(Mar. 19, 2020) On March 15, 2020, the Norwegian government adopted a new regulation with measures aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus. One of its provisions, which prohibits Norwegians from temporarily residing outside their home municipality—that is, the region where they have registered their permanent residence—took effect on March 19, 2020. (Forskrift om karantene, isolasjon og forbud mot opphold på fritidseiendommer mv. i anledning utbrudd av Covid-19 (FOR-2020-03-25-294).)
Specifically, the regulation states that “[p]ersons who have a vacation property in another municipality than the one where they are registered in the national registry [as permanent residents] are prohibited from staying there.
Norwegian law requires that all residents must be registered as living in one region in the national registry. The municipality in which one is registered collects tax from the residents and is also responsible for providing health care services to them.
In addition to their permanent abodes, many Norwegians also have vacation properties (hytter), often smaller houses in more remote areas, where they spend their weekends or vacations. In these areas, because of the smaller year-round population and smaller tax base, public services are typically fewer, hospitals are further away, and health care is more limited.
Although the regulation prohibits staying in vacation homes, it also provides that absolutely necessary maintenance or inspections that are necessary to prevent great material harm are allowed. (§ 5.)
The regulation will be in effect until April 1, 2020, but can be extended by the Health and Care Services Department. (§ 5.)
Rationale Behind the Regulation
The measure comes as smaller municipalities with fewer medical resources fear that Norwegians from areas with community spread such as Oslo will bring the virus with them and overwhelm their health providers. The minister of Health and Care Services, Bent Høie, commented on his the decision by explaining,
I hear of many who want to travel to their vacation properties because they will not be subject to the same amount of spread there as they would be if they remain in their homes. I understand that well. Our wish to have vacationers return home is not about that, it is about showing consideration for the small municipalities that have many vacation properties within their borders. They don’t have the capacity to help [domestic tourists] who have gotten sick.
Høie had previously asked all nonresident tourists to return home from their vacation properties. But vacation property owners have instead returned to their properties en masse in hopes of avoiding crowds in the more densely populated cities such as Oslo. Tens of thousands of Norwegians have reportedly retreated to their vacation homes, resulting in some municipalities requesting the police to come and ask nonresidents to leave. Before the enactment of the new regulation, Prime Minister Erna Solberg had threatened to send in the civil defense to make sure vacation property owners left.
So far no confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported in most Norwegian municipalities containing vacation properties, but in those municipalities reporting cases of the virus, those infected have reportedly been nonresidents.
Violators of the rules are subject to a monetary fine or imprisonment for up to six months. (§ 6.) But, according to guidelines issued by the director of Public Prosecutions (Riksadvokaten) in Norway, a typical violation will be punished by monetary fines of 15,000 Norwegian kroner (about US$1,300) or 10 days’ imprisonment.
Persons who do not have the coronavirus but who live with someone who does may continue to stay at the vacation property to enable the sick person to quarantine at home.