Norway’s attempted “reopening” during the COVID-19 pandemic suffered new setbacks Wednesday as the government announced a multitude of new extending or reviving previous restrictions, as well as adding some new ones, following similar actions last week due to an increase in cases nationally and many places aboard.
None are likely to have a dramatic negative impact in the so-called “status quo” Svalbard is currently facing – which many locals officials say is posing an immediate existential economic threat to businesses and individuals. But it will pose hardships to locals hoping to travel to/from several new countries added to the “red” list and largely quashing any hopes of some final scraps from the cruise tourism industry that’s been devastated by the crisis.
Among the most noteworthy of the new measures is adding Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, the Netherlands and Poland to a list of what’s now nearly 20 “red” counties as of Aug. 15, meaning a 10-day quarantine is mandatory for people arriving in Norway from those countries. Also added to the “red” list are the Danish territories of Zealand (excluding the metropolitan area), the Faroe Islands and Midt-Jylland, plus the Swedish regions of Östergötland, Örebro, Blekinge, Värmland, Uppsala and Dalarna.
Furthermore, all other countries whose occupants are allowed to enter Norway are now classified as “yellow,” with “green” status completely eliminated, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said during a press conference in Olso on Wednesday. The move is largely symbolic, since quarantine will not be required for those arriving from “yellow” countries.
“All trips abroad are associated with a risk of infection, even trips to countries where Norway does not require quarantine upon entry,” she said. “Thus, we believe there is no basis for calling any country green now.”
Norway is also extending its border controls for 60 days until Oct. 1, and planning a series of measures to increase tracking of the virus and potential cases.
“Right now we are at a tipping point,” Solberg said. “In the country as a whole we still have relatively low infection rates compared to other countries, with just over 10 cases of proven COVID-19 per 100,000 inhabitants during the last two weeks. But we have had several local outbreaks in different parts of the country. Infection rates are rising.”
Norway has 9,750 reported cases of COVID-19 and 256 deaths as of Wednesday. A total of 357 people were diagnosed with the virus last week, the highest since April, but well below the record of 1,733 cases during a single week in late March,
Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed cases. But the uptick on the mainland, combined with residents returning from there and aboard after the summer holidays, has prompted city officials to enact new restrictions including closing all but the swimming pool at Svalbardhallen as well as the city’s municipal building.
One measure announced Wednesday by the central government specifically mentioning Svalbard is a one week extension of a ban on cruises with more than 100 people total, which includes a provision stating docking of such ships is not allowed on the mainland coast or in Svalbard. Practically speaking that will have little effect since the only notable ship scheduled to dock during that period is France’s Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boréal, which already decided several days ago to cancel its voyage destined for here scheduled to start Aug. 15 due to France being added to the “red” list countries earlier this month.
The cruise ship restriction does not impact vessels such as ferries along the mainland coast carrying passengers and cargo.