ON ALERT – NOT ALARMED – FOR CORONAVIRUS: Svalbard officials following advice, but no special measures yet as some on northern mainland fear potential impacts


“Thousands of Chinese tourists are currently in cities like Tromsø, Alta and Kirkenes,” and a case of the dreaded coronavirus case in northern Finland resulted in big headlines. But for now officials at Longyearbyen Hospital are following the recommendations of Norwegian health authorities in monitoring what’s been declared a global health emergency without taking any specific measures, although they can do so quickly if necessary.

“First and foremost, we are following the recommendations we receive from the Directorate of Health and the Public Health Institute,” Bente Brataas, head of the hospital’s medical department told Svalbardposten on Friday. “We have procedures for if the infection should come to town. In addition we have isolation in the hospital, so if that happens we are able to cope with it.”

The Governor of Svalbard issued a bulletin Friday stating they are also monitoring the situation with local health officials, and referred people to the Norwegian Institute of Healths website which provides a full list of tips, symptoms and other information in multiple languages for residents and travellers.

Concerns about the impact of the virus on tourism in the European Arctic were expressed to The Independent Barents Observer this week, which noted Chinese visitors are among the largest groups of foreigners visiting the region. A Chinese woman diagnosed with symptoms last Sunday was confirmed as Finland’s first case on Thursday.

“It was expected that cases brought by tourists would also be found in Finland,” Mika Salminen, Director at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, said in a press release. “The risk of the spreading of the disease in Finland is very small and, consequently, people should not be worried.”

Svalbard, with its large number of residents from east Asian countries and the beginning of peak tourism season getting underway, is an obvious potential location for travellers who’ve been in areas where the virus has been detected. But Brataas told Svalbardposten she believes the infection is not likely to occur here despite the high number of tourists from Asia.

“You can never make a guarantee, but it seems to have taken hold in the area where the infection has spread,” she said. “I can’t imagine that there is a particular danger that it will occur here.”

Finnair and Scandinavian Airlines are among the carriers who have suspended flights to China due to the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization, which issued the global alert, stated that as of Friday at least 213 people in the China have died from the virus, mostly in Hubei, with almost 10,000 cases nationally. There have been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths.