Norway Lockdowns: A Retrospective


History has never seen anything like the globally coordinated lockdowns of mid-March 2020, with nearly every nation in the world simultaneously jettisoning its laws and liberties in favor of an experiment without precedent, one without a clear goal or exit strategy. Even to this day, the why and how of these events lack a full explanation with documentation. 

In each country, the unfolding was different but eerily similar. The public health authorities somehow and suddenly gained overarching authority over civilian life and governmental institutions including legislatures and even courts. In each case, all was swept aside, including elected politicians of all ideological brands. For a time lasting months and even years, the whole world was at war with a respiratory virus with a low and focused fatality risk. 

In the aftermath, some nations have pursued investigations into how all this came to be. There is an obvious regret and even anger in the aftermath of lockdowns and many people are rightly asking for a full accounting. No nation has yet provided a satisfying one. Even the best of them only mildly admit some form of “Mistakes were made.” 

The following summary of Norway’s commission – a nation that locked down the same time as the US but ended its most draconian controls soon after – is offered here. It is by Professor Halvor Naess, neurologist at Haukeland University Hospital. It offers fascinating insights into just how critical even the best commissions have been willing to be. 

Assessment of the Norwegian Authorities’ Handling of the Corona Pandemic

by Halvor Naess

In 2022 the Corona Commission appointed by the Norwegian government (right of center) delivered its second report. The mandate of the first report was to give a thorough and comprehensive review and evaluation of the authorities’ handling of the pandemic. The mandate for the second report asked for an assessment of bed and the intensive care capacity in hospitals as well the challenges for municipal superintendents and infection control doctors.

Both reports are detailed and provide useful information about the pandemic in Norway. The commission is critical of certain aspects of the handling of the pandemic but believes that the management overall was good. 

Norway’s Plans for Pandemic Management Prior to 2020

Part 1 describes the plans for pandemic management before the corona pandemic in Norway. These plans included general hygiene measures, vaccination, and treatment of the sick. Activity restrictions for parts or the whole population were not recommended. Closure of borders and the introduction of quarantine of suspected infected persons or mass testing was not recommended as such measures have little effect, are resource-intensive, and go against the principle not to slow down normal activity unnecessary.

The Commission further points out that scenarios for serious influenza pandemics had been drawn up. Not even for the worst-case scenario with up to 23,000 dead Norwegians were the dramatic measures that we experienced under the corona pandemic recommended. The plans in Norway for pandemic management were therefore compliant with recommendations from public health experts worldwide. This turned around in March 2020. 


Why was Norway shut down on the 12th of March 2020? The commission presents some interesting considerations which probably played a role. There were uncertainties about the severity of the disease and spread of infection. Previous pandemic plans covered influenza and not corona and could be useless.

The trust of the population in the government had started to fall before the lockdown. Some municipalities had already introduced strict measures. Parents had started taking children out of school. Reports from Italy were disturbing, and it was believed that the lockdowns in Wuhan had been effective. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recommended on the 12th of March far more drastic measures in all countries than Norway had introduced so far. 

The strategy in the first days after the lockdown was to flatten the infection curve. The intention was to spread the infection over a longer period of time to avoid overwhelming the hospitals (brake strategy). The CBRNE Centre at Oslo University Hospital with Espen Nakstad (b. 1975) as leader disagreed with this strategy and argued for a “knock down” strategy (zero Covid strategy) where the aim was to eradicate the virus. 

“Knock Down” Strategy 

On the 16th of March 2020, the Imperial College London published an article which recommended a “knock down” strategy based on computer models that implied that a braking strategy would not prevent collapse of the hospitals and many deaths. On the 24th of March, the Norwegian government announced that it had switched to a “knock down” strategy where the goal was that every infected person would infect fewer than one person. According to Director of Health Bjørn Guldvog (b. 1958) the Imperial College report changed the way of thinking for the entire Western world. Descriptive are perhaps Minister of Health Bent Høie’s (b. 1971) words to the commission in January 2021: “I have to admit that one of the best days I have had during this pandemic, was when the government finally agreed with me to choose a “knock down” strategy and I could communicate it out.” 

The Commission is clear that the measures which were introduced in March 2020 involved a break with previous plans for pandemic management and calls it a paradigm shift. But the commission believes that the new measures were correct despite admitting that they had no “empirical basis to assess the effect of each measure decided on 12th and 15th of March 2020.” Neither can the Commission see that “The Directorate of Health, Ministry of Health and Care or other actors who followed the development of the pandemic, took initiative to investigate the consequences any use of such measures would imply for Norwegian society.” Despite the lack of empirical evidence, it is always an implicit assumption in the reports that the measures were necessary to get “control” over the pandemic. When infection numbers were increasing, this is described as loss of control. 

Critical of the Decision-Making Process 

The Commission is critical of the way in which the decision was taken about the closures on the 12th of March 2020. It appears that the Directorate of Health made this decision. The Commission points out that this should have been made by the King in Cabinet (by the government). “For the Commission it appears clear that neither the government, central administrative bodies or the municipalities had a particularly large amount of attention directed at the superior principles that encircle the rule of law in the initial phase of pandemic management.”

