Photo courtesy of UNIS
The first cases of COVID-19 may have reached Svalbard, as multiple students and staff at The University Centre in Svalbard are suspected of being infected, according to an e-mail sent through the university system by health, safety and infrastructure director Fred S. Hansen on Tuesday evening.
It will be 48 hours after further tests are conducted Wednesday to know if the people in question have the virus, according to the e-mail. In-person classes and fieldwork are cancelled at least until Sunday.
Svalbard has remained one of the few places on Earth with no official COVID-19 cases since the global pandemic was declared in March of 2020, but some alerts have been issused previously about possible infections among local residents and visitors. Hansen, in a brief e-mail interview Tuesday night, noted that as of now “nothing (is) confirmed, just sympthoms that requires testing.”
“We are initiating preventive measures (home office and digital teaching) out this,” he added.
While extraordinary infection control measures have kept Svalbard free of COVID-19 cases, concerns have been expressed during the pandemic about people arriving from elsewhere such as tourists and university students causing local infections.
The e-mail from UNIS sent to its students and staff at about 9:15 p.m. Tuesday:
Dear students and colleagues:
We have reason to suspect that some of our students and colleagues might be infected with covid-19. As for now, this is not confirmed and further tests will be done during Wednesday 15.09.21. It will however take 48h to get the tests analysed.
As preventive measures we are initiating these actions with effect from Wednesday 15.09.21:
Home office for everyone who can.
Cancelation of fieldwork
The measures will last at least until Sunday 20.09.21.
This is a breaking story with updates in progress.