Overcrowding and low education do not explain the high levels of infections and high number of hospitalisations among immigrants, a new report by the Norwegian Public Health Institute (FHI) has concluded, shattering previous understandings.
Previously, elevated infection levels among immigrants from Asia and Africa were recorded. As many as 12 percent of Pakistani-Norwegians were infected during the period examined, the Norwegian Public Health Institute noted.
Overcrowding has been pointed out as a possible explanation for the high infection rates by several pundits and politicians, including Oslo City Councilman Raymond Johansen. According to the new report, though, the importance of socio-economic conditions, lower education, income, and vulnerable occupations should not be overstated.
"It is not the case that overcrowding or occupation alone explains the figures we're observing", FHI department director Thor Indseth told national broadcaster NRK.
According to the report, age, gender, and municipality of residence explained about 21 percent of the overrepresentation in proven infections among the foreign-born. Beyond this, no clear factors could be singled out.
Indseth suggested that increased travel could be a contributing factor.
"If there has been a lot of travelling to countries with a lot of infections, it can affect certain parts of the population. There is a slightly greater chance that now with the pandemic you limit your social interaction after returning from a trip abroad only socialise with your loved ones. So if you have been travelling, and then associate with siblings and in-laws, this can mean a lot", Indseth argued.
Earlier this spring, the Norwegian authorities urged immigrants to stop vacationing in their respective home countries, as the country saw a spike in imported COVID-19 cases.
"We know that in some immigrant groups, the extended family means a lot and is more important than for the rest of the population. Figures from Statistics Norway from before the pandemic show that in many immigrant groups it is more common to have more frequent contact with close relatives. So it is not inconceivable that this has also had an impact on the disease burden in the immigrant population", Indseth said.
Financial conditions could have also had an indirect effect, Indseth ventured. Having a part-time job or an insecure position that included being paid by the hour or a bad employment contract, the threshold for staying home in the event of illness may be higher, than for those who have a secure job.
Norway's immigrant population was earlier found to be hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Immigrants tend to be infected and hospitalised with COVID-19 more often. Last week alone, the foreign-born accounted for almost 40 percent of new infections, and 56 percent of new hospitalisations. Immigrants make up approximately 17 percent of the Norwegian population.