CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR FRIDAY: UNIS urges students to leave Svalbard, aid package may prevent/limit cutback in local flights and more

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This roundup will be updated through the day.

Local residents got encouraging, if preliminary news about potential aid to “exempt” workers and avoiding a cutback in commercial flights to Svalbard late Thursday and Friday. At the same time they were asked to take steps to maintain their own physical and mental health such as avoiding junk food to avoid dental problems,. Meanwhile, more closures and cutbacks, along with some special offerings, are being provided by businesses and individuals affected by the crisis.

The Governor of Svalbard announced a seven-day home quarantine now applies to all travellers to Svalbard arriving in Ny-Ålesund, Barentsburg, Pyramiden, Svea and Hornsund. The city of Longyearbyen enacted its own such quarantine earlier this week.

Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed coronavirus cases as of midday Friday. The city issued new guidelines Friday detailing who should seek testing if they are concerned about being infected.

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Sixteen UNIS students departing Svalbard on Friday take a day-long snowmobile trip to Barentsburg on Thursday guided by Camp Bolterdalen, which like all tour companies is at a near or complete halt in activities due to lack of demand. The company provided the trip at a very non-profit cost of 3,000 kroner to cover fuel and the guides’ salaries. Photo by Charly KatBat.

• UNIS issued a press release urging students to return to their home towns/countries “first and foremost (due to) the vulnerability of Longyearbyen’s health resources in these trying times.” UNIS Director Jøran Moen told students “Everyone must contribute all they can to prevent the pandemic from developing, for the sake of those most vulnerable. In emergency preparedness situation we now face, the whole of Svalbard is declared very vulnerable.”

Svalbardbutikken is planning to reduce its operating hours starting Monday due to a 30-40 percent reduction in businesses and the resulting layoff of numerous staff. The new hours are from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 3-6 p.m. Sunday.

• Svalbard Buss and Taxi and Longyearbyen Taxi are reducing their service between 11 p.m. and 8 p.m. to when scheduled flights are arriving/departing, and to those needing transport to/from critical work-related occupations who schedule pickups before 9 p.m. the same day.

• Hæhre Arctic, which announced earlier it would be transporting large equipment between Longyearbyen and Svea through Saturday and therefore trails along the route would be blocked, announced late Friday morning the transport is now complete.

• Local health officials are offering suggestions to both improve the mental/physical state of residents quarantined or otherwise coping with the crisis. Local dentist Sólveig Anna Þorvaldsdóttir is urging people to avoid junk food to reduce the risk of dental problems now and during the coming months (non-emergency appointments may not be possible for weeks or months under normal circumstances, and all non-emergency appointments have been cancelled during the immediate crisis period). Knut Selmer, a doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital, told Svalbardposten regular routines beyond sitting on the couch watching TV, excursions with limited numbers of people that don’t pose health/safety risks are recommended (article in Norwegian, no subscription required).

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With local officials urging residents to be active during these times of isolation – but in responsible ways that don’t post safety risks – Huglen Rakel and Haakon Sandvik opted to use their daughter Anna as “charter driver” for a tour in town on Friday (stating the obvious, that is an idle historic bus). Photos by Huglen Rakel.

• An agreement by Norway’s government to provide six billion kroner is emergency assistance to airlines who, like nearly all globally, are facing bankruptcy due to drastically reduced service, may ensure daily or near-daily flights between Svalbard and the mainland will continue, Svalbard Airport Manager Carl Einar Ianssen told Svalbardposten. At present Scandinavian Airlines and Norwegian Air are coordinating schedules to ensure such flights to the archipelago are available.

• Gjesthuset 102 is closing until further notice.

A reduced-price boat trip to Pyramiden (950 kr. for adults, 500 kr. for youths) is being offered Saturday by Henningsen Transport and Guiding. The trip is from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and a minimum of eight passengers are required. Interested persons should send their name, birthdate and phone number to info@svalbardcruise.com.

• Hilde Henningsen, Longyear resident, teacher and business owner, describes the “Chasm of Hell” facing Longyearbyen during the crisis, and ways residents and leaders can help overcome it, in an essay published in English and Norwegian by Svalbardposten (no paywall subscription required).