• Mary MacCarthy

American in Oslo praises Norwegian social distancing efforts

Updated: May 7, 2020

Laura White is an American who has lived in Norway for the past 12 years. She tells us how the COVID crisis is playing out in her adopted homeland. As you might expect from a Scandinavian country, Norway reacted quickly and efficiently - a response that hopefully will keep the ultimate infection and death tolls very low. (According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, as of April 2nd Norway has just 5,136 infections and a remarkably low death toll of just 50.)

They have converted their 400-square-foot apartment into a work-at-home space.
Laura and her husband working from home

HOW ARE YOU GETTING BY? I feel quite safe living in Norway. The government acted quickly as soon as COVID-19 started spreading throughout the country. Most of the original cases here came from families going on ski vacations in Austria and Italy during the winter break (end of Feb/ beg. of March).

On Thursday March 12, the Prime Minister had a press conference to announce locking down the country. By 6 P.M that evening, all gyms, schools, nurseries, spas and salons, and many bars and restaurants (which were too small to accommodate 1 meter between customers) were closed. Everyone who possibly could was encouraged to work from home and not use public transport. There was some hoarding (or hamster-ing as it is called here) in the first couple of days, but that ended quickly and the food shelves were never bare.

There was a great sense of unity. There is a concept here, called “dugnad,” which roughly translates to volunteering – it’s an idea that everyone must do their part to help the collective. Apartment buildings, schools and other organizations have “dugnads” at least twice a year to help clean up the gardens, classrooms, equipment, etc. It’s really quite beautiful and the Prime Minister invoked this duty when she gave her press conference.

Social distancing at the state-owned liquor store

This is not to say that the Norskies are perfect. The measures have been extended to April 13, and I believe patience is wearing a bit thin. People are begging to send their children back to school. And the biggest complaint of all: not being able to celebrate Easter in the most traditional way – a final cross-country ski trip at their family cabins.

All in all, I’d say we have it pretty good, and most importantly, the measures seem to be working. I can only imagine they will be extended through the end of the month.

What has been terrifying for my husband and I, has been watching the developments in the U.K. and U.S., which are our home countries. When the lockdown started here, both Tweedle-dumb and Tweedle-dumber were still in great denial of the severity of the outbreak and virus.

It has been like watching a car crash in slow motion – wanting so desperately to help, but not being able to do anything. We started asking our families to please be safe, to stop going out, to not go grocery shopping, to call off social plans and doctor’s appointments - but it was hard to get the message across when everything around them seemed to be fine.

My husband’s sister (in northern England) is a nurse in the diabetes clinic at the local hospital, and she has now been re-assigned to the emergency department, where her husband is a porter. They have been told that porters are not allowed to wear proper PPE, as they must be saved for doctors and nurses. My mother-in-law is a retired nurse who has been asked to come back to service.

My mom - in Colorado - was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago today. After battling through heavy chemotherapy for 6 months, and massive, complex surgery in December, she is strong. But she cannot risk getting infected.

My brother’s partner is a doctor in an emergency department in a hospital in Colorado, which means neither of them can visit my parents.

Then, of course, are all of our friends spread throughout both countries, feeling unsure of their physical and economic safety. We are constantly on high alert for developments happening back home. Watching the slow-acting incompetency and lies of the U.S. government makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs and punch things with all my might.

Sourdough success

I am channeling that energy into a new hobby – sourdough bread. I have discovered kneading bread is good therapy, as are living room workouts, long walks in the park, and meditation. Sourdough is especially fun because there’s an added science experiment aspect to the process – it’s quite magical to see such humble ingredients develop into something delicious.

I am also in training as a Reiki practitioner, so I have been offering treatments to friends and family (long-distance, of course) to ease their bodies and minds. Offering light and love to those around me is a small way that I can give back and soothe some of the collective grief.

I have been heartened by the ingenuity and adaptability of people. My gym, for instance, had an online platform with a variety of classes up and running within 3 days of the shut-down.

I have had video chats with friends back home, which has never happened before despite my 12 years abroad.

I am hopeful that this enforced cocoon stage will bring lasting and positive change to the world, despite the devastation. I hope that we can all emerge with a refreshed sense of community and compassion, and with new ideas of how we want society to be organized and run.

Evening view from Laura's Oslo apartment

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