A handful of visitors are being quarantined at a hotel in Longyearbyen due to their close contact with a COVID-19-infected person on the mainland before their arrival, according to Knut Selmer, the infection control doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital.
The tourists have tested negative so far, are asymptomatic and are near the end of the mandated 10-day quarantine period, Selmer told Svalbardposten, which first reported the situation Saturday morning.
“It reminds us to continue what we started at Christmas,” Selmer said, referring to a heightening of already-strict prevention measures. “Now the coronavirus is probably closer than ever and it will take many months before we have vaccinated more than half of Longyearbyen’s population.”
The tourists will be required to pay for their extended stay since Svalbard is exempt from Norway’s requirement that municipalities have a quarantine hotel program. Also, the visitors cannot return home, which would require travel on a commercial flight, as would be possible on the mainland.
Selmer told Svalbardposten it should be safe to keep tourists quarantined at hotels, and employees and residents should be safe.
“It should not create a stir or tendency to panic,” he said. “The hotels have their own infection control measures so it should be completely safe.”
Svalbard remains one of the few places in the world with no official COVID-19 cases. The first vial of vaccine to arrive in Svalbard was administered to five patients this week, with the next shipment not expected until the end of the month.
Signs local residents are visibly concerned about the potential of the virus finally reaching Svalbard has been evident during the past week, as for the first time masks are being worn by a vast majority in places such as Svalbardbutikken following an advisory issued a week ago by the city and The Governor of Svalbard.
Much of the concern is fuelled by the return of locals visiting the mainland during the holidays, about 150 students at The University Centre in Svalbard and Svalbard Folk High School beginning classes this month, and the arrival of more tourists (albeit in drastically lower-than-normal numbers) as light begins to return to the skies.
“My impression is that the response to the recommendation about bandages has been formidable, and it seems that people are complying,” Selmer said. “If people do not follow up on the recommendation there will be an order and we want to avoid that.”