Category Archives: Svalbard

CITY ACTIVATES EMERGENCY AID APPLICATIONS FOR ‘EXEMPT’ RESIDENTS: Laid-off – but not self-employed or freelance – workers can now seek up to 20 days’ compensation

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The estimated 300 Longyearbyen residents from non EU/EEA countries who are ineligible for “regular” unemployment/insurance benefits after laid off during the past few weeks due to the coronavirus crisis can now apply online for a total of seven million kroner in special assistance, the city announced Thursday.

Applicants can receive up to 20 days of unemployment coverage, plus assistance for children under 18 meeting specific requirements (see English-language FAQ from city’s website at end of article). The assistance is available to those laid-off from companies after March 19, not residents who are self-employed or working as freelancers.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR THURSDAY: Quarantine for locals arriving from mainland extended until April 10, “digital’ community meeting tonight and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of social-distancing sun-worshiping snowmobilers by Ann Khanittha Chuphu.

A 14-day quarantine for Longyearbyen residents arriving from the mainland, even if they were in quarantine there, will be extended until at least April 10, Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt announced Thursday.

“The decision is, as before, based on assessments from, among others, the infection control doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital and the emergency response council for Svalbard,” she said in a prepared statement.

While Svalbard remains the only region in the High North free of officially diagnosed cases of COVID-19 as of midday Thursday, the quarantine of residents and a complete ban on visitors are among measures exceeding those on the mainland due to concerns about the archipelago’s isolation and lack of adequate facilities to treat patients.

4M KR. FOR 160 PROJECTS: Longyearbyen council members OK immediate- and medium-range infrastructure repairs/upgrades to help local businesses during coronavirus crisis

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Spending four million kroner for locals to perform a wide range of projects – from simple tasks like cleaning and painting the school to those requiring specialized skills such as repairing and upgrading the city’s power plant – was approved Wednesday by Longyearbyen Community Council members seeking to help a community facing economic peril due to the coronavirus crisis.

The plan approved during a meeting of the council’s Administration Committee (details begin on page 21 of the meeting’s agenda) includes a lengthy list of projects, some of which can begin immediately and others with projected starting dates extending into next year.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR WEDNESDAY: ‘Digital’ community crisis meeting, church hosting online and outdoor holiday services, Isfjord Radio open for Easter

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This “fox news” update will include items added throughout the day. Photo by Merethe Stiberg.

As Svalbard remains the only region in the High North officially free of coronavirus cases as of noon April 1 (no joke), there’s also actually some other relatively good news in terms of an isolated community being able to come together again (also not a joke) even if it’s still not in ways entirely normal.

A public “digital meeting” featuring updates about the crisis from leaders of the Longyearbyen Community Council, The Governor of Svalbard and Longyearbyen Hospital is scheduled at 6 p.m. Thursday. People can observe the Kuturhuset meeting via Facebook on computer and mobile devices, and ask questions in Norwegian and English in the comments box during the live stream.

THE TEMPERATURE STREAK IS OVER! Longyearbyen was 0.5C colder than “normal” in March, ending 111 months of above-average temperatures

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This is not a joke

No, really, this is not a joke.

Oh, for the Love Of Cod do you really think during a time of unthinkable crisis like this…OK, OK, maybe you believe we’re reporting the truth now.

But March was certainty a freaky enough month in Longyearbyen (and the rest of the world) that April Fool’s Day seems an appropriate date for Longyearbyen’s 111-month streak of above-average temperatures to come to an end, according to the Norwegian Meteorological Institute. The average temperature at Svalbard Airport was minus 16.2 degrees, 0.5 degrees below the historic average of minus 15.7 degrees between 1961 and 1990 (a figure which, of course, hasn’t represented “average” locally for many years and will be replaced by the average between 1991-2020 starting next year).

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR TUESDAY: Vacant housing, full cabins, Bruktikken reopens, MOSAiC researchers reenter spooky world after four isolated months and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of researchers walking to the Polarstern frozen in the ice north of Svalbard courtesy of the Alfred Wegener Institute. 

