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


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.”

In other local announcements/events today:

The ski hill will be open from 2-4 p.m., with up to six youths allowed to sign up for one-hour time slots.

A community hike beginning at Lompensenteret and going along the beach toward the airport before turning up at the road at Burmaveien is scheduled at 6 p.m. Groups will be separated into a maximum of five people if necessary.

A community snowball fight planned for Sunday has been postponed until April 5 “as a mark of respect to family and everyone at work” for Mary-Ann Dahle, the longtime lodge owner who died Saturday after a long illness. Also, according to the organizer, “I have already been in contact with Sysselmannen to make sure I’m not going to be put in cuffs for organising a mass gathering during lockdown, so I’ll post some guidelines we should adhere to. I’ll also add the location and rules soon.”

Longyearbyen Library’s “book taxi” will be delivering requests and “surprise packages” between 3-5 p.m. Tuesday to those making requests by e-mail before 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Svalbard Delivery Service is offering deliveries from local restaurants until midnight.