Can Norway’s much-loved National Day celebrations still go ahead?

The crowds at this National Day celebration in Grimstad are perfect conditions for coronavirus. Photo: Jan Skaragrøm/Visit Norway
It’s the day when Norway’s streets are crammed with hundreds of thousands of jubilant children dressed in bunad folk costume. But is Norway’s National Day — May 17 — too close to the expected tail-end of the coronavirus lockdown to go ahead?
But the press of people and the large crowds they bring could risk triggering a renewed wave of coronavirus infections, making it look a little unlikely the marches will go ahead.
National Day organising committees across Norway are still waiting for a decision from central government.
“We need some sort of central guidance to be able to handle this decision in a good way,” Mira Svartnes Thorsen, the May 17 coordinator in Kristianstad, complained to Norway’s state broadcaster NRK.
Norway’s government last Wednesday banned all big events involving more than 500 people for an initial 14-day period in one of the first steps it took, before instituting a much wider coronavirus lockdown. It will almost certainly extend this ban when the initial two-week period comes to an end next Wednesday, pushing the ban into April.
But will the lockdown continue into the middle of May? And it is mostly lifted by then, will it anyway be sensible to hold an event involving such a tight press of people?
The National Institute of Public Health told NRK that no decision had yet been made over May 17. And if it is deemed safe to hold the event, National Day would be a perfectly timed way to celebrate more a month of self-imposed isolation.
But other international events scheduled for around or after May 17 have already been cancelled.
The Eurovision Final, which was to be held just the day before Norway’s National Day on May 16, was shelved this week, as was the UK’s Glastonbury Festival, which wouldn’t have been held until June 24.
In Stavanger and Oslo, city leaders have already signalled that the May 17 events will be cancelled, or at least severely curtailed.
“I will not be surprised if it happens [that the May 17 procession is cancelled],” Mayor Raymond Johansen said at a press conference last week, according to NRK. “It could well be a different celebration from what we’re used to.”
Erik Næsgaard, chairman of the May 17 committee in Bergen, said that he was in talks with the municipality, the police, the fire department the local council, but that so far no plans had been changed.
“We are still planning as normal, but are prepared to cancel the big event at short notice,” he said.
Sissel Trønsdal, leader of the May 17 committee in Trondheim, told NRK she expected this year’s celebrations to be different if they happen at all.
“What will probably happen is that we will have a different May 17 than we have planned,” she said.
She called on organisers to “think alternatively” about the festival and to take the volunteer spirit, or ‘dugnad’, seen in recent days and channel it and May 17 funds into helping keep alive cultural life threatened by the lockdown.
Ali Horori,  leader of the May 17 committee in Bodø, said he was still hoping for the events to go ahead. “It’s good to be optimistic,” he said. “But we will not do anything that detracts from the safety and security of citizens.”

Categories: Norway

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