Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has been quarantined after his possible exposure to coronavirus COVID-19.
Bakke-Jensen cancelled visits and meetings in the near future, including a scheduled lecture at the University of Oslo on Tuesday, after shaking hands with several people who have been to Italy recently during a meeting in Bergen last week. Now, his network of contacts is being thoroughly examined, Norwegian national broadcaster NRK reported.
So far, the defence minister hasn't exhibited any symptoms of the infection.
“When I found out today that one of [the people I met] had developed symptoms and had to be tested for coronavirus, I took my precautions,” Bakke-Jensen explained.
Prime Minister and fellow Conservative Erna Solberg said that the quarantine is based on Bakke-Jensen's contact with a person being tested for the virus.
“The minister of defence will take it easy until the results of this person are clear,” Solberg said.
The same precautions were also in place for the Chief of the Danish Army Command General Michael Lollesgaard, who was quarantined following a NATO meeting with an Italian official who tested positive for COVID-19.
When assessing the possibility of government members being infected, Norwegian Health Minister Bent Høie stressed that the virus “does not know the difference between people and can affect us all”.
“For the vast majority of us in good health, it will appear like a common flu or cold. But we must respect these measures. We introduce them for the sake of those who cannot handle this infection,” Høie said.
The spread of the coronavirus in Norway caused the ruling Conservatives to postpone their national assembly, which was to be held on 27-29 March.
“The consideration of the elderly and others who are particularly at risk weighed heavily. It is our duty to ensure that we do not unnecessarily contribute to endangering life and health, be it among the participants themselves or society at large. We therefore chose to postpone this year's national meeting,” Secretary General Tom Erlend Skaug said.
This announcement happened shortly after the Public Health Institute recommended cancelling or delaying all events with over 500 participants.
Norwegian health authorities warned that the coronavirus has entered a new phase and is proliferating in Norwegian society. As of 10 March, 277 people had tested positive for coronavirus in the Scandinavian country of about 5.4 million, an increase of 85 new cases in a single day. Furthermore, in at least five cases, the source of the infection cannot be established.
In Denmark, 262 people tested positive for coronavirus, following a steep rise of 100 new patients on Tuesday alone.
So far, there have been 119,233 registered cases of COVID-19 across the globe, most of them in China's Hubei province, where the outbreak originated. While the outbreak has resulted in 4,299 deaths, over 66,000 have successfully recovered.