LARGE-SCALE REOPENING PLAN UNVEILED: Recreation groups can resume, quarantine now 10 days and ‘group’ May 17 events OK; but end of foreigner visitor ban unlikely anytime soon


Sports halls can reopen immediately (but Svalbardhallen won’t until June), quarantines are now 10 days instead of 14 and events on May 17 for groups of up to 50 people are allowed under a large-scale plan unveiled by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Thursday.

The bad news: the ban on international visitors isn’t likely to be lifted any time soon.

“You have shown us patience, now it is our turn to give back. That is why we are presenting a plan to reopen Norway, a plan to take back everyday life,” Solberg said during a press conference.

While no immediate reopening plans were announced by affected facilities in Longyearbyen, Gov. Kjerstin Askholt issued a statement that meetings with a variety of local officials and organizations are taking place to discuss business, recreational and tourism activities.

“The various actors and businesses are themselves responsible for acting in accordance with the health authorities’ requirements and norms, and specifically describe how they must comply with the infection control measures and the COVID-19 regulations,” she said. “A separate committee has been set up to prepare proposals for advice and guidance for the gradual opening of activities and business in Svalbard based on government decisions, national guidelines and local guidelines, laws and regulations and industry standards. This deals primarily with activities and business related to tourism.”

Local officials have been evaluating tourism possibilities based on the idea that visitors will be mostly or entirely from within Norway. Solberg said Thursday there is no timeline for lifting the ban on non-resident arrivals from other countries, but it is unlikely to occur soon. The reopening plan states “quarantine rules after travel abroad may well apply until after the summer,” which would likely deter virtually all casual holiday travel.

Various media reports from countries throughout Europe suggest no significant lift on border restrictions is likely until at least July, and some cruise companies and airlines have cancelled international service to affected countries until fall.

“I realize that many people are feeling impatient now, and that you may be able to come up with good reasons why ‘your’ activity or business in particular should be able to start up now,” Solberg said. “But if we try to accommodate everyone’s wishes, we will open up too quickly and the spread of infection will increase again. In that case, we would have to close society down again, and that is not what we want to do.”

Among the changes effective immediately:

• Private groups: The recommended size is now 20 instead of five, but they must keep at least one meter distance from each other.

• Public events: Up to 50 people are permissible, again with social distancing requirements.

• Sports halls: Can open, but changing facilities must be kept closed. However, Svalbard Turn Director Silje Hagen said while her organization’s activities will resume next week, but Svalbardhallen won’t reopen to the public until the national reopening date for “gyms” occurs June 15. The pool will reopen for organized training activities on June 1.

• Home quarantine: Reduced from 14 to 10 days. Those who have already been infected will be exempt from quarantine for six months.

• International travel: The ban on foreign travel for health professionals is lifted. People who return from abroad must still undergo quarantine.

Future changes include:

• May 11: All schools and adult education programs can reopen.

• June 1: Places serving alcohol without food can reopen.

• June 15: Most other places will be permitted to reopen. Also, events at gatherings can have up to 200 people instead of 50.