The cost of Norway's controversial quarantine hotel program is starting to become clear.
In just over one year, the Norwegian state spent more than NOK 2 billion on 1.3 million hotel nights for people in quarantine. More than half went unused, and in some municipalities more than 90% of rooms sat empty.
E24 revealed the news based on municipal reporting to the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection (DSB), which reports to the Ministry of Justice and Public Security.
Norway's quarantine hotels
For more than one year, Norway put a controversial quarantine hotel process in place.
Introduced at the start of the second wave of the pandemic, they were intended for use by foreign employees travelling to work in Norway and later by most people arriving in Norway from so-called red countries.
At first a ten-day quarantine period was required, with the individual (or company) responsible for a payment of NOK 500 per night. The state covered the rest. In later months, both the amount of people required to undertake the quarantine period and its length were reduced.
From November 2020 to the beginning of 2022, 36 municipalities were commissioned by the state to find one or more hotels that could function as quarantine hotels.
In total, around 57% of the reserved nights were unused, but in 13 of the municipalities more than 90% of rooms were wasted.
The cost of quarantine
In total, the quarantine hotel program has cost the state NOK 2.17 billion to date.
Karmøy, the neighbouring municipality to Haugesund and home to Haugesund airport, was one. From August last year until the end of the year, Karmøy held 1,588 room nights at the Park Inn at a cost of NOK 2.4 million. Only 14 of them were used.
“The number of rooms the municipality has kept was adapted to the number of foreign planes and passengers who arrived at the airport. The hotel rooms were emergency rooms for arriving air passengers,” Karmøy municipal director Vibeke Vikse Johnsen told E24.
She went on to explain one reason for the low utilisation was the “very responsible business community” that probably covered the cost of hotels elsewhere in the country.
Other municipalities with low utilisation included: Arendal, Asker, Bærum, Elverum, Gjøvik, Gran, Kongsvinger, Larvik, Lillestrøm, Skien, Storfjord and Trysil.
These municipalities have invoiced the state a total of NOK 210 million for the operation of the quarantine hotels in just over a year.
Of course, the cost isn't directly related to the number of room nights. The expenses bill also covers transport, security, food, interpreters and salaries for the municipal employees working on the program.
“There must be empty rooms”
A DSB spokesperson explained that empty rooms are inevitable as emergency preparedness is a form of insurance.
“Of course, you have to look at how much this has cost, and what the effect has been. But this was a contingency measure, and having empty rooms in case they were needed was a precautionary measure,” said DSB's Elisabeth Longva to E24.