COVID-19 INFECTS CREW ON COAST GUARD SHIP IN SVALBARD: One person tests positive, other 61 quarantined following voyage that picked up researchers at Bjørnøya

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One crew member aboard the Norwegian Coast Guard’s KV Andenes has tested positive for COVID-19 and the other 61 aboard will be placed in quarantine following a voyage in Svalbard that began July 24 and picked up a group of Norwegian Polar Institute researchers at Bjørnøya, the coast guard announced in a press release Wednesday evening.

A medic aboard the ship suspected the virus might be present when 12 people showed mild signs of the virus, according to the release. Medical officials in Tromsø boarded the ship to test the suspected patients when the vessel reached the city on Wednesday.

“Of the 12 that were tested today, one has tested positive for COVID-19,” the release states.

The ship is proceeding to the Ramsund naval base near Harstad, where the others on board will be tested and quarantined.

“The Armed Forces have established routines and good procedures for dealing with infection among employees,” the Coast Guard announced in a separate statement Monday, which reported suspicions about 10 possible cases, but no confirmed infections. “The possible cases of infections on the KV Andenes will be handled in an orderly and professional manner so that the risk of a possible infection to society is minimized. Everyone with symptoms is isolated in their cabins, and the entire crew will be quarantined on board until the infection situation is clarified.”

At the same time, “this is serious. There are good precautions for trying to avoid infection on board, but unfortunately they are not 100 percent waterproof, “says Birger Ingebrigtsen, head of the coast guard’s operations department, told NRK.

It is the second ship in Svalbard – one of the last places with no known cases in its settlements – reporting COVID-19 infections during the past two weeks.

An outbreak aboard Hurtigruten’s Roald Amundsen expedition cruise ship made public on July 31 resulted in global headlines, major setbacks for the cruise industry locally and globally, and a torrent of criticism and scrutiny about the company’s handling of the situation. The most recent figures from health officials state 41 of the Roald Amundsen’s crew and 21 passengers have tested positive.

An increase in cases in Norway, combined with fears of a second wave of cases in many European countries, has prompted Norway’s government to issue a series of new restrictions during the past week. Numerous countries have been added to the “red list” of people who are required to spend 10-days in quarantine upon arrival in Norway, while other measures range from prohibiting serving alcohol after midnight to extending bans on cruises of more than 100 people.

Longyearbyen has issued it own new restrictions due to concerns about residents returning from summer holidays, including closing all but the swimming pool at Svalbardhallen and the city’s main administrative building to the public.