AND SO IT BEGINS…AGAIN: Library ends ‘self-serve’ hours, Svalbardhallen closes pool, Fruene may halt serving due to two-meter distancing, Kroa shuts due to new COVID-19 crackdown

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Lots of people are being vaccinated and lots of leaders are simply declaring the COVID-19 crisis over regardless of evidence. But on Thursday morning in Longyearbyen it felt a lot like the onset of the pandemic a year ago as lots of organizations and businesses announced closures, limited operations and warnings as a new set of nationwide preventative measures took effect.

A ban on serving alcohol meant the shutdown of Karlsberger Pub and Kroa. A ban on most indoor recreational activities meant the closing of the pool and basketball/climbing area to adults at Svalbardhallen. And limits on indoor gatherings meant the cancellation of extended “self-serve” hours and the weekly “baby song” sessions at Longyearbyen Library.

While the majority of the national government’s new measures are “mere” recommendations than mandatory rules – including two meters of distancing instead of one – notices posted online by multiple businesses suggest local officials are treating it more as a rule and thus making adjustment despite a potential loss of business.

“We have been told by the local government to enforce the two-meter rule for anyone who does not live in the same household,” Kroa stated in a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page Thursday morning detailing the evening’s menu. But by afternoon the restaurant decided the evening’s service will be the last until the restrictions are lifted, which are scheduled to last at least until April 12.

“The last time there was an alcohol serving stop the revenue disappeared overnight,”Jørn Kjetil Hansen, the restaurant’s general manager, told Svalbardposten, noting the 15 employees there have received redundancy notices. “It is simply too high a cost to remain open.”

Fruene, in a Facebook post, stated it is staying open for now, but may be forced to limit operations to takeaway and retail sales if the distancing recommendation is not observed.

“In light of the new coronavirus measures that apply from today we encourage everyone to do what possible to keep the RECOMMENDED distance of two meters,” the post notes. “This also applies when you sit down without face masks. This recommendation does not apply to families who can still sit together as before. We are waiting for a clarification from the government when it comes to friends/colleagues.”

“We will make an assessment day-by-day on whether we can maintain the recommendations. If we can’t do this we have to close for coffee operations/sitting down with us. We encourage all of you who have the opportunity to shop takeaway to do so.”

The Nordpolet alcohol shop – likely to experience a large influx of business due to the serving ban at restaurants/pubs as well as the upcoming Easter holiday week – issued a similar, if less dire, advisory.

“Now that the two-meter rule is in force and Easter is just around the corner, we would recommend you to spread the activity the best you can,” a notice by the shop inside Svalbardbutikken states. “It is quite cramped with us at Nordpolet at the moment so it is difficult to keep the two-meter distancing with many people in store. You will probably have to line up a bit in line this weekend and during the Easter week, and we hope for understanding for this.”

Longyearbyen Library, while not strictly required to do so, is ending its self-serve hours when members can visit despite no employees, which has occurred multiple times during the past year as restrictions are tightened/loosened since there is no way to monitor compliance with precautions such as face masks and distancing. Similarly, Svalbard Church announced it is ending its baby song time on Thursdays until the government’s new measures end.

“Hopefully this will be the last shutdown,” a statement posted by the church on Facebook declares.

Svalbardhallen is changing its operating hours as well as limiting activities, according to a notice posted by the city at its website.

“The swimming pool and sports hall are closed to adults, while the fitness room is open to residents living in Longyearbyen,” the notice states. “Organized activity for children and young people under the age of 20 under the auspices of Longyearbyen School and Svalbard Turn will operate as normal.”

But, in a rare instance of more rather than less, “we are reallocating resources due to the closed swimming pool and extending the opening hours in the gym on normal weekdays,” noted Helle Jakobsen, a manger at the sports hall, in a separate announcement. The gym will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. except for Easter week.