‘NO-TRAVEL’ ADVISORY FOR SVALBARD LIFTED, FREE COVID-19 TESTS FOR PERMANENT RESIDENTS: Ministry decision overrides health directorate on travel; details of free tests not specified

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An advisory to avoid recreational travel to and from Svalbard was lifted by Norway’s government Friday. Also, while a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departure is still required to travel to the archipelago, the test will be available free to permanent residents – but the specifics are unlikely to be known before next week.

Numerous other restrictions applicable nationwide are still being upheld and/or modified, including stopping the sale of alcohol at restaurants and pubs at 10 p.m. rather than midnight.

“The Norwegian Directorate of Health and Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommend avoiding unnecessary domestic travel, such as leisure travel, to Svalbard,” Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie said at press conference. “The government, on the other hand, will not give national advice to dissuade domestic leisure trips to Svalbard right now before the winter holidays.”

A large number of cancellations occurred the week after mandatory tests were required to enter Svalbard at the end of January, although those have tapered off somewhat the past couple of weeks.

Health directorate officials have met with The Governor of Svalbard and Helse Nord, who continue to maintain health care readiness in Svalbard is vulnerable in the event of an outbreak of COVID-19, especially because of the current infection situation with new virus variants on the mainland in Norway, according to a press release by the ministry. There are also concerns being voiced about increasing travel to Svalbard as the peak of winter/spring season begins,

“The government therefore will continue the strict test regime when entering Svalbard,” the release notes. However, “for permanent residents of Svalbard, testing will be free of charge.”

The details of how and/or where Svalbard residents can obtain free tests are still being determined, said Trine Melgård, communications director for the health directorate.

“We do not have this ready yet,” she said, noting the health ministry will establish the policy that will be implemented by the directorate. “We have to come back (with the details) next week.”

The city of Tromsø recently opened a quick-test facility in the center of town where walk-appointments cost 550 kroner for Svalbard travellers and tests at Gardermoen Airport in Oslo cost 1,300 kr.

The costs of the tests have been the subject of numerous complaints by local residents, businesses and public officials, who say it adds to already considerable hardships for those needing to travel to and from the mainland for necessary work or other reasons.