Norwegian police on Sunday reported dozens of disturbances and violent clashes, including mass brawls in the Nordic nation’s big cities, after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of COVID-19 restrictions that lasted for more than a year.
The Norwegian government abruptly announced on Friday last week that most of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions would be scrapped beginning on Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal.
The unexpected announcement by outgoing Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg to drop the restrictions the next day took many by surprise and led to chaotic scenes in the capital, Oslo, and elsewhere in the nation.
“It has been 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime,” Solberg said on Friday at a news conference. “Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life.”
Rowdy celebrations by hundreds of citizens across Norway started on Saturday afternoon and lasted until the early hours of Sunday.
Police said unrest was reported in several places, including in the southern city of Bergen and the central city of Trondheim, but the situation was worst in Oslo.
Long lines were seen outside Oslo’s nightclubs, bars and restaurants late on Saturday, and police registered at least 50 fights and disturbances during the night.
Neither vaccination status certificates nor negative test results were required to enter such venues.
“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen,” angry nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo told Norwegian newspaper VG. “It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they [the government] did not give us at least a few days advance notice. This was a dangerous situation, as police said all places were packed.”
Among other incidents, Norwegian media reported that police received an alert about a man carrying a machete on a bus in Oslo and people fainting while waiting to get into pubs in Trondheim.
“There was a significantly greater workload [on Saturday] than during the summer. There were a lot of people out already in the afternoon and it continued during the night,” Oslo police spokesman Rune Hekkelstrand told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.
Solberg responded to criticism of the sudden move to reopen society by saying that Norwegian health experts had supported the measure.
“We shall not have strict [pandemic] measures unless they are professionally justified. People must be allowed to live as they wish,” Solberg told VG late on Saturday.
Norway was the second Nordic nation to lift COVID-19 restrictions after Denmark did so on Sept. 10.
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