Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Don’t let rural hospitals get overrun with Covid-19 cases just to enjoy your summer house, the government warns.
Don’t even think about socially isolating from coronavirus in a vacation home. This was the message from Norway’s government this weekend, as the global coronavirus pandemic started to spread across the country. Prime Minister Erna Solberg spoke Saturday to order urbanites holed up in rural cabins to return to their regular homes in the cities. On Monday, the government doubled down, warning that anyone not staying at their home address faced a fine of 20,000 Norwegian Crowns ($1,952) or 15 days in jail.
The penalties are harsh, but there is reasoning behind them. Summer houses are extremely common across Scandinavia, while the permanent population of many rural areas is small and often thinly spread. Picturesque areas such as Hallingdal, a mountain valley halfway between Norway’s two largest cities, have wildly fluctuating populations, with only 21,000 residents in winter but 120,000 in summer.
Small-town mayors have been warning that if large numbers of people decamp to their municipalities from Oslo and Bergen and then fall ill, things could get ugly. Not only would the virus be likely to spread faster, but local hospital facilities might be unable to deal with the volume of sick patients. City-dwellers are thus much better off staying home where hospital beds and health care will be more widely available if needed, the argument goes.
This message may resonate with people in other parts of the world, where rural facilities also typically have far more limited capacity. Few other countries are likely to see population fluctuations from summer homes quite as dramatic as Norway’s, so the risks may not be quite as high. But if enough people relocate from their current homes to socially isolate in more pastoral settings, local governments’ capacity to plan for treatment will be affected. It’s at least worth thinking about what your health-care options might be before you set off.