It’s no joke – for those looking for a place to live in Longyearbyen starting in April there’s a realistic possibility of vacancies.

Among the reasons that’s not a joke, of course, is it’s no laughing matter the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic – even though there remains no officially diagnosed cases in Svalbard as of midday Tuesday – include people being forced from their homes and/or Longyearbyen because of the massive tourism and other layoffs. As a result listings for shared rooms and apartments are popping up during what’s normally a peak demand period – although for the past year or so there’s often been nothing available even during “slow” periods.

7M KR. SHORT-TERM SVALBARD AID PLAN FINALIZED, CITY SEEKS 180M LONG-TERM: Some say ‘exempt’ resident help inadequate; local leaders pursue project and services funds

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This is a breaking story with updates in progress.

The final version of a seven-million-kroner coronavirus aid plan for Longyearbyen residents ineligible for unemployment benefits was announced by Norway’s government Monday (English translation of full text below), with the provisions nearly identical to the draft plan announced several days ago that is being criticized by many such residents as inadequate in terms of duration and eligibility.

Also, Longyearbyen’s municipal government is requesting 180 million kroner from Parliament (PDF in Norwegian) to fund infrastructure and other projects, and reimburse the cost of reducing public service fees – putting a hard number on a preliminary request made earlier this month.

Norway’s government also announced it is lifting its ban on all non-citizens/residents to admit EEA citizens working in “agriculture, horticulture, forestry and the food industry,” although they will be subject to the 14-day quarantine in effect until at least April 13.

“FULL OF LAUGHTER, STRONG WILL AND FULL OF FANTASTIC CRAZINESS”: What Mary-Ann Dahle’s neighbors in Longyearbyen and guests worldwide are saying about her

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There’s exactly two Tweets mentioning Mary-Anne Dahle and one links to the local newspaper’s story about her death Saturday. So that’s pretty much all there is to say about the longtime innkeeper…

…which is to say, it speaks volumes about perhaps one of Svalbard’s old-school pioneers who spared nobody and never was spared herself of the sharp-tongue, non-nonsense wit and words she was well-known for.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR MONDAY: Svalbard one of two virus-free regions in Norway, local leaders awaiting “exempt” aid specifics, afternoon skiing and hiking

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of Mihaela Cafuta walking along shore, where a community hike is planned this evening, by Romano Juric.

With all but two “county” regions of Norway now reporting at least 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus – and the rapid number of those requiring hospitalization a foremost concern – Svalbard remains free of known cases as of midday Monday. In general the fewest cases are in northern mainland areas, with the 140 combined cases in Troms and Finnmark the third-lowest nationally.

While numerous questions are being expressed about the government’s preliminary plan to provide seven million kroner in emergency aid for “exempt” Longyearbyen residents who’ve been laid off – along with many complaints about the 20-day benefit limit compared to the many months of help that Norwegian and EU/EEA citizens here are eligible for – local leaders are still awaiting the final plan and specifics (press release from city noting development of application process is underway).

“This money is distributed according to fixed criteria,” Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen wrote in an online interview Sunday. “There is, as I have seen, no room for discretionary assessments. It will also be (the local council) who will administrer the scheme. Exactly how we rig the system it is not entirely clear, but as mention: fixed criteria.”

CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR SUNDAY: Arctic Husky Travellers seeking homes for dogs, government seeks to boost local emergency rescue capabilities and more

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This story will be updated throughout the day. Photo of Nokas, left, a six-year-old “friendly and gentele sleddog,” by Tommy Jordbrudal.

Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed cases of coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon and…regardless, all is not well.

While some more families in are being observed together doing “typical” leisure activities as the coronavirus crisis enters its third weekend in Longyearbyen, such as playing in fresh snow and gathering in the cafes/restaurants still open, one outdoorsy family is confronting the painful prospect of a breakup due to the near-total and likely months-long tourism crash.