People are urged to avoid all travel to and from Svalbard unless absolutely necessary, meaning vacations and other “leisure trips” should not occur, The Governor of Svalbard announced Monday afternoon.
The alert is not a mandate, but a rapidly worsening COVID-19 situation on the mainland due to the rapid spread of the mutated U.K. strain means local officials are keeping a constant watch to see if a heightened risk to Svalbard – and therefore an official ban and/or other lockdown measures – will be ordered.
“An entry quarantine will be assessed if the situation develops in a negative direction,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said.
A series of major new COVID-19 restrictions in Norway – including proof of a negative virus test for entry, and a shutdown of all non-essential services and a “work from home” mandate in ten municipalities including Oslo – was enacted beginning Saturday due to the spread of the mutated virus largely in the eastern part of Norway. Heightened restrictions, although slightly less severe, were imposed Monday on an addition 15 municipalities.
Svalbard’s emergency council – comprised of officials from the governor’s office, Longyearbyen’s city government and Longyearbyen Hospital – met Monday to discuss tougher restrictions. Knut Selmer, the infection control doctor at the hospital, emphasized the importance of continuing to follow nationally imposed rules and recommendations including wearing face masks in public places, which have seen a high voluntary participation rate.
In addition to requiring a negative COVID-19 test 24 hours before entry in Norway, fewer exemptions are being granted for a quarantine period upon entry. Also, all persons who have been to the U.K., South Africa, Ireland, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal and Brazil must undergo a PCR test at the Norwegian border.
Svalbard remains free of officially diagnosed COVID-19 cases, but local officials and residents have expressed concern about the risk posed by university students and tourists arriving this month as the light begins to return to the sky.