CATCHING UP ON COVID-19: Local leaders answer questions about resident/visitor travel, what happens if an outbreak occurs and more during webcast (includes full Q&A)

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Local political and heath officials hosted a digital Q&A meeting about the COVID-19 situation in Svalbardone of the few places in the world with no diagnosed cases, last Thursday.

The 45-minute webcast was shorter than similar meetings this spring when the pandemic was new and all visitor traffic cancelled at the peak of tourism season. But there was a lengthy and dominant focus during the most recent meeting regarding precautions for residents and visitors now allowed to travel here, and how officials will handle an outbreak when the virus reaches Svalbard as many expect is inevitible, especially with a surge of cases in Norway, Europe and elsewhere.

Below is a list of questions and replies by officials representing The Governor of Svalbard, Longyearbyen Community Council and Longyearbyen Hospital submitted before and during the meeting, translated from the Norwegian version posted at the city and governor’s website (some questions are mostly or entirely identical, but the full list is provided).

Question: How will the essential information we receive at this meeting be conveyed to the population who do not understand Norwegian?

Answer: Questions and answers from this meeting are posted on the websites of Longyearbyen local council and the Governor. They will be translated into English and we also encourage employers to disseminate the information to their employees.

Question: Many suspect that we had corona outbreaks in Svalbard in January/February. Why is there no interest in measuring antibodies in inhabitants of Longyearbyen? Many who have wanted to take such a test are rejected even if they are interested in paying for what it costs to get this investigated.

Answer: It has only a theoretical interest, and is quite demanding and expensive. These tests are also quite uncertain. We would have had more infections here in February/March if any had occurred.

Question: If there are many corona cases in Svalbard we will all be sent down to the mainland?

Answer: No, there are no plans to evacuate people from Svalbard. It will in the initial stage result in isolation and quarantine. Severe cases that need treatment can be sent to the hospital in Tromsø.

Question: What are the rules for flying in December?

Answer: We encourage you to follow the government’s travel recommendations. These say among otherwise one should avoid unnecessary travel. Follow the travel tips on the net. These are subject to change at short notice.

Question: After the last change, can Svalbard residents implement quarantine with, for example, friends on the mainland if one can document the residence is sutiable for it (own bathroom, own room, etc.)?

Answer: Residents of Svalbard are exempt from the requirement to stay in quarantine hotels. You can stay with a family or similar there if the place of residence is suitable for quarantine.

Question: Why do you choose not to introduce a quarantine obligation for people who coming to Svalbard from mainland Norway?

Answer: This question must be addressed to central authorities.

Question: Is it possible to use a rented apartment/holiday home on the mainland for quarantine? Is it possible to be quarantined with friends who also live in or will come up again to Svalbard?

Answer: Information about quarantine hotels here: Government circular on quarantine hotel. Follow-up questions related to quarantine hotels should be directed to Helsenorge.no as continuously updates information about the regulations. Helsenorge.no is a public website that collects and publishes information from various actors in the health sector. The information on Helsenorge.no is quality assured and updated.

Question: How about rapid tests on Svalbard since there is a low level of health preparedness compared to the mainland?

Answer: They must used in rural areas, which would include Svalbard, so we are now waiting for the results of tests on the mainland to see how safe they are. I hope we are one of the first places that get access to them.

Question: What about infection from ships, such as when there is s Russian trawler at the dock at Bykaia?

Answer: Everyone who arrives in Svalbard must comply with current regulations, including Russian trawlers. The system is trust-based and we assume that the regulations are followed. Should there be a suspicion of a breach of infection control legislation this will followed up by the police.

Question: There are many contractors who use shift workers in the city. Does this increase the risk of infection? Should not they be checked for corona?

Answer: We do not take samples for companies or entrepreneurs who want one for precautions. We take samples based on a medical indication. We fully trust that the contractors are aware of their responsibilities. When it picks up workers from abroad they must be quarantined for 10 days on the mainland before can travel on to Svalbard. Then the risk is the same as when a Norwegian comes here from the mainland by scheduled flight.

