Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was reported in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The virus was first confirmed in Norway in late February 2020. On 11 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) publicly announced its assessment that COVID-19 could be characterised as a pandemic. The full global extent and ramifications of the pandemic are not yet known.
On 12 March, the Norwegian Government introduced the most comprehensive set of measures ever implemented during peacetime. At that time it was not possible to state with any certainty what the impact of each individual measure would be.
The pandemic and the measures implemented have had widespread ramifications for all sectors of Norwegian society. Each sector is responsible for assessing its own crisis management efforts, and this is essential for building knowledge. For the ministries, the basis for this is laid down in Chapter IV of the Instructions for the Ministries’ work with civil protection and emergency preparedness. In a cross-sectoral crisis such as this, however, individual sectoral evaluations alone will not be sufficient.
The Commission has been established to conduct a comprehensive review and assessment of the management of the pandemic by the Norwegian authorities. The Commission will examine all relevant aspects of the pandemic management, including the following:
- The Norwegian authorities’ preparedness and plans for pandemics, at both national and municipal level, in relation to earlier pandemics and scenarios.
- Preparations, management and cooperation between the affected ministries and organisations, including the division of responsibility and cooperation between the Directorate of Health and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.
- Measures implemented to reduce the spread of infection, improve the capacity of health services and treat patients.
- Measures implemented in the primary health services, and measures and preparations for protecting residents of care facilities.
- Division of responsibility and cooperation between state and municipal levels.
- Communication and dissemination of information to the general public, and the behaviour and response of the public.
- The economic and social ramifications of the pandemic and the infection control measures.
- How the broader social consequences of the pandemic have been dealt with and followed up by the authorities.
- How vital societal functions, including democratic structures, have managed to maintain their functional capabilities, and whether the appropriate functions were identified and safeguarded.
The Commission will consider how the pandemic and the ensuing social ramifications have been managed in countries similar to Norway. The Commission will also assess experiences with international and regional cooperation, and evaluate the need for measures to further enhance cooperation.
The Commission will propose the measures which it believes are necessary to ensure better emergency preparedness and crisis management in the future. The need for contingency stocks of medicines, personal protective equipment and medical equipment, in addition to access to personnel resources that can help to scale up efforts, will be assessed separately. The funding and organisation of preparedness measures will also be assessed in this context. The Commission is free to consider other factors and measures that are indicated as necessary during their evaluation efforts. The Commission may therefore also report on other findings and learning outcomes that emerge in the course of the review, and that may be of importance to overall emergency preparedness and crisis management in society.
The Commission will not address the issue of criminal liability or any other legal liability related to the management of the pandemic. The Commission will evaluate the economic ramifications of the pandemic and the infection control measures. The Commission will not, however, assess the emergency measures implemented to alleviate the economic impacts for businesses and employees, or the measures designed to promote recovery in the Norwegian economy.
The Tasks of the Commission
During the initial phase of the Commission’s work, most of the relevant ministries and organisations will still be fully occupied with managing the crisis. The Commission’s work is to accommodate this, and will not require resources from the actors involved while the crisis is still ongoing.
The Commission will carry out investigations and compile information as needed to shed light on all aspects of the issues under review. If the Commission considers it necessary to obtain documents which contain confidential information, the Government will present a bill that can give the Commission access to such information.
The Government will also issue instructions relating to the duty of employees in the ministries and subordinate agencies to provide such information as is necessary for the Commission to carry out its work according to its mandate.
The Commission may seek external expertise to assist in its work.
A report on the economic and administrative ramifications of the implemented measures is to be drawn up in accordance with the requirements of the Instructions for Official Studies of Central Government Measures, as far as it is appropriate and possible to do so within the time frame set for the Commission’s work. The Commission is to comply with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security’s rules for commissions of enquiry, as set out in Circular G- 48/75.
The Commission will carry out its work independent of the Government and the Prime Minister’s Office. The Commission will submit its report to the Prime Minister.
The Commission will present its report by the end of March 2021. If, at this time, the Commission finds that it has an insufficient basis on which to draw final conclusions it will instead present a partial report encompassing plans and preparations, viewed in the context of earlier pandemics and scenarios, and management of the initial phase of the virus outbreak in spring 2020. This partial report is to be submitted by the end of March 2021. The Commission may also draw up additional partial reports if this is found to be expedient, in which case these are to be made public at the same time that the Commission submits its final report.