BREAKING – TRAVELLERS FROM NON-NORDIC COUNTRIES BANNED, PLAN TO SEND THOSE HERE HOME: Justice ministry OKs tougher Svalbard policy; affects first passengers Friday

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All people arriving in Norway from non-Nordic countries are prohibited to travel to Svalbard while strict coronavirus restrictions are in effect, Svalbardposten reported Friday. The restriction, following a meeting by The Governor of Svalbard with Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security, was prompted by concerns Svalbard doesn’t have the capability of hosting such tourists for a mandatory 14-day period. Plans are also now being made to send such visitors who’ve arrived since Feb. 27 (when the quarantine retroactively applies to) back home.

A text message sent by Longyearbyen’s emergency preparedness advisor Friday afternoon states the ban applies to everyone – tourists and permanent residents – although there was immense confusion early on about specifics of the policy. Comments posted on social media shortly after the ban was announced stated locals trying to return from trips to Oslo were being denied if they didn’t hold Norwegian passports.

The governor’s meeting coincided with a request by the city of Longyearbyen for a ban on travellers from non-Nordic areas, due to Svalbard’s isolation and limited guest bed capacity.

“At the same time, the governor today made a temporary decision based on the Police Act that persons coming from outside the Nordic countries could not participate in domestic flights to Svalbard,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt told Svalbardposten. “This is in line with the guidelines of the central government yesterday. “The decision will apply until further guidelines are put in place or new decisions are made on the basis of the Infection Protection Act.”

Eighty people on a flight to Longyearbyen from Oslo checked at Gardermoen Airport were the first affected by the ban, the newspaper reported. In addition, checks of all arriving passengers will be made at Svalbard Airport to determine if any non-Nordic arrivals were overlooked. It was not immediately clear if and how the return of such visitors already here will be enacted.

Relatively few people booked on Friday’s flight actually were allowed to fly to Longyearbyen and none of them were under quarantine order, Svalbardposten reported.

The quarantine requires all affected people to remain at their homes if they are residents or their lodging (including Airbnb rentals) for 14 days if they are tourists, with the lodging provider responsible for the latter group. Svalbardposten reported more than 100 tourists were quarantined as of Friday morning.

Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen, in a statement at the city’s website Friday morning, said that while government and private entities were coordinating response and contingency plans to deal with the coronavirus restrictions, the huge number of overnight tourists arriving and departing during the peak of spring season was too much to handle responsibly.

“However, the quarantine order has proved to be very demanding to deal with, both for the operators who are to look after guests and for residents,” he wrote. “The national orders are simply not adapted to a small island community like Longyearbyen. I believe that this will be a major challenge for both national and local authorities, and society at large if measures are not implemented immediately.”