While Norway is reopening for domestic tourism on June 1 and may allow people from neighboring countries to visit later during the summer, the justice ministry is asking Parliament to approve a special law that would allow the border to remain closed to people who are not Norwegian citizens or permanent residents until Jan. 1, 2021.
“As the government announced on May 15, the use of entry restrictions is planned for a while to come,” Minster of Justice and Public Security Monica Mæland said at a press conference on Monday. “We want a gradual and controlled softening, but must follow the situation carefully. We cannot rule out the need for new austerity measures.”
At the same time, Mæland emphasized the request is largely an administrative measure to ensure flexibility, not necessarily an anticipation a border closure for the rest of the year will be necessary.
The ministry, in its request to Parliament on Monday, noted the language of the current border restrictions means they will expire 30 days after a defined date (May 27 in this case) unless lawmakers approve an extension, which has already occurred previously. In a statement, the ministry also notes “no substantive changes are made to the rules of the proposal that are now being submitted for consultation.”
“A temporary special law, which has been dealt with by Parliament, will provide more room for maneuvering for more comprehensive assessments than the (current) Infection Protection Act provides,” Mæland said.
The government, in its reopening announcement last week, stated the border is currently closed to foreigners until Aug. 20. It intends to decide whether to reopen the border to visitors from Nordic countries by June 15 and for other northern European countries by July 20.
The extension allowing a closure until 2021, if approved, may impose additional hardships and uncertainty for tourism and other businesses in Svalbard that are already have been at a near or total standstill since restrictions were enacted two months ago. Practically speaking, most of the spring season when overnight visitors peak and the entire season for large cruise ships this summer have already been lost.
Local business and political leaders are hoping a higher-than-normal amount of tourism from Norwegians who are discouraged from or unable to travel abroad will salvage at least some revenue, but are largely already looking to next year in terms of a large-scale rebound – and it may be several years before things return to “normal.” But keeping the border largely closed during the fall and early winter season, which have been increasingly active in recent years, would mean the loss of potential income from numerous conventions and expedition/research projects, plus several cultural festivals.