Norway will allow entry to certain European citizens for work in sectors critically short of labour including agriculture and the oil industry despite its lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the government said on Monday.
The measure, which takes immediate effect in the Nordic country, relaxes some of the restrictions on foreign travellers imposed to combat the transmission of coronavirus.
Since March 16 Norway has barred arrivals of foreigners, and ordering out those already in the country, who do not have residency but officials said on Monday exemptions were needed to support key labor-short sectors.
"The agricultural sector is in the middle of a situation where they are dependent on seasonal workers in order to do the jobs needed in spring time," Justice Minister Monica Maeland told a news conference.
"It is important that we find the right balance between considerations of fighting contamination and other important social considerations. So today, we propose to make exceptions to the expulsion rules," Maeland said.
Norway is not a member of the European Union but is part of the EU's single market and in normal times allows free movement of citizens from the European Economic Area (EEA) — the 27-member EU plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein.
EEA citizens who work in agriculture, fisheries, the oil and gas industries, the building of hydropower dams and wind farms, as well as power grids are now allowed to come to Norway.
Like in other countries, farmers in Norway have expressed concern at the prospect of having no foreign seasonal workers because of travel restrictions triggered by the pandemic, and that this could lead to lower food production.
Similarly, many workers on offshore Norwegian oil and gas platforms — the country's most lucrative industry — are foreigners who do not have full-time residency.
Norway reported 4,226 confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Monday and 26 deaths so far. Some 153 people are or have been hospitalised in intensive care.