LONGYEARBYEN SCHOOL NIXES EVENTS AS NORWAY REVIVES STRICT COVID-19 RULES: Resurgence of virus means ‘a difficult Christmas’ as month-long limits on gatherings, more enacted


Photo courtesy of Longyearbyen School

The Grinch is back in his mean mode in the form of the latest COVID-19 varient, as Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said Tuesday “it will be a difficult Christmas holiday this year as well” while announcing a series of revived crackdowns for the next month – including limits of gathering sizes and bar hours – due to a resurgence of the virus in the country and elsewhere.

In Svalbard officials announced Tuesday that Longyearbyen School is shutting its doors to public events, due to the potential consequences of infections rather than concern about a large local outbreak.

“The point of the tightening is to try to limit the number of close contacts for students and staff,” Frode Westby Thorstad, the school’s headmaster, said in a statement he posted online. “This is related to the quarantine provisions – because they have been tightened, many close contacts quickly end up in quarantine if there is a suspicion of omicron infection. It would have serious consequences for Longyearbyen in a normal situation as well, but especially now before Christmas because half the city will travel on Christmas vacation.”

The decision means the school’s annual Christmas service Wednesday is cancelled, and the last day before the holiday break observation as well as parent meetings will be online.

“In addition, it becomes extremely important that both employees and students stay at home if they have symptoms of illness,” Thorstad told Svalbardposten.

He told the newspaper no employees or students have been quarantined yet.

“We want it to continue to be that way,” he said. “I have discussed this with the district manager and infection control doctor, and we actually consider the risk of a lot of infection to be relatively low. But the consequences would be great, so we are taking action. The government’s measures are taking so long we do not feel that we can wait.”

Nationally the heightened restrictions take effect at midnight Thursday and are scheduled to last at least four weeks, although a reassessment will be made in two weeks, Støre said during at press conference in Olso.

“We would very much like to be done with the pandemic,” he said. But “now the situation is still so serious that we must take new measures to maintain control. Therefore, it will be a different Christmas holiday this year as well. The danger of an overloaded health service and the spread of the more contagious Omicron virus necessitate new, strict measures to reduce social contact.”

Among the restrictions to be enacted:

• Restaurants with a liquor license must have seating for everyone, alcohol can only be served at the tables and serving must end at midnight.

• Masks are required when one meter of public distancing is not possible.

• One meter of distance should be kept, except for household members and those similarly close. This does not apply to children in kindergartens and primary schools.

• People should not have more than ten guests at home, in addition to their own household. They can have up to 20 guests once during the Christmas and New Year holidays, but there should be a meter distance between the guests.

• For organized leisure activities indoors, it is recommended adults over the age of 20 are in groups of up to 20 people. It is recommended that adults indoors keep a distance where possible, and that you keep two meters away during high-intensity training. No specific recommendation is given about distance and number of children and young people under the age of 20 training and participating in sports, cultural and leisure activities.

• Universities, colleges and vocational colleges should implement teaching in smaller groups and more digital teaching