On April 14, the Norwegian government appointed independent Coronavirus Commission published its long-awaited report on the Norwegian authorities’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the Commission, composed of independent experts and persons with experience from public office, the overall assessment “is that the Norwegian authorities have handled the COVID-19 pandemic well. Yet, the authorities would not have been able to succeed without the support and cooperation of the population.”

While the authorities are being praised for adapting quickly and taking good decisions when the pandemic was a fact, the Commission delivers harsh criticism of the Government’s lack of preparedness of a type of national crisis that was widely expected to be likely to occur and to have a negative impact. In addition to the authorities’ skills in improvisation, the Commission credits the Norwegian societal model for keeping the infection and death rate by Covid-19 low and limiting its negative social effects. According to the Commission, the general trust and solidarity in the Norwegian society helped make the infection control measures effective. The Nordic model of accessible and comprehensive welfare schemes, especially the provision of full sick pay, allowed people to follow official advice and stay at home when sick or viral transmission was suspected. The high level of digitalisation of the Norwegian society allowed a large proportion of the work force to work from home and thus prevent spreading the virus.

However, the Commission’s conclusions also contained strong criticism of the Government, e.g. accusing it for violating the Constitution and demonstrating a persistent lack of sensitivity to constitutional law and human rights law when designing infection control measures, as well as finding flaws in the legal framework and co-operation between different public health authorities and between national and local authorities.

The Commission was set up to “conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the management of the pandemic by the Norwegian authorities” and to “propose the measures which it believes are necessary to ensure better emergency preparedness and crisis management in the future”. Read the Commission’s mandate in English here.

The Commission lists 17 conclusions on the authorities’ handling of the pandemic so far:

1. Overall, the authorities have handled the pandemic well.

2. The authorities knew that a pandemic was the type of national crisis most likely to occur and to have the greatest negative impact. Yet they were unprepared when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived with widespread, severe effects. The Government is responsible for emergency preparedness planning of appropriate scale.

3. In its emergency preparedness efforts, the Government has paid little attention to how risk in one sector is affected by risks in other sectors.

4. The Government knew it was highly likely that obtaining personal protective equipment would be difficult during a pandemic.

5. In the Commission’s view, it was right to impose comprehensive infection control measures on 12 March 2020.

6. The decisions to introduce comprehensive infection control measures on 12 March 2020 should have been taken by the Government, not the Directorate of Health. Under Article 28 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Norway, matters of importance are to be taken up in the Council of State.

7. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities did not ensure that the infection control measures were in line with human rights and the Constitution.

8. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Norwegian authorities have employed infection control measures to an extent no one had previously imagined or planned for.

9. The Commission believes that the authorities must regularly evaluate their strategic approach to the pandemic.

10. Substantial municipal-level responsibility for infection control in Norway is a strength.

11. Norway’s Act Relating to the Control of Communicable Diseases has been crucial in addressing the crisis, but should be amended.

12. The authorities have largely succeeded in communicating to the population.

13. The Government lacked a plan for handling imported infections when a new wave of the transmission emerged in Europe in autumn 2020.

14. The pandemic has affected everyone, but the effects have varied.

15. The pandemic weighs heavily on children and young people, and the effects may prove long-lasting.

16. The cost of the pandemic to Norway’s economy will be high.

17. It is too early to draw conclusions about the long-term effects of the pandemic.

The 452 page long report is published as a Norwegian Official Report and can be read here. An English language summary of the findings and conclusions can be read here.

The Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, and the Coronavirus Commission’s report mainly covers the events before and in the months following the introduction of national infection control measures on March 12 2020. The Commission will therefore continue its work in mapping and assessing the authorities’ handling of the pandemic.