‘Gradually and more controlled than on the mainland’: Svalbard reopens to Schengen/EEA residents on July 15, limits continue on some aspects such as charter flights and cruise ship size

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A week after announcing mainland Norway will reopen for residents from Schengen Area and EEA countries on July 15, the government extended the order to include Svalbard – but with some limitations due to the archipelago’s ongoing relative lack of medical facilities and remote access for emergency transport.

The reopening of Svalbard applies to travellers on commercial flights and “expedition cruises” (classified as ships with capacity for 500 or fewer passengers, with the additional limit only half the capacity can be used). In addition to limits on ship capacity, certain other limits such as a ban on international charter flights remain.

“It is important that tourism in Svalbard can also take part in the reopening we are now implementing in communities, but because of Svalbard’s emergency and emergency preparedness this opening must happen gradually and more controlled than on the mainland,” Minister of Justice and Emergency Preparedness Monica Mæland said in a prepared statement.

The government’s announcement came a day after Hurtigruten declared its plan to resume cruises to Svalbard will include the first hybrid ship to voyage around the archipelago. But the company also noted bookings for all of Norway are light, even with the drastically reduced capacity limitations.

Svalbard has typically received more than 60,000 passengers in recent years, more than two-thirds from cruise ships. Since travel to the archipelago resumed on June 1, starting with mainland residents and gradually expanding, the number of daily visitors has been measured in dozens or hundreds rather than the thousands arriving on many larger cruise ships. Svalbardposten reported Tuesday an average of 141 overnight guests are expected this week, about 30 more than last week, and nearly 150 are expected next week, according to Visit Svalbard.

The nationwide reopening order applies to Schengen Area/EEA residents unless their home countries are still under quarantine orders or the situation in them has deteriorated (the United States being one such example that has generated widespread headlines).

The delayed reopening of Svalbard occurred after the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority – in collaboration with The Governor of Svalbard, and hospital officials in Longyearbyen and Tromsø – reviewed existing contingency plans and assessed the likely extent of tourism in Svalbard this summer.

“Both the tourism industry and the international university environment are important in Svalbard,” said Minister of Transport and Communications Knut Arild Hareide. “It is therefore positive that more people living in Europe can travel to Svalbard by plane or boat safely.”

The government’s announcement came a day after Hurtigruten declared it’s plan to resume cruises to Svalbard will include the first hybrid ship to voyage around the archipelago. But the company also noted bookings for all of Norway are light, even with the drastically reduced capacity limitations.

“Usually, Hurtigruten sails with 11 fully booked ships in scheduled traffic throughout the summer,” a statement by the company notes. “Even with only a few ships in operation, the bookings appears to be around 30 percent this summer.”

However, concerns about the volume of visitors prompted the transportation ministry to seek a continued ban on international charter flights, aside from special circumstances such as transport of key personnel for vital occupations and tasks.

The government’s announcement said ongoing assessments will be made to determine if lifting the ban on larger passenger ships in possible.