CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR FRIDAY: Svalbard tops unemployment claims, trade ministry opening first non-Oslo office in Svalbard, Skinnboden at mall closing and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of at least some construction going on normally by Mark Sabbatini.

“This is the highest unemployment rate in Norway since World War II” at 10.4 percent and Svalbard has the highest unemployment rate of any region in Norway at more than 14 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. But while the report showing a 95 percent nationwide jump in claims since March 17 emphasizes the obvious – the sharp increase is due to the coronavirus crisis – the numbers don’t yet appear to reflect the reported 90 percent layoffs of Longyearbyen’s tourism workers (and possibly other sectors) or the high percentage of foreign residents ineligible to claim benefits.

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Skinnboden Arctic Product’s store in Lompensenteret is closing as of Saturday. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“I think the real number is double,” wrote Terje Aunevik, head of the Svalbard Businesses Association and a member of the Longyearbyen Community Council, in an immediate response to a local Facebook post after the local figures were first published by Svalbardposten on Friday morning.

Also, many local laid-off employees may not have filed claims before Tuesday’s report was compiled or may be awaiting the Norwegian government to complete a special assistance plan for Svalbard residents who are exempt because they’re not from EU or EEA countries. Furthermore, while layoffs have been devastating among the 2,200-plus residents in Longyearbyen, there have been no announced layoffs in the 450-person Russian-operated settlement of Barentsburg.

By comparison, the highest unemployment rate on the mainland appears to be Oslo, at 12.7 percent of the workforce and Nordland the lowest at 8.6 percent, according to the report.

Svalbard’s high unemployment claims coincide with a survey also released Friday by the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise, the country’s largest business/employee lobbying association, showing one-third of respondents nationally believe there is a serious possibility their companies will go bankrupt, 50 percent have made layoffs and 75 percent say more are possible near-term. In Svalbard, half of respondents say they’re facing bankruptcy, 75 percent have made layoffs and 50 percent report more are possible.

In other local coronavirus-related developments:

• The Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries will employ two staff members at its newly created Longyearbyen local office, according to High North News. “This is probably the first time a ministry opens a local office outside Oslo,” Daniel Bjarmann-Simonsen, NHO’s director and former state secretary, told the news site. While in the planning long before the coronavirus crisis since the government owns virtually all land and a dominant percentage of business entities, he said the office will help boost efforts to stabalize an already-uncertain economic base for the short- and long-term future. The crisis means that while the office will officially open April 1 as scheduled, it will not actually be locally staffed until the situation allows.

• Skinnboden Arctic Products’ branch store in Lompensenteret that opened last year during the shopping center’s complete remodelling is closing as of Saturday. It’s original store on the main walkway will remain open.

• Tio Moncho’s Mexican food truck will be offering deliveries from 4-9 p.m. today and Saturday.

The Longyearbyen Thai Shop is open from noon-5 p.m.

The crisis is disrupting numerous Arctic climate change research projects, including many in or near Svalbard.