government announced a drastic set of measures aimed at preventing further spread of the coronavirus.
Although Italy remains the most affected European country, Norway has surprisinglywitnessed one of the highest per capita rate of positive coronavirus cases.One reason for this is that we travel a lot. Another reason is that the more people you test, the more infected people you will find.
There were few signs of the emergency unfolding as I entered the airport terminal in Oslo.
Apart from the occasional posters containing information about the virus, I was not greeted by anyone with a thermometer in hand. This was unlike the welcome at Kamuzu Airport in Lilongwe over four weeks ago when we were required to provide information about our travel history and contact details. And before entering Lilongwe airport, we had to wash our hands in chlorinated water and given a slickly produced blue leaflet containing information about the virus. Indeed, Malawi appeared to be exemplary in generating awareness among travellers despite not having a single testing facility in the country!
As I got on a bus at Oslo airport, I began reading the local papers. The government had announced strict measures to check further spread of the virus. All returning travellers were now required to be in home quarantine for at least two weeks. Later that day, the government shut down nurseries, schools and universities. All large public gatherings such as concerts and conferences have since then been banned. The recommendation is to work from home whenever possible and minimise contact with others apart from those in your own home. For those of us who are home quarantined, going out for a walk in the woods is still allowed, but we must avoid public transportation and close contact with others.
The message from the authorities is unambiguous. Stay at home, irrespective of whether you are infected. There are simply not enough test kits for the entire population, even in one of the richest countries in the world. A large majority of us will only face mild symptoms and can expect to recover fully after a possible infection. But of major concern has been the health of the elderly who are more likely to be severely affected with acute respiratory problems. Despite some criticism of the delay in enforcing quarantines, the Norwegian government’s response has been widely praised. We are bracing ourselves for the peak period and a major economic recession that is going to affect us all. I am particularly worried about the extent to which the virus will impact countries like Malawi.