CORONAVIRUS UPDATES FOR SVALBARD FOR WEDNESDAY: UNIS cancels all courses for 2020, 479K kr. in crisis aid to local companies, another kennel pleads for help for dogs


This story will be updated throughout the day (most recent: 4:30 p.m.). Photo of sleddogs getting exercise during a tourist-free spring courtesy of Svalbard Villmarkssenter.

The University Centre in Svalbard announced today is it cancelling all courses for the rest of 2020, although it will allow current staff and students to continue research projects, joining tourism as a cornerstone industry in Longyearbyen that is largely writing off this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The management at UNIS has carried out a thorough analysis of what ‘new’ normal situation we can aim for this fall,” a statement at the university’s website declares. “An important element of this analysis has been safety. UNIS will make every effort to ensure that those already present at the institution can be here with minimal risk of Covid-19 infection. UNIS’s corporate social responsibility is also emphasized in this context.”

“The management has therefore decided that no ordinary admission to any scheduled courses for summer and autumn 2020 will be conducted. In other words, these courses are cancelled. The main emphasis for the remainder of 2020 will be to attend to the students and staff already at UNIS today, as well as the admission of a small number of individual students (guest master- and guest PhD students) who may come to Svalbard and perform fieldwork for their theses in a safe manner. The risk of Covid-19 infection is kept at such a low level that it is likely that we can keep UNIS open throughout the fall semester.”

The announcement is yet another grim reminder of the long-term impacts the community is facing even as re-openings of some businesses and public institutions such as schools are occurring.

While a handful of local personal care companies were able to reopen this week and are seeing an initial surge of customers who’ve gone many weeks without haircuts and massages, for example, it’s going to take a lot more than those before Longyearbyen’s work and economic activity rises beyond even crisis level.

Svalbardposten reported Wednesday nine companies received a total of 479,030 in government assistance in March. But the owner of one company, Steve Daldorff Torgersen, who received about 56,000 kroner for Karlsberger Pub due to the forced closure of alcohol-only establishments nationwide (he also owns two local restaurants), told the newspaper it may take three to five years for a complete recovery.

While some aid allocations went to tourism companies (including Basecamp Spitsbergen which received by far the largest amount of 226,443 kroner, according to The Norwegian Tax Admnistration), a multitude of other operators in Longyearbyen’s hardest-hit industry are being forced to resort to desperate measures. Among the most recent pleas is from Svalbard Villmarkssenter, one of multiple kennels in town with large numbers of dogs and no guests to take out on sledding tours, which launched a fundraising page on this week for costs needed to keep the dogs alive and healthy.

“When you have dogs, it’s not just turning a key and stopping operations,” the page notes. “The dogs need food, exercise and love to function. We have volunteers who will help, but fixed costs and dog food are inevitable.”

Also, the page notes, the volunteers keep the dogs from disturbing a bird refugee that surrounds the shoreside kennels.

In other news/announcements today:

A community hike is scheduled today from 6-8 p.m. Details and signup at the Facebook link.

Longyearbyen Library’s book taxi will make deliveries from 3-5 p.m. Thursday. Orders must be requested by 2 p.m. Thursday.

Svalbard Delivery Service will be available until 10 p.m.