Question: Students abroad who want to go home for Christmas think they should be able to come directly to Svalbard without having to be quarantined on the mainland. What do you think about that possibility?

Answer: Norway has chosen the principle that if you come from abroad, it is mandatory to spend 10 days in quarantine on the mainland. We see no reason to change that principle.

Question: UNIS admits 100 students in January. Will this mean an increased risk of infection for us?

Answer: We have talked to UNIS about this. There are both Norwegian and foreign students who are coming, and those who come from abroad must 10 days in quarantine on the mainland before traveling to Svalbard. UNIS helps them with housing there. That’s a much lower number than UNIS normally takes in, so we think it’s going to go just fine.

Question: Why not take samples of everyone who arrives at Svalbard Airport?

Answer: The hospital does not have the capacity to do so, nor is there any desire about taking samples of everyone who comes. People are not allowed to fly if one have a cold or if they should have been in quarantine. It is important to emphasize that we have a vulnerable contingency up here and it is therefore important that people follow the national infection control rules. An exception for taking a test of an airline passenger must be that he or she receives symptoms along the way. Then you must notify the staff on board the aircraft so that one can get a sample taken at the airport upon arrival.

Question: Can the infection control doctor provide advice and guidance to companies that have workers who work shift work and live in the temporary barracks, for example?

Answer: We expect the contractors to have orderly living conditions that allow everyone do not end up in quarantine at the same time. It is the responsibility of the individual contractor. This they are aware of. Virtually all companies also have one occupational health service that provides advice on infection control measures.

Question: Who works with infection tracking if we get an infection on Svalbard?

Answer: It is the health personnel at the hospital who will make up the infection detection team. We will probably also need assistance from the employers in Longyearbyen. Both The Longyearbyen local council and the Governor will assist in dealing with the situation.

Question: I live in Longyearbyen. Can I travel directly to Svalbard when I come from abroad and carry out the quarantine here?

Answer: No. According to COVID-19 regulations §9, you can not travel to Svalbard before after the end of the quarantine period . You can avoid quarantine hotels if you have another suitable place to be the quarantine period of 10 days. You must both be able to document that you are permanent residents of Svalbard, and that you have a suitable place of residence on the mainland for implementation of the quarantine.

Question: If I am on the mainland and have had close contact with someone who is infected with COVID-19, can I go home to my home in Svalbard and complete quarantined here?

Answer: No. Then you end up in so-called infection quarantine. If you end up in the use of public transport is prohibited in the quarantine of infection. Quarantine must therefore be carried out on the mainland before one can travel home to Svalbard.

Question: Do I have to have a negative COVID-19 test when I come to Norway from abroad?

Answer: Persons who arrive in Norway from an area with a quarantine obligation must present certificate of a negative COVID-19 test when they arrive in Norway. The test must be taken within 72 hours before entry. There are a number of exceptions to this requirement, including exceptions for Norwegians citizens. Foreigners who are permanent residents of Svalbard are also exempt from the requirement for testing. In that case, you must document that you are a permanent resident when printing from the population register. Persons residing in Barentsburg must present confirmation of employment.

Question: I study in Denmark, but am registered as living in Longyearbyen. Can I travel home to Svalbard at Christmas vacation without being quarantined on the mainland?

Answer: No. The entry quarantine will be carried out on the Norwegian mainland. This also applies to students.

Question: Is there a quarantine hotel in Svalbard?

Answer: No. Quarantine hotel is intended for those who are going in the entry quarantine on mainland Norway. Those who are going on to Svalbard after being abroad are going as said first be in quarantine on the mainland. The whole principle is that we do not wish for many risky people in Svalbard. If they were to get sick here we have a vulnerable health preparedness in relation to transport back to UNN for those who would need intensive care.

Question: How soon will we as residents of Svalbard be notified if so is infection detected in Longyearbyen and what local measures can then be implemented?

