Sunday will be a blessed day for those traveling to Svalbard as several COVID-19 restrictions, including a mandatory negative test for the virus within 24 hours of departure, will be eased that day, Norway’s government announced Friday. People who can show proof they are fully vaccinated will be exempt from the test.
In addition, coastal cruises will be allowed “on certain conditions” – including up to 2,000 people on large ships if all are vaccinated – and charter flights from the mainland will be able to land in Svalbard.
The changes are part of a nationwide easing of restrictions as Norway goes through a phased return to “normal” after more than a year of strict rules that have included sealing the country’s boarder to foreign tourists and Svalbard to all non-residents.
“It is important that Svalbard can also take part in the opening we now are now making for society,” Minister of Justice and Emergency Management Monica Mæland said. “Special protection of Svalbard has been necessary through the pandemic, partly because health preparedness is vulnerable. We are in a good developing situation now and I am therefore happy that we can offer further relief.”
Svalbard is among the very few places in the world with no officially diagnosed COVID-19 cases and essentially all adults wanting vaccinations have received them since the government made administering them to residents here a priority. But the government’s statement emphasizes some restrictions need to remain in place.
“An increase in the number of visitors could entail the risk of an outbreak of infection with consequent pressure on local health preparedness and The Governor of Svalbard’s rescue resources,” the statement notes. “Svalbard’s geographical location provides a long transport time in need of intensive health care, which means that a possible outbreak of infection in Svalbard with a need for evacuation of patients to the mainland will have major consequences.”
“Therefore, we must continue some infection control measures for travelers to Svalbard in order to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible. This means that reopening on Svalbard must take place more gradually and in a controlled manner than on the mainland.”
Guest lodging can book up to 90 percent of capacity – keeping some rooms open in case quarantine is needed – and plans to handle guests needing confinement must be submitted to the governor and other agencies for approval.
Coastal cruises are limited to 200 people if proof of vaccinations of all crew and passengers cannot be provided in advance. If such proof is available up to 2,000 people are allowed, although ships can only book to 90 percent capacity.
“It is also a requirement that coastal cruises on Svalbard must return to the mainland or home port in case of suspected or confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 on board,” the government’s statement notes.