“Sorry. Due to new restrictions, we have to stay closed until further notice. “
A white sheet is hung outside the small restaurant in Henningsvær.
– I have not even bothered to print a proper poster, says Siv Hilde Lillehaug (57) as she unlocks the restaurant door.
So that the locals do not think that the restaurant is open to guests again, we close the door behind us and sit in the innermost corner of the small room.
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For almost six years she has run the restaurant Lofotmat together with her husband, Geir Robertsen (55). The room they bought was an old warehouse. The building has now been completely renovated. Lillehaug manages the kitchen, while Robertsen, who has become a fan of wine, is in the restaurant.
“Life is too short to eat bad food”, it says on the sign which is usually outside the restaurant, but which has now been cleaned.
– We serve local food and make everything from scratch. We have scissors, but it is not used to open plastic bags, but to cut up king crabs, says Lillehaug.
– We have been fooled for a whole year now
Tuesday 23 March was a sad day for Lillehaug and her husband. They had just returned home when the government press conference began.
– Nine minutes past six, Bent Høie began to cough out the new restrictions, and I wrote redundancy notices immediately, says Lillehaug.
The case continues during the video
Everyone who was affected by the measures presented by the government was given a day to change operations according to the new rules. Lillehaug reacts strongly to the short deadline.
– A day? An entire industry has been fooled for a whole year now, it has been on and off all along. This affects so many people, and it has even been proven that it is not in restaurants that the infection is greatest, she says.
Lofotmat is a small restaurant with room for 30 tables. Last year, they had to go down to 15 tables due to the infection control rules. With the new council about two meters away, there is only room for eight tables. Lillehaug says that it is too small for them to operate profitably, and when a bar stop was also introduced, they saw no other way out than to close the restaurant. This is the fourth time this has happened since March last year.
– Bent Høie sits on his tall horse and decides that my neighbors should not be allowed to go out and have a better meal with a glass of wine, or a Friday beer, because there is extremely high infection in other parts of the country. It goes wrong, and does not hang on.
There have been cases of infection in the municipality, and she knows it can happen again, but Lillehaug still believes that the government’s rules hit too hard. She points out that it is much easier to track infections in a small municipality.
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– We have competent people who are able to take care of it. When we had a small outbreak, they became isolated. Infection tracing was effective, and the municipality quickly gained control of the situation. Then it was over. I trust the local authorities, because they know the conditions here much better than the government and those in the Storting, she says.
Had to throw food
Each shutdown has cost Lofoten food 10,000 kroner, and with the short notice that followed this time, it got extra bad.
– We have thrown away and given away food. Our suppliers have a long response time in these times, so all the items we were supposed to have for Easter were already ordered and on their way.
Most of the items Lillehaug had ordered arrived in Henningsvær on Friday after the press conference. On the table next to her is a tower with unopened boxes of sweets from “Jentene på tunet”, handmade chocolate from Selbu.
– So that’s why I’m sitting here in a pile of chocolates. It’s good chocolate, but how much can we eat of it, then? It is limited, says Lillehaug.
Henningsvær is one of the most popular destinations in Lofoten. The small town has a large variety of shops and restaurants. There are also many cultural events there. Lillehaug’s fish restaurant has a total of five employees. Now everyone is laid off, but when it was first shut down, Lillehaug is happy that it happened in the low season and not when they have even more at work.
– My employees have bills to pay. It hurts terribly not to know if they are in financial trouble because of the business I run, she says.
Lillehaug and the man have also soon used up what they have of funds to keep the operation going.
– It went well last year, we had a great summer, but when we did not get the autumn and winter, and now not the spring either, it is limited how much money we get in. The room also costs us, in electricity and insurance.
– Many do not have savings left
They are not alone in struggling. Across the country, restaurant owners and tourism companies have expressed their frustration over the very strict rules that were introduced just before the Easter holidays began.
– We have received many calls and questions. This came on very abruptly. Many tourism companies do not have savings left and had hoped that Easter would give a boost, says Kjersti Aastad, political adviser at NHO Reiseliv.
She says that very many companies have been forced to close down completely.
– There are many jobs that are at stake due to the new rules. We believe that the state must put in place compensation schemes that hit tourism even better, and that must happen quickly.
NHO believes that many companies cannot afford to pay full wages to layoffs for ten days. The organization demands that the state go in and take a lot of the bill, as was done last year when the companies got away with paying wages for two days for the laid off.
Lillehaug in Henningsvær says it would help.
– That we have to stay closed in March and April this year, and probably parts of May as well, is problematic, because we did not have turnover in those months last year either, so we have no buffer to cover the costs for these months.
– It feels completely meaningless
During the Easter holidays, there are usually many people who visit Henningsvær. Now it is quiet in the streets.
– We’m sorry. We know that there is no infection in Vågan municipality, so this will be too stupid. It feels completely meaningless, and I can not understand it, says Wally Pettersen (60).
She has just had a coffee with two friends outside the MIX kiosk, the only alternative to a café that is still open.
– We can drink coffee outside the MIX, but it gets cold quickly, so we do not stay long, but it is the only opportunity we have to meet people.
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Pettersen is clearly frustrated.
– And that’s how it will be all Easter? It’s completely on the snout, she says.
Restaurant owner Lillehaug says that the shops and restaurants in Henningsvær are interdependent.
– Some shops have chosen to stay open this Easter, but all restaurants and eateries are closed. Then the turnover of the shops in the area also goes down, and then they also have to lay off, she says and adds:
– People come here to see everything, and if no restaurants are open, no one comes to look in the shops. It’s a scary domino effect, and we fall faster and faster one after the other.
Sent list of demands to the government
After the introduction of a national bar stop and advice to keep a distance of two meters, NHO Reiseliv sent a list of four demands to the government. The first requirement is that companies must be compensated for payroll days in the event of closure. State Secretary Vegard Einan (H) in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, writes in an e-mail that no changes to the unemployment benefit rules are currently planned. He points out that employers have had the number of days they have pay liability for layoffs downgraded and that the layoff period has been extended until 1 October.
– In addition to the changes in the redundancy scheme, the compensation scheme for business and the scheme for subsidies to municipalities with high unemployment and which are affected by national closure measures, will help to remedy disadvantages resulting from the infection control measures, Einan writes.
NHO believes that the government must also reduce the so-called “serving VAT” in the reopening phase and that the interest rate on deferred taxes and fees from 2020 must be reduced. The last point in the list of requirements is that the government must strengthen the municipal scheme that provides financial compensation to hard-hit companies.
Magnus Thue (H), State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, writes in an e-mail that he understands that many companies are in a difficult situation. But he makes it clear that the ministry is not considering a reduction in VAT or lower interest rates on deferred payments of taxes and fees.
– We have the necessary financial measures in place to handle the situation. The most important is the national compensation scheme, it is designed so that payments increase when companies are hit harder by shutdowns. The government has also announced that companies can in future be compensated for lost inventories, and we announce extra support for businesses in the municipalities that are particularly affected by lower activity at Easter, writes Thue.
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