Norway is reopening its borders to many residents of EU/EEA countries on July 15, but keeping them closed to several countries with high rates of COVID-19 infections and most residents of other countries worldwide, the government announced Friday.
However, officials in Svalbard are continuing to emphasize prospective visitors should exercise extreme caution in whether to visit this summer – and suggesting those in high-risk groups avoid doing so this year – even though the archipelago continues to suffer devastating economic impacts as summer tourism is only expected to be about 20 percent of that in recent years.
Eligible residents will be able to visit without quarantine requirements. EU/EEA countries still on the banned list are Portugal, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Luxembourg. Sweden also remains banned except for residents from Kronoberg, Skåne and Blekinge.
Exemptions for residents of non-EU/EEA countries are being made for business travelers and students. Also exempted are family members or domestic partners (defined as co-habitators and/or people in relationships for at least nine months), residents from any country who hold a work or residence permit in Norway, and students beginning courses during the 2020/21 academic year, although they will be subject to a 10-day home quarantine.
While the reopening is “good news” that will help the struggling tourism industry – and allow Norwegians to visit many favored locations in Europe without facing a quarantine period when they return home – strict and ongoing monitoring is planned to ensure travelers and the tourism industry are acting responsibly, said Minister of Trade and Industry Iselin Nybø during a press conference.
“Foreign tourists must follow the same infection control rules as us who live here,” she said. “Tourism companies have been preparing for this for a long time and have developed good infection control routines. It should be safe to travel in Norway, both for us who are tourists in our own country and for visitors.”
Knut Selmer, a doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital, told Klassekampen it is a long distance to the nearest hospital on the mainland capable of properly treating people infected with the virus. Furthermore, emergency officials have warned transport options are limited and tourists who are non-Norwegian residents or otherwise not covered by the country’s insurance scheme should not count on being able to be tested or otherwise receive care in Longyearben (similar limits exist for local residents who are exempt from Norway’s social benefits).
“It is always dangerous to get sick when you are far away from a hospital,” he told the newspaper. “If you are in a high-risk group for coronavirus I would advise traveling to Svalbard another year.”
Reassessments of which countries are considered safe are planned every 14 days. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has stated countries will be excluded if they have more than 20 new cases per 100,000 people during the past two weeks, more than 0.5 per 100,000 admissions to intensive care, or more than five percent of coronavirus tests with positive results.