Here is a letter from an English guy who runs a bar in Oslo.

I don’t know what else but to start writing letters. I’m Noel the Daglig Leder at Henry & Sally’s. As an English-speaker I may have missed some of the nuances in the stack of shit-cards we have been dealt.

‘Dear…

I am writing to you on behalf of my business in Oslo and in solidarity with hundreds of similarly-affected bars and restaurants. This is a matter of grave urgency as many of us in the uteliv branch are facing the immediate threat of bankruptcy. 17,000 people are employed in Oslo alone and contribute a significant amount of money towards the economy of Oslo. The loss of these businesses will affect the cultural life of Oslo for years to come.

On the 10th November we were forced to close due to the loss of our main source of income. As I am sure you are aware, this has left many businesses facing a dire future. Indeed, this was recognised as the government hashed together a ‘support’ package for our industry.

I have yet to meet a business-owner affected who thinks these measures are in any way sufficient to deal with the scale of financial hardship we face. Not only are they economically inadequate but they display a complete lack of sensitivity to the pressing needs of our industry sector.

We fully understand the need to do our utmost as individuals, business-owners and as a sector to reduce the threat of the coronavirus spread as much as possible. We have reduced our seating capacity (and by extension our revenue), we have introduced and adhered to regular and extensive cleaning routines, we have fully implemented customer registration, use of facemasks and stood steadfast to the reduction in our opening times. The latter has resulted in a huge loss of income. These efforts have been well-received.

In the meantime we stood shocked as cafes, gyms, shopping malls, public transport, bus stations, train stations, kiosks and shops were not asked to enforce mask-wearing, to enforce capacity controls or be regularly checked for adherence to covid-19 rules. As bars are forced to shut we are facing a situation where alcohol consumption will no longer be covid-regulated, indeed, private parties will grow exponentially and the rate of infection will increase. According to FHI figures, serveringssteder have been responsible for 0-4% of confirmed cases in Oslo. This is clear evidence that the covid protocols in place for uteliv were being adhered to and our industry is not to blame for the second wave. Nevertheless, with an infection increase we are the first industry to be treated with scorn and new restrictions.

Moreover, we find it shocking and insulting for Minister of Industry Iselin Nybø to state that “ellers levedyktig bedrift“ business-owners should weather this covid storm easily. Such statements display a profound ignorance of an industry she should know extensively. The vast majority of our businesses run at a profit, pay staff wages on time, pay our taxes and invoices and can survive the normal ebbs and flows of a financial year. There is no such “levedyktig bedrift” that can survive losing its primary source of income for long periods twice in one year, lose 2/3 of its capacity and still continue to operate. Everyone must know this.

Those with an iota of fiscal knowledge must be aware that being unable to even apply for compensation for fixed costs until January is completely inadequate. Who knows when businesses will receive this much-needed compensation? Many will be bankrupt before then. It seems a logical extension to suggest that the government know this and indeed are hoping for precisely this so the state picks up less of the bill.

In addition, how is that financial help in terms of postponement of VAT payments was deemed necessary in March but not in November when everyone’s situation is WORSE now than it was earlier in the year?

We are not interested in the assignment of blame. We are interested to know what are you doing to fight on behalf of 17,000 employees in Oslo alone? 17,000 people and hundreds of businesses are facing unemployment and bankruptcy. The loss of these businesses have a subsequent impact on an entire supply chain of other businesses such as cleaners, accountants, security guards, suppliers, distributors, transport and waste management.

We would like to know which precise steps are being taken to pressure for an adequate support package.

Your action is required now and is a matter of grave urgency.

Yours in sympathy,

Noel Heath

From here, I go on writing.

I really love the fact that Oslo and probably other places in Norway has got an international touch, in our case from being a small and a little sleepy city at least parts of the year, to becoming, at least partly, vibrant and alive, even if we are still small.

Small – is beautiful.

And this, I think, is great.

The city has been packed with good food, music and other events.

There is still a lot of money in the oil fund, and I will try to be reasonable when I talk about things, but there have been things going on that are almost on par with Donald Trump’s or other populist leaders’ actions, with a populist party in government since the formation of Solberg’s first government, in 2013, until last winter, when the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) left the government.

In the corona crisis the art- and cultural life is and has been fighting for its life, but seems to be at least partly listened to and understood, but the restaurant business, which has also had a real boom in Oslo the last 5-10 years, together with music and arts, is not yet being compensated to the necessary extent. Oslo experiences right now a prohibition against serving alcohol in public cafés and restaurant etc, imposed not by the government but by the City Council, and practically the whole business is in danger of breaking down, as is or has also been the case this year with freelance musicians, other artists, organisers, technicians etc., in short the cultural life of Norway.

The tourist business, hotels etc are more or less in the same situation.

The shops still sell alcohol.

The two businesses, culture and restaurants etc, are very different organised also when it comes to money and income, and the authorities, especially the government, seemed or seem unaware of how things are done, quite simply, and act late and seemingly incompetent, at least at first.

The cultural people seem to be able to talk for themselves, at least.

The restaurants, however, has, I believe, not quite reached a point where the politicians and administrators in case understand and actually accept what is going on.

The spreading of the virus has mainly not gone through the city’s cafés or restaurants or even night life, according to statistics from Oslo kommune recently. With a few exceptions it has been happening mostly at home, and partly at schools and universities. People working in bars etc do figure in the statistics, but they are of course not allowed to work when they are ill or contaminated. There have been cases of shutting down of places because of the necessity of a quarantine period, because of contamination.

It should be said that there is also a substantial part of spreading which is unaccounted for, around 20 % of the cases in this registration.

Part of the picture, I would say, is the peculiar traditions in Norway of temperance and abstinence when it comes to drinking, some are looking at any alcohol consumption with suspicion, and there is a wide-spread opinion, in general, among quite a lot, that “people can’t behave” when they drink, even if, as I said, the business seem to have tackled the whole thing professionally and has managed to avoid a big spreading of the virus at any point this summer and autumn, during a long row of different regimes from the authorities since March. This has been making life difficult and right now almost impossible for people who run places to eat and drink. 

To put it bluntly I think some people don’t care.

Drinking habits have also changed a lot, say in my lifetime.

I find it obviuos that the hotels, restaurants, travel business and culture and arts all belong together in an economic and cultural package, relying on each other for getting visitors, guests, audience.

The restaurant business employs some 17 000 people in the city of Oslo, in a population of roughly 650 000.

The money is there, what is needed from the government and it seems also from the City Council, is understanding the problems of the business right now, and how things functions for them in general, just as with the arts and cultural world.

The whole city has enjoyed a huge social and economic contribution to its culture during the last years, as I said, both in arts, theatre, cinema, concerts and not least, food.

The statistics in question, from Oslo kommune, helseetaten:

https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10157575823297093&set=a.376627147092