September 26, 2022

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Most of the rooms were empty - E24

Most of the rooms were empty – E24

In just over a year, the state has purchased more than 1.3 million hotel nights for people under quarantine. It cost several billions. In 13 municipalities, more than 90 percent of hotel networks have never been used.

Plot: In the hotel corridor of the Radisson Park Inn there is a simple bedside table. Some are isolated in their rooms. During the epidemic, Karmoy municipality kept a number of rooms, which were largely unused.

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KARMØY (E24) The Radisson Park Inn in Karmoy was already a quarantine hotel for a number of special players when the municipality contacted us in August 2021.

The municipality has been tasked with constructing quarantine hotels. They chose the Park Inn, and immediately loved a number of the rooms.

But the guests did not turn up, and many rooms were left empty.

From August of last year to the end of the year, the municipality held 1,588 nights at the Park Inn. Only 14 of them were used.

This is evidenced by the municipality’s reports to the Directorate of Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB).

Hotel room keeping price: NOK 2.4 million.

Karmoy is not unique, and history is repeating itself in 12 other Norwegian municipalities.

The Park Inn in Karmøy has been used by the municipality as a quarantine hotel. Only 14 nights were spent in the hotel. The municipality paid 2.4 million kroner.

More than 90 percent of the rooms are empty

From November 2020 to the beginning of 2022, 36 municipalities were mandated by the state: to find one or more hotels that could be quarantine hotels, and to maintain the rooms.

E24 reviewed the reporting forms sent by municipalities to the Directorate of Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB). In these forms, municipalities also report the number of rooms that have been used at any one time.

In 13 of the 36 municipalities, more than 90 percent of purchased hotel networks were unused.

In addition to Karmøy, this was the case in Arendal, Asker, Bærum, Elverum, Gjøvik, Gran, Kongsvinger, Larvik, Lillestrøm, Skien, Storfjord and Trysil.

These municipalities billed the state a total of 210 million NOK for the purchase and operation of quarantine hotels in just over a year.

The quarantine hotel scheme was created at the beginning of the second major wave of infections in Norway, in November 2020. The scheme has cost the state more than 2 billion NOK. Haugesund Airport is one of the entry points that has made quarantine hotels a must in Karmøy and Haugesund.

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More than half of the rooms have not been used

It was DSB who ran the quarantine hotel scheme. State officials, subject to the DSB, had to make sure there were enough municipalities to sponsor the scheme. Municipalities were given the responsibility for practical implementation.

In total, the state, across municipalities, has purchased more than 1.37 million hotel nights across the country. 780,000 nights never used. This corresponds to 57 percent of all hotel networks.

Figures from the DSB showed that the hotel quarantine scheme has so far cost the state 2.17 billion NOK.

We have always tried to balance emergency preparedness needs with spending money. Emergency preparedness costs, says Elizabeth Longva, director of emergency preparedness at the Directorate of Civil Protection and Emergency Planning.

Expenses relate not only to the purchase of hotel rooms, but also to transportation, security, food, translators, and salaries to municipal employees who worked with the schemes.

The questionnaires show that there is a very big difference between municipalities in how much quarantine hotels are actually used.

While some municipalities never really needed what they paid for, the situation in others during parts of the pandemic has been described as critical. So crucial is that the Director of State has instructed neighboring municipalities to relieve those most under pressure.

1.3 million nights

The E24 review shows:

  • The state, across municipalities, purchased 1.37 million nights in 36 municipalities’ hotels.
  • More than 780,000 nights were never spent – 57 percent of all hotel nights purchased.
  • In 13 municipalities, more than 90 percent of the nights purchased by the municipality were unused. In these municipalities, the quarantine hotel scheme cost a total of 210 million NOK.
  • In only nine municipalities, more than half of the hotel networks were used.
  • Ullensaker, Sandefjord, Oslo and Bergen accounted for most of the state’s costs associated with the scheme, as the largest access points in Norway.

These figures are taken from reimbursement claims submitted by municipalities from the start of the hotel quarantine scheme through January and February of this year.

Municipalities have granted E24 access to documents at various times, and some have submitted reimbursement claims after E24 has been granted access. Consequently, reimbursement claims made by municipalities thereafter were not included in the count.

The quarantine hotel scheme was discontinued in January, so only a fraction of the purchases were included.

It lasted for more than a year

The hotel quarantine scheme ran for one year and three months, from November 2020 to January 2022.

It was the municipalities that the DSB and state officials commissioned to build and operate quarantine hotels, but the state paid. The municipalities themselves have entered into agreements with hotels.

Quarantine hotels were introduced at the beginning of the second wave of the epidemic. Then the state required everyone who entered Norway to stay in quarantine hotels for ten days, if they were not resident in Norway.

The system has been changed several times in line with the ravages of the pandemic.

In those cases where people came to Norway because of work, the employer had to pay a discounted amount. That was 500 kronor per night in most cases of the pandemic. For rooms left unused, the state took the entire bill.

DSB: – There must be empty rooms

– It is important for me to say that these are emergency costs. I mean, of course, you have to consider the cost of that, and what the effect is. But this was an emergency measure, and having empty rooms in case they were needed was a precaution.

That’s what DSB’s Elizabeth Longva says.

– There should be empty rooms. It’s really insurance. This is about what is the right level of preparedness. Now we know what’s right, but we didn’t put together that information at the time.

It’s up to how municipalities solve this task, Longfa says, and says many of them have come “very, very far”.

Elizabeth Longva is the Director of Emergency Preparedness at the Directorate of Civil Protection and Contingency Planning.

satisfied with the municipalities

E24 provided figures to the DSB that show 57 percent of hotel networks bought were empty.

– Do you think it is reasonable that so many rooms are empty?

There will be an assessment of the costs of emergency preparedness. The signals that were given to us and the municipalities were that we should have enough space in case of emergency. Whether that was too much or too little, it was really up to the higher powers to say something about it. Longva says, we got an order from them.

– In 13 municipalities, more than 90 percent of the nights were unused. Is it acceptable to have such a large percentage of unused rooms?

– We get a mandate from the Ministry of Justice and Emergency Preparedness, and from the government, we will solve it in a difficult situation. The government has ensured that it has provisions for these expenditures. The number is high, but if this can be solved in another way, the potential rating should indicate something.

The municipalities were told from the start that the full cost of the scheme would be covered. Longva does not believe this has affected the costs incurred by the municipalities.

The figures show that the municipalities have found cost-effective solutions within the presented framework. So our clear impression is that the municipalities have been conscious and have done their best, in a very difficult situation.

– Are you happy with how you solved it?

– Yes sure. I have no reason to say otherwise.

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