Some permanent residents of Svalbard are getting a longer stay than planned on the mainland after testing positive for the COVID-19 virus during the Christmas holidays, meaning they cannot return until their isolation and recovery period is complete, officials at Longyearbyen Hospital and The Governor of Svalbard announced Wednesday.
The cases also highlight the importance of Svalbard residents to be responsible and take precautions when returning from the holidays.
The COVID-19 situation on the mainland is unstable with numerous outbreaks, with the highest infection rates in Oslo and Viken, Knut Selmer, infection control doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital, said in a prepared statement. Svalbard remains one of the few places in the world with no officially diagnosed cases, and Selmer said the potential for a rapid spread of cases if the virus reaches the archipelago makes this a critical time for responsible behavior.
“Make sure you have as few close contacts as possible, keep your distance and make sure you are tested if you become ill,” he said. “Passengers on flights to Longyearbyen have a special responsibility in the coming weeks.”
Testing and infection tracing is the most important measure to stop outbreaks, Selmer said. He said while the local hospital has good capacity for testing it it is important that you stay at home if you are ill and the hospital be contacted to have a test performed.
The first local vaccines are scheduled to be administered next week, but “only about five” patients will receive them, according to the hospital. The next shipment is expected three weeks later, but the does will be provided the highest-risk groups first (primarily those over 65) and “it will take a long time before vaccination is carried out for everyone who wants it,” Selmer said.