CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR FRIDAY: Musings about ‘an Arctic prison,’ another round of reopenings and May 17 plans begin – but governor’s ‘trash cruise’ is cancelled


Few would disagree it’s been a rather trashy year so far thanks to the coronavirus and, despite a large-scale reopening plan that will see many recreational and other activities resume locally in the coming days, the rubbish will keep accumulating in many parts of Svalbard because the usual folks won’t be there to pick it up.

The Norwegian government’s reopening plan means Svalbard Turn will restart many of its group activities next week, Svalbard Church will host a social Sunday afternoon and some local businesses are planning events related to May 17 now that public events with up to 50 people are allowed. But in the larger picture, locals and those with interests in Svalbard are increasingly frustrated by quarantines and a ban on foreign visitors that now appears likely to doom any hopes of significant economic activity until at least fall.

“There is not a tourist in the world who books a trip to Svalbard to spend 14 days quarantined before they can stand on a dogsled or enjoy a tax-free pint,” wrote Arne Holm, editor of High North News, in a column published Friday titled “An Arctic Prison.”

While the struggle is putting all residents and businesses in peril, he notes, it is particularly hard on the estimated 300 Longyearbyen residents from non EU/EEA countries who are only eligible for vastly reduced, if any, unemployment and insurance benefits, and are trapped without funds or options either here or in terms of returning to their home countries.

A separate article published by the news site quotes both local health and tourism officials arguing the quarantine should be lifted immediately.

However, a more upbeat note came from the Russian-operated settlement of Barentsburg, which has avoided the massive layoffs of its Norwegian neighbor and recently announced the opening of a new “Icebreaker” bar. Timofey Rogozhin, the settlement’s tourism director, told Russian media he hopes a significant amount of domestic tourism can begin in June (and “maybe even earlier”) and is holding out hope international visitors will be allowed by July.

While most announcements by Longyearbyen entities Friday involved reopenings or regular activities already occurring, a notable exception was The Governor of Svalbard announcing its annual cleanup cruise along the north shores of Svalbard this summer is cancelled. The 24 people selected for two five-day trips will be able to participate in next year’s trip if they choose.

Other news/announcements Friday include:

• A crowdfunding campaign seeking to raise 100,000 kroner for the 600 dogs at Svalbard kennels is now active.

Svalbard Brewery is hosting its Friday “tastings” gathering, but reservations for limited-space two-hour slots (4-6 p.m., 6-8 p.m., 8-10 p.m.) must be made in advance.

Tio Moncho’s Mexican food truck will be open from 4-11 p.m.

Svalbard Delivery Service is available until 2 a.m.

A “safari and wildlife” cruise in the northern part of Isfjorden is scheduled from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

A community hike starting at Lompensenteret is scheduled from 7-10 p.m. Monday.

Svalbard Catering is offering takeaway “tapas” May 17 packages. Orders must be placed by May 13.

An outdoor Mass at Taubanebukken behind Svalbard Church s scheduled at noon Sunday. The church will be open for a family-oriented social gathering from 1-3 p.m., although a maximum of 20 people at a time will be allowed.

Arctic Autorent’s car wash is again open to the public. Contact or 9170 2258 for details.