Mass Brawls Break Out in Norway Streets, Bars After COVID Restrictions Lifted

Norway police reported mass brawls and dozens of other disturbances in the city's streets, bars and nightclubs as residents gathered over the weekend to celebrate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the Associated Press reported. The Norwegian government announced with little warning Friday that many of the COVID guidelines still in place for country residents would no longer be in effect come Saturday.

The measure, disclosed by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg, was framed as a route for the nation's population of 5.3 million to begin to return to pre-pandemic life, the AP reported.

"It has been 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime," Solberg said Friday during a news conference. "Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life."

However, the abrupt change resulted in surprise and some chaotic aftereffects in Norway's capital, Oslo, and other parts of the country, the AP reported. Lines of people formed late Saturday outside the capital's bars and restaurants, where proof of vaccination and negative tests are no longer required for entry, and police recorded at least 50 fights and disturbances throughout the night.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Norway Prime Minister Lifts COVID Restrictions
Norway police reported mass brawls and dozens of other disturbances in the city’s streets, bars and nightclubs as residents gathered over the weekend to celebrate the prime minister's lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Above, Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg is hugged by Norway's Minister of Health Bent Hoie during a press conference on the COVID-19 situation in Oslo, on September 24. Ali Zare/AFP via Getty Images

Rowdy celebrations by hundreds of citizens across Norway started Saturday afternoon and lasted until the early hours of Sunday. Police said unrest was reported in several places, including in the southern city of Bergen and the central city of Trondheim, but the situation was the worst in Oslo.

"That's exactly what I predicted would happen," angry nightclub manager Johan Hoeeg Haanes in Oslo told Norwegian newspaper VG. "It was a life-threatening situation in the city because they (government) didn't give us at least a few days advance notice. This was a dangerous situation, as police said all places were packed."

Among other incidents, Norwegian media reported that police received an alert about a man carrying a machete on a bus in Oslo and people fainting while waiting to get into pubs in Trondheim.

"There was a significantly greater workload (Saturday) than during the summer. There were a lot of people out already in the afternoon and it continued during the night," Oslo police spokesman Rune Hekkelstrand told the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK.

Solberg responded to criticism of the sudden move to reopen society by saying that Norwegian health experts had supported the measure.

"We shall not have strict [coronavirus] measures unless they are professionally justified. People must be allowed to live as they wish," Solberg told VG late Saturday.

Norway is the second country in Nordic region to lift COVID-19 restrictions after Denmark did so on Sept. 10.

More than 76 percent of Norway's population have received one vaccine dose, and nearly 70 percent have had both shots, according to official figures.

Norway Vaccinations
Norway abruptly lifted COVID-19 restrictions last week as 70 percent of its population is fully vaccinated. Above, a student at Holtet High School in Oslo receives the first dose of Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 in the school's auditorium on September 7. Heiko Junge/AFP via Getty Images