Answer: If we get a positive sample this is taken at the hospital. The person in question will then be at home as he/she is ill and will be notified the hospital. A communication plan has been prepared for information to the population and will have an open line in relation to information about any infection. You will be informed as soon as possible. The infection control doctor and local board chair are responsible and will publish the message in the media and websites/Facebook to Longyearbyen local government and the Governor. Local media are contacted by phone so that we can provide supplementary information to the population. Consideration will be given as to whether information should be given to special groups that do not understands Norwegian. In other words, we will go out broadly with information. Longyearbyen local council can close school classes/the whole school, kindergarten, sports hall, cinema, events and more. It will not be relevant to test everyone. Those who have been in close contact with the one who are infected should be quarantined for 10 days, but they will not normally be tested if they have no symptoms.

Question: I work on a construction site and live on a barracks here in Longyearbyen. We share bathroom and kitchen. If we get an infection in our housing unit who will help me get it another home? Do I have to pay to be quarantined in a hotel or another place?

Answer: If you are infected,you must be in isolation. We expect your employer have a plan for this. Basically, the employer must pay for other housing or hotel if you need quarantine or isolation.

Question: Is there a “corona hotel” in Longyearbyen where those who are infected can live?

Answer: No. We do not have a corona hotel in Longyearbyen. Men Longyearbyen As mentioned, the local council has established a detached house with room for 2-4 people depending of whether they are infected and should be isolated or just going to be quarantined. This house is intended for persons who do not have a suitable place of residence in Longyearbyen.

Question: Who pays for people to be quarantined? Is there a difference on why one is quarantined?

Answer: The employer, the person himself, travel insurance must cover costs quarantine. It depends on the situation.

Question: Will there be a complete lockdown of Longyearbyen if someone is tested positive?

Answer: No, the principle is that we imagine a large degree of quarantine initially so that the hospital has peace of mind until we get an overview of the situation. What we do next depends on the situation; how many are infected, where have the infected host? If there is a single case and there is a clear one situation and we have control, there is one situation. If there are many who are infected, other and more comprehensive measures may be required. Longyearbyen local council can implement measures depending on the situation and the scope. It is not relevant with local measures such as closing school and kindergartens to prevent. We do not have infection now and that is the starting point.

Question: Has it been considered to introduce quarantine for visitors to Svalbard or for permanent residents who travel down to the mainland and are going up again?

Answer: No, this is not considered now.

Question: What kind of symptoms must one have before being tested?

Answer: People who have cold symptoms and call Longyearbyen Hospital must answer questions from a checklist that has been prepared. This clarifies whether one berries be tested or not We have taken about 200 tests. All have been negative, but many have common cold virus.

Question: Can there be a risk of not returning to permanent residence on Svalbard if you go down on holiday (Christmas holiday)?

Answer: There is a risk that the mainland stay will be longer than planned. If you get COVID-19 yourself or are placed in quarantine as a result of close contact with a confirmed infected person, one must carry out isolation and/or the quarantine period on the mainland before you can go home to permanent residence Svalbard. It is forbidden to use public transport when you are in quarantine/isolation.

Question: I live in Svalbard, but am a Spanish citizen and have to travel home to Spain. Then the Spanish authorities demand a documented negative corona test not older than 72 hours. Can I have such a test taken in Longyearbyen?

Answer: If another country requires a negative covid test, Longyearbyen hospital does not offer such a test. It is not health’s responsibility if any other countries require such a test. This is done by private medical services or laboratories on the mainland.

Question: Travelers to Spain from Norway are exempt from the requirement of a negative corona test if they come from areas with little or no infection (Rogaland, Møre and Romsdal, Nordland, Viken, Innlandet, Vestfold and Telemark, Agder, Vestland, Trøndelag, and Troms and Finnmark). Why is not Svalbard on this list? Will data from Svalbard be reported to Norwegian authorities and how can Svalbard be included in this list?

Answer: Infected data from Svalbard are reported in the same way as from others regions in Norway. We can not answer what assessments Spanish authorities does and why Svalbard is not on the list. The question must therefore be addressed Spanish authorities.

Question: Is the vaccine coming soon?

Answer: We do not know for sure when it will come, but it looks more promising now than before a month ago. We hope we get the answer before Christmas.