BOOZE ON FRIDAY, LOCAL VACCINES FOR ALL IN MAY: Svalbard gets some relief from COVID-19 restrictions as part of government’s ‘normalcy’ plan, even as mainland sees setbacks

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It will again be possible to get a drink as of Friday – until 10 p.m. as long as you’re ordering food – and those inclined to partake in Svalbard may want to toast the fact all adult residents can now schedule appointments for vaccinations, while those on the mainland are facing a delay of up to three months.

The updated rules are among what the government calls the first in a series of four steps during the next three weeks to remove restrictions and recommendations imposed a month ago to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. The accelerated vaccination schedule for Svalbard, which means everyone 18 and older can get shots beginning in May, reflects the government’s expressed desire to keep the archipelago virus-free and protected from a widespread outbreak if that fails, due to the area’s remoteness and lack of medical resources.

Among the nationwide changes in virus-related rules and recommendations as of midnight Friday (see below for details of the second through fourth stages):

• One meter of social distancing instead of two
• Allowing up to five guests in private homes (instead of two).
• Single-municipality public events can now proceed as planned. A maximum of 100 people are allowed at fixed-seating indoor events such as cultural and sporting events, conferences and religious services. A maximum of 200 persons are allowed at outdoor events, but three separated groups of 200 people is permissible if spectators are assigned fixed seats.
• Alcohol may again be served at restaurants and pubs until 10 p.m., but only to guests also being served food.

Svalbard remains one of the few places in the world free of COVID-19 cases and Svalbardposten reported Wednesday nearly 1,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine are scheduled to arrive this week, which should ensure all residents wanting shots will be fully treated by June. Those wanting vaccinations must be registered residents with either proof of residency or an alcohol card, and everyone who was on waiting lists previously must book an appointment through Longyearbyen Hospital’s website.

But nationally the situation remains problematic, only 16 percent of the population have received one or more immunizations, and potential problems that have suspended use of the Johnson & Johnson variety will delay the vaccination schedule for up to three months.

Also, the easing of rules at the national level will not affect those in areas where infection rate is the highest, such as in the Oslo region, she said. Non-essential stores remain closed there, restaurants are only allowed to provide takeaway service and some schools remain closed.

The second through fourth “normalization” stages announced by the government last week, which don’t have fixed dates for implementation, include:

Stage 2:
• Increased access to in-person teaching sessions at universities, university colleges and vocational schools
• Allowing up to ten guests in private homes.
• A maximum of 20 persons at private events held at hired public venues.
• Serving of alcohol until midnight, with no requirement of serving food to guests.
• A maximum of 200 persons at indoor events where all attendees are assigned fixed seats
• Children and young people can participate in events and organised training sessions taking place in the municipality where they live, with a maximum of 100 attendees at indoor activities.
•  Gradual reopening of organized training in recreational sports for groups of maximum 20 adults, both for outdoor and indoor activities.
• The recommendation to avoid travelling abroad still applies unless strictly necessary. For travellers entering Norway, strict requirements to undergo entry quarantine and mandatory testing will still apply. Restrictions will be eased for family visits from abroad, applying both to family members from within the EEA area and family members who are third-country nationals. We will, among other things, consider opening up for visits from romantic partners and grandparents living abroad. Restrictions will also be eased for prioritised groups of employees who need to travel to and from Norway.

Stage 3:
• Up to 20 guests will be allowed in private homes. Private events held at hired public venues may have a maximum of 50 guests.
• Special considerations will be made about public events relating to the possible use of rapid tests and corona certificates.
•  The cut-off time for serving alcohol will revert to normal, but it will still be required to register guests and maintain safe distances.
• People are still encouraged to work from home.
• A gradual opening of adult recreational sports for league matches and other competitions will be considered. Elite athletes may at this stage practice their sports more or less as before restrictions were implemented.
• More international travel, though quarantine and testing requirements will still apply. However, these requirements may be changed. We will also consider how corona certificates may be used for travelling abroad.
• Employment immigration will be allowed to a greater degree.

Stage 4:
• Much of everyday life will be almost back to normal. However, infection control measures will still apply, as will the requirement to keep a safe distance and to stay at home if you are ill or in quarantine. Some may still be encouraged to work from home.
• The permitted number of spectators/participants attending big public events and recreational sports and leisure activities will remain limited and will be continuously assessed. Restrictions on entry to Norway may still apply, particularly for third-country nationals. Travellers must expect requirements to quarantine upon arrival in Norway and to be tested when arriving from certain areas. The rules for travelling to Norway must also be assessed continuously.