As Norway eases its COVID restrictions this month, there are a number of articles and social posts media going around that say “Norway has reclassified COVID-19 as common flu.” Such claims suggest that health authorities in the Scandinavian country have admitted that COVID-19 is “no more dangerous” than other common respiratory illnesses.
However, this is not true. While Norway has recently adjusted its response to COVID-19, it’s misleading to say that COVID-19 is no more dangerous than influenza. It's also incorrect to suggest that Norway is treating the two diseases as the same.
“It is not correct that the Norwegian Institute of Public Health [NIPH] has claimed that ‘Covid-19 is no more dangerous than ordinary flu.’ This statement is probably a misinterpretation of this interview in a large Norwegian newspaper,” a spokesperson from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) told IFLScience.
The article, published in the tabloid VG on September 20, featured a comment from Geir Bukholm, Deputy Director-General of NIPH, saying: “We are now in a new phase where we must look at the coronavirus as one of several respiratory diseases with seasonal variation.”
Clarifying this statement, the NIPH spokesperson added: “Our position, as stated in the news article, is that at this point in the pandemic we must start approaching COVID-19 as one of several respiratory diseases circulating with seasonal variation. This means that the control measures that will be applicable for various respiratory diseases will require the same level of societal preparedness.”
“This does not mean that illness from coronavirus [COVID-19] and the seasonal flu are similar,” they added.
On Saturday, September 25, the Norwegian government removed most of its social distancing measures. The NIPH said the move was made in light of relatively low and stabilized COVID-19 case numbers in the country, which they credit to a high vaccine coverage in the population. The approach is summarized as “normal daily life with increased preparedness.” However, people are still encouraged to get tested if they experience symptoms and those that test positive for COVID-19 are still required to self-isolate.
Influenza (flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by very different viruses. Both illnesses can cause similar symptoms, notably a cough and fever, but plenty of research has shown that COVID-19 is significantly more fatal. COVID-19 is also more associated with long-term impacts on wider health, ranging from “brain fog” and persisting fatigue to organ damage and diabetes.
Earlier this month, it was shown that more people in the US have died of COVID-19 than the number of American fatalities seen during the“Spanish flu” pandemic of 1918, the deadliest influenza outbreak of the past century.