Source: Government of Norway
The good news about the vaccines that are on their way
has generated a sense of optimism both at home in Norway and abroad.
We are all looking forward to – and hoping for – a summer in which our daily lives are more or less as they were before we shut down the country in March.
But there is still a long way to go and there is a lot that can happen in the meantime.
This has been demonstrated by the last few days.
As of today, we have banned all direct flights from the UK to prevent the spread of the new strain of the virus.
Travellers who have arrived from the UK within the last fourteen days are already required to quarantine for a period of ten days.
We are now asking them to notify the municipality they are staying in that they are there and to take a test.
It appears that the new strain of virus is 70 per cent more infectious than the original version.
It does not result in more serious illness, but it does spread easily.
This means that more people become infected, more people become seriously ill, and more people ultimately die.
It is very serious.
For both us and our neighbours in Europe.
As we enter the Christmas period, we have lower rates of infection and a more open society than most other countries.
As we are heading to the shops to buy last minute Christmas presents,
people in other countries are faced with the closure of all retail.
As we pack our bags to head off on Christmas visits to our loved ones, people in other countries are facing bans on visiting their nearest and dearest.
As we sit down around the dinner table on Christmas Eve together with our guests, people in other countries are facing the prospect of not being allowed to have any guests at all.
Many of our European neighbours are going into lockdown until well into the new year due to high rates of infection.
In order to avoid this happening in Norway, each and every one of us must pitch in this Christmas.
We must maintain distancing and keep the number of people we socialise with low.
We must stay at home if we are ill.
We may be infected without knowing it and infecting others without meaning to.
If we celebrate Christmas with that acknowledgement in mind, we may be able to avoid a fresh wave of infections here in the new year.
Today, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health is launching a new contact tracing app that will help in our work to track, trace and stop the infection.
I have seen some claims that it is arriving too late now that vaccinations are starting both domestically and abroad.
However, this new contact tracing app is not arriving too late.
The vaccination process will take time.
In the best cases scenario, we will have vaccinated the majority of the most vulnerable by Easter.
If we are fortunate, we may be able to return to life more as we know it by summer.
There are six months to go until then.
We have seen how much can change in the space of six months.
Six months ago, infection rates were low and there was great optimism in many European countries.
Today, infection rates are high and there is little optimism.
We will need good tools if we are to track, trace and stop the infection.
This is why I am delighted that we now have this new contact tracing app,
which Gun-Peggy from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health is going to tell us more about.
Today, it is likely that the European Medicines Agency will recommend the approval of the first vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech.
It will then require approval from the European Commission, which is likely to be granted this evening.
Given that the vaccine will be European Commission-approved, the first delivery may reach Norway as soon as 26 December.
According to the European Commission, vaccinations will commence simultaneously across the member states on 27, 28 and 29 December.
I am pleased that we have now taken another step closer to vaccination.
We must prepare for both the best and the worst.
We must prepare for the fact that this is not yet over.
Not by a long shot.