The Commission believes that the government should have made more thorough assessments against the constitution and human rights. In the Infection Control Act, proportionality is a central concept. It is important to undertake a trade-off where the benefit is weighed against the measure’s burden, and one must add emphasis on voluntary participation from those the measure applies to according to the Commision. 

Too Strong Central Control 

The Commission criticizes the government for having exercised too strong central control. It did not sufficiently separate between what was and what was not urgent. Too many issues were raised to the government’s table with unnecessarily high time pressure. The Commission recommends that in the event of future crises that require local management, the local municipalities must be involved more in the decision-making processes. 

Import Contagion 

The commission is impressed by the authorities’ handling of imported infection. Public and private actors were mobilized, and regulations and arrangements came in place within a very short time. But nor does it appear here that cost-benefit assessments were done, and the Commission recommends systematic review and analysis of available data to assess the effectiveness of infection control measures such as the quarantine hotel scheme and the individual entry restrictions.


The vaccination of the population was successful according to the Commission, but areas with high infection pressure could have been prioritized better. The commission believes that the authorities’ information about the vaccines including side effects was good. This was central to building trust that was necessary for a large proportion of the population to be vaccinated. The commission recommends continuing the principle that vaccination is voluntary. The commission does not decide whether the corona certificate was a useful tool. 

Intensive Care

The intensive care preparedness was inadequate when the pandemic hit Norway. Planned operations were postponed, and the waiting lists for treatment and investigation increased. The Commission recommends strengthening the intensive care capacity. Education of more intensive care nurses is needed as are better plans for how hospitals step up intensive care in epidemics. 

The Municipalities 

The municipal doctors were not sufficiently equipped to deal with the pandemic. The municipalities got very little time to carry out many of the measures determined by the government. Often the municipalities were informed about new measures at the same time as the population in general. The Commission recommends that the municipality in the future will be notified in advance and participate more in decision-making processes. 

Harmful Effects of the Measures 

The second report states that the pandemic and the measures had significant damaging effects. In particular, it was hard on children and young adults. The government is criticized for not having sufficiently managed to shield these. Lost value creation in Norway is estimated at NOK 330 billion ($30 billion) in total for the years 2020–2023, but the commission believes that if intervention measures had been postponed in March 2020, the costs would have been even higher. The Commission does not justify this claim.

The Commission’s Summary 

The Commission believes that Norway was poorly prepared for the pandemic in 2020, but that the authorities’ handling on the whole was good despite the lack of cost-benefit analyses, uncertainty about the effectiveness of infection control measures and superficial “attention directed against the overarching principles which surrounds the rule of law.” For many of us who have been critical of the pandemic management, these deficiencies were central. Cost-benefit assessments were not carried out, and there was a lack of respect for volunteerism, which is a cornerstone of our civilization. 

Weaknesses of the Commission’s Assessments

The Commission seems to have accepted that the intervention measures were necessary and has evaluated the authorities’ handling with this as a starting point. There is no independent professional assessment of the measures or the vaccines in the reports. Apart from one negative study, treatment options of Covid are not mentioned. Ivermectin or vitamins are not mentioned at all.

It is also not questioned whether the coronavirus was dangerous enough to justify the dramatic interventions. It was already in March 2020 that strong indications the coronavirus had mortality rates equivalent to a severe influenza epidemic such as data from for example the Diamond Princess cruise ship indicated. It was then known that the coronavirus was primarily dangerous for old people. The commission does not point to studies which show that countries or US states with few intervention measures often did better both in terms of mortality and harmful consequences than countries with stricter measures. There is no criticism of the Imperial College model. 

Nevertheless, there are hints in the reports that suggest that some of the members are more critical of the handling than that which is explicitly stated in the reports. For example, there are the reasons for the old pandemic control measures described in detail, but there is no professional explanation that these were no longer good enough in March 2020. It was probably inevitable for the Commission’s lawyers to point out the facile attitude the government had to the Constitution and human rights. That the first report includes the quote that shows Minister of Health Bent Høie’s joy that the “knock down” strategy was decided highlights a silliness that at least suggests an easygoing attitude. 

The reports provide grounds for critical spotlight on several government officials. Director of Health Bjørn Guldvog was central in the decision for lockdown on 12 March, notwithstanding that he knew it represented a breach with established pandemic control measures. Minister of Health Bent Høie eagerly embraced the most interventionist measures even though he had no professional competence for such eagerness. Minister of Justice Monica Mæland (b. 1968) should have done considerably more to ensure that the Constitution, the Infection Control Act, and human rights were observed. Prime Minister Erna Solberg (b. 1961) should have ensured that it was done with sector-wide cost-benefit analyses. 

In my opinion, the reports give a good and thorough presentation of the authorities’ pandemic management. As can be seen from above, the reports contain several contradictory elements, and they can be used in defense of diametrically opposed views on pandemic management. Given the prerequisites for the mandate, it is perhaps difficult to disagree with the commission’s recommendations.

However, those who call for thorough empirical and ethical assessments of the strategy that the government followed, as well as empirical data on the strategy’s consequences, must seek other sources. In my opinion it seems obvious that the authorities’ pandemic management was an ethical, social, and economic abuse of the population, albeit to a lesser extent in Norway than in many other countries. It must never happen again.

  • Brownstone Institute is a nonprofit organization conceived of in May 2021 in support of a society that minimizes the role of violence in public life.

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