GOVERNOR EXTENDS QUARATINE UNTIL MAY 18: New extension past Syttende Mai emphasizes gradual reopening and summer tourism possibilities, but ‘we are not ready to open to visitors’


Norway’s toughest coronavirus-related restrictions are being extended yet again until May 18 – ensuring a full-scale Syttende Mai celebration is officially out of the question – as Svalbard’s governor said officials are now focusing on a reopening plan that recognizes the widespread suffering many businesses and residents are experiencing, and may allow for some summer tourism.

“The reason we do not want to cancel the quarantine decision is that work is still ongoing to deal with a possible outbreak of Covid-19 infection in Svalbard,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement Thursday. “An outbreak of infection could create challenges for the emergency preparedness. The priority now is to plan for a gradual reopening of the local community and to ensure that this is done in an infection control safe way in accordance with national guidelines, regulations and advice.”

The new extension date deliberately includes Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17, as the governor consults with city, health and other officials about what events may be possible during the holiday.

Beyond that, “we are constantly getting questions about whether it will be possible for Norwegian tourists to travel to Svalbard this summer,” Askholt said. While the issue a priority, there are no clear answers at present.

“Currently, we are not ready to open to visitors,” she said. “First, in addition to routines for testing and evacuation of patients, plans must be made for how travel can be reopened responsibly, as well as guidelines for how travel should work in practice. Here, the industry must also take responsibility for drawing up these guidelines. We are in dialogue with the industry about this. In any case, there will be no full opening, but a gradual opening and a ‘new normalcy’ until the corona pandemic is over.”

The restrictions means anyone arriving from the mainland must be in quarantine for 14 days, even if they have observed a similar confinement on the mainland. Furthermore, since foreigners who are not permanent residents of Norway are banned from entering the country, it means only limited domestic tourism in the archipelago may be possible through at  least the end of the summer.

The extension comes one day after The University Centre in Svalbard cancelled all courses for the rest of 2020, although it will allow research projects and other limited work by current students and staff to continue. Eva Therese Jenssen, the university’s spokesperson, stated in a Facebook post Wednesday that after lengthy discussions it was agreed it was too much of a gamble to attempt offering fall courses that face a high possibility of cancellation, plus trying to continue existing courses with necessary restrictions would unacceptably limit their quality.

“Although it is incredibly sad that UNIS has decided to cancel all courses by 2020, it is a fully understandable decision,” she wrote. “The point of coming to UNIS for a student is the field activity. The theory of Arctic biology, geology, etc. is available online whether you study in Bodø, Chicago or Tokyo. But it is only here at Svalbard that you as a student have the wonderful opportunity to go out in the field, make observations, make measurements and discuss issues in situ with your professor, supervisor or lecturer.”