'Was it necessary?': The PM who regrets taking tough coronavirus lockdown measures

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Leaders in some European countries have suggested enforcing tough lockdown measures early in the COVID-19 outbreak may not have been entirely necessary.

Norway’s prime minister Erna Solberg said during a television interview last week with state broadcaster NRK that its approach had been over cautious.

“I probably took many of the decisions out of fear. Worst case scenarios became controlling,” Ms Solberg explained.

She assured viewers that strict restrictions were imposed based on the international state of the disease at the time, but said that on reflection perhaps they were misguided.

People wait to take a ferry in Norway as coronavirus restrictions lift. Source: AAP

“Was it necessary to close schools? Maybe not. But at the same time, I think it was the right thing to do at the time. Based on the information we had, we took a precautionary strategy.”

This included closing schools and borders, which went against what the Norwegian Institute of Public Health had recommended to the government.

The department has since published a report confirming the virus was not spreading as ferociously as it was predicted to, and it had already begun to subside by the time lockdowns were enforced.

Norway has recorded 8455 coronavirus cases, resulting in 237 deaths. Neighbouring Sweden who took a more lax approach, not locking everything down, continues to report a high number of cases with more than 40,000 recorded and over 4500 deaths.

These kinds of revelations have “surprised even the most optimistic scientists”, according to UK oncologist Professor Karol Sikora.

“(It’s) useful to check the number of new cases in countries which eased their lockdowns back in mid-April,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Reported new infections on 30/05: Austria - 30, Czech Republic - 34, Denmark - 40, Norway - 15. This has surprised even the most optimistic scientists.”

Debate over diminished virus in Italy

In Italy, the original European epicentre of coronavirus, the virus is no longer potent according to Dr Alberto Zangrillo, the head of Milan's San Raffaele Hospital in the Lombardy region.

“In a clinical sense, the virus no longer exists,” he said.

“I am prepared to put my name to that statement. We've got to get back to being a normal country because the statistics show we have every capability of doing that.”

Italy has the third highest death toll in the world from COVID-19, with 33,415 people dying since the outbreak began there on February 21.

Screens protect customers sitting outside in Sweden over the weekend. Source: AAP

However new infections and fatalities fell steadily in May and the country is unwinding some of the most rigid lockdown restrictions introduced anywhere on the continent.

A second doctor from northern Italy told the ANSA news agency he was also seeing the coronavirus weaken.

But a medical expert from the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was no evidence to support the assertion the COVID-19 pandemic had been losing potency.

WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove and several other experts on viruses and infectious diseases said Zangrillo's comments were not supported by scientific evidence.

With Reuters

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