PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES ALCOHOL BAN: Establishments serving food will be able to serve again starting Friday; Svalbardhallen also reopening on a limited basis Wednesday


It will be possible to order booze with your meal again starting Friday – and get a workout to offset those calories starting today – after Norway’s Parliament on Tuesday voted to override a decision by Prime Minister Erna Solberg a day earlier to continue an ban on serving alcohol at restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city also announced Svalbardhallen will reopen – primarily for youth activities – starting Wednesday, part of a serious of local reopenings and cancellations/postponements related to the virus.

Parliament’s override of the ban by members from a diverse range of parties, which reportedly came as a surprise to the member who proposed it, allows alcohol to be served at establishments serving food in municipalities with low COVID-19 infection rates. The Governor of Svalbard, in a press release Wednesday, notes the provision means establishments can remain open until midnight, but must stop allowing new guests at 10 p.m.

“Svalbard is not a municipality, but has a low infection rates,” Knut Selmer, the infection control doctor at Longyearbyen Hospital, said in a prepared statement. “The ban on local licensed serving establishments in Svalbard can therefore be lifted.”

In addition to local restaurants, Svalbard Bryggeri announced it will be open on Friday and Saturday as well – but can only serve its local beer to people who consume food. The brewery will sell snacks at the bar and more substantial sustenance will be available from local eateries via Svalbard Delivery Service. Tables must be reserved in advance for time slots at 4-6 p.m., 6-8 p.m. and 8-11 p.m.

Solberg on Monday said a ban in effect since early January would be extended for two weeks, after getting differing opinions from two different official health agencies about whether it was safe to lift the restriction.

However, he said observing other virus-related rules and advice remains critical, he said.

“The one-meter distancing rule and the capacity restrictions still apply,” Selmer said. “We also repeat the call for a face mask for the general population when the drinking ban is lifted. The work with infection tracing is faster and requires less use of personnel resources if as many people as possible use face masks.”

Selmer said wearing of face masks, which is not mandatory in Svalbard, has been widespread since the governor and city strongly recommended their use two weeks ago. He has stated previously a mandate may be imposed if participation is unsatisfactory.

The governor also announced its office is reopening for services relating to traffic documents, passports/ID cards, visas and weapon permits. Appointments for most services must be scheduled by calling 7902 4300 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays, while appointments for passports/ID cards must be made at the governor’s website.

A local announcement likely to be of similar interest to the lifting of the alcohol ban is Svalbardhallen will reopen for many, but not all, activities as of Wednesday. The restrictions in place largely apply to indoor adult activities, since the Norwegian government on Monday stated organized activities for youths under 20 years of age can resume aside from events such as official matches and conventions.

“For young people under the age of 20, training and participate in leisure activities as normal, both inside and outside, is allowed,” Svalbard Turn announced on its Facebook page Tuesday. “They can also be excepted from the recommendation for one meter of distancing when necessary to do the activity.”

“For adults, the recommendation not to run organized activity indoors is continued. Adults can exercise outdoors if it is possible to keep a good distance.”

The training room will be open from 2:30-10 p.m., with a maximum of 15 people allowed in at a time. The swimming pool will be open from 5-10 p.m.

The Longyearbyen Youth Club is also reopening as of Wednesday, with up to 30 people allowed in for age-designated periods. Youths in grades 5-7 can enter between 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, while grades 8-10 can enter between 6-9 p.m. Thursday and 8:30-11:30 p.m. Friday.