By Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche

OSLO (Reuters) – Norway will offer a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to everyone aged 18 and older and will give municipalities the option of using digital “corona passes” as a way to beat back a surge in COVID-19 infections, the government said on Friday.

Norway has so far only given a third dose to those aged 65 and older.

“Everyone aged 18 and older will be offered a third dose next year,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.

Norway in late September ended the last of its domestic coronavirus lockdown measures, which for 18 months had restricted social interaction and hobbled many businesses.

But while 87% of adults in Norway have received at least two vaccine doses against COVID-19, and 70% of the overall population has been inoculated, infections and hospitalisations are now rising rapidly.

The Nordic country is not going back into lockdown, however, opting instead for digital passes as a way to keep bars, restaurants, concert venues and sports arenas in business, Stoere said, something it had briefly experimented with at one point but then discontinued as infections fell.

Those who are not vaccinated must test frequently to maintain a valid COVID pass, the government added.

Authorities will also increase testing for unvaccinated health personnel.

“We want a regular testing regime, twice a week, for unvaccinated health personnel and they must wear a face mask,” Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol told the news conference. She did not say what the penalty would be if they refused.

The government wants local authorities to increase testing in schools and universities, which is not the case currently. Students will continue not to wear face masks.

Norway uses vaccines made by BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna in its national rollout, which since September includes everyone aged 12 and over.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche and Andrei Khalip)