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Norway Christmas party causes biggest Omicron outbreak outside South Africa

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By Euronews with agencies
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People out on the streets to celebrate the end of the COVID-19 restrictions, in Oslo, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.
People out on the streets to celebrate the end of the COVID-19 restrictions, in Oslo, Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.   -   Copyright  Naina Helen Jama/NTB via AP

At least 13 people in Norway's capital have been infected with the omicron coronavirus variant at a company Christmas party, officials said on Friday. 

"Our working hypothesis is that at least half of the 120 participants were infected with the Omicron variant during the party," Preben Aavitsland, a senior physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, told AFP.

"This makes this, for now, the largest Omicron outbreak outside South Africa," he added. 

The party took place at renewable energy company Scatec, which has operations in South Africa where the variant was first detected.

"Everything had been done in order and no rule was broken," an Oslo health official told AFP. 

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that there was "a high vaccination coverage" in the group. 

The country's first two cases were announced Monday.

“More cases are expected. Effective tracing is being done to limit transmission routes and prevent major outbreaks,” the Oslo Municipality said in a statement.

New restrictions from Friday

With much remaining unknown about the new variant, the Norwegian government said new national and regional restrictions would take effect from Friday. Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere the strictest measures were regional and would apply to Oslo — a city of nearly 700,000 — and surrounding districts.

He said they include working from home when possible, a 100-person attendance limit at private indoor events in public places or rented venues, and restaurants and bars having to register customers.

Nationally, anyone entering Norway must be tested within 24 hours, either at the border, at a public test station or by self-test. If a rapid test comes back positive, a traveller must take a PCR test within 24 hours, the government said.

”It is likely that the Omicron variant will spread in Norway, and that is why the government believes in stricter measures," Gahr Stoere said.

On Tuesday, Norway recommended the use of face masks on public transportation and in shops and shopping malls.

“We still have to keep our distance to get control of the spread of infection, but that does not mean that we cannot have good contact with each other,” Gahr Stoere said.

Additional sources • AFP, AP