SVALBARD’S FIRST OFFICIAL COVID-19 CASE: Russian fisherman on vessel near Bjørnya briefly hospitalized in Longyearbyen; officials not worried about risk to others

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It’s official: the first COVID-19 case in Svalbard was recorded this week when a Russian fisherman who was ill aboard a vessel near Bjørnøya was transported to Longyearbyen Hospital for about 13 hours before being sent to the mainland for treatment of the virus. Local and health officials said they do not believe his presence will risk having the disease spread to others in the archipelago.

The sick fisherman was picked up by a rescue helicopter Wednesday night, according to a statement from The Governor of Svalbard. Everyone in contact with the patient used infection control equipment and all infection control routines were followed until an air ambulance was available to take him to the mainland.

“The helicopter crew that picked up the man continues at work as usual and the emergency preparedness has not been weakened,” Lt. Gov. Sølvi Elvedahl said.

Health officials said it is likely others on the fishing vessel are infected, but it is at open sea, according to NRK.

Svalbard was one of the only remaining places in the world free of COVID-19 cases, although there have been numerous false alarms and “close calls,” due largely to heightened restrictions because of the area’s remoteness and lack of medical facilities. Longyearbyen Hospital, for instance, has only one intensive care bed and one respirator.

The Norwegian government made vaccinations a priority in Svalbard, with Longyearbyen being the first municipality in the country to full vaccinate all willing residents.