LONGYEARBYEN SEEKS HALT OF INCOMING TOURISTS: Mayor says Svalbard not equipped for quarantine of visitors from non-Nordic countries; asks Norwegian government for ban


Longyearbyen is requesting the Norwegian government ban tourists from non-Nordic countries from arriving in Svalbard during a mandatory 14-day quarantine enacted Thursday due to the coronavirus, stating the isolated archipelago is not adequately able to accommodate them.

The quarantine is retroactive to Feb. 27 and in effect until at least March 26 (full official details in English, via Visit Svalbard). While permanent residents of Svalbard are required to stay at their homes, the responsibility for tourists is that of the entity (hotel, Airbnb host, etc.) providing lodging, Mayor Arild Olsen wrote in a press statement released Friday morning.

“However, the quarantine order has proved to be very demanding to deal with, both for the operators who are to look after guests and for residents,” he wrote. “The national orders are simply not adapted to a small island community like Longyearbyen. I believe that this will be a major challenge for both national and local authorities, and society at large if measures are not implemented immediately.”

“And we have asked for the immediate halt of arriving tourists who have been outside the Nordic countries who are going to Svalbard so that we can handle the situation adequately.”

More than 100 people are quarantined in Longyearbyen hotels and other commercial lodging as of Friday morning, according to Svalbardposten.

Visit Svalbard issued a notice on Friday that “urges tourists from outside of the Nordics to refrain from travelling to Svalbard until March 26th to prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

“The Norwegian government has appealed to Norwegian municipalities, public organisations, businesses and all citizens to take measures to limit the spread of the virus,” the notice states. “Schools, universities, day care centres and public offices will be closed, and public and private services will be limited. Tourists’ experiences will be largely affected by these measures. Therefore, we are appealing to visitors to re-schedule their trip to Svalbard for later in 2020 when things have taken a turn for the better.”

“Visit Svalbard also believes it is important to continue to protect the citizens of Svalbard from any threat of the virus spreading. We will continue to update this page as matters develop.”

A question about the issue posted on a Longyearbyen community Facebook page by Roger Zahl Ødegård, the city’s longtime cultural programs director until last year, prompted several comments supporting a ban.

“Close the airport,” wrote Thomas Evensen, an employee at a local construction company. “No point to get tourists up here who have to sit in quarantine for 14 days. Very tragic for the tourism, but it will be worse with an outbreak on the island.”

While some initial commenters asked practical questions about the quarantine, none expressed outright opposition.