Norway has issued one of the most restrictive entry rules since the start of the pandemic. It was only from June that a relief and opening-up emerged. But after the incidents on the Hurtigruten ship Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian government had imposed a ban on cruise ships of 100 or more. This meant that ships with more than 100 people on board, passengers and crew, are not allowed to land in Norwegian ports or on Norwegian soil. This included Svalbard. Day tourism and smaller ships were able to offer their tours there. But as the number of COVID-19 cases rose again in Europe and around the world, the list of countries allowed to enter Norway without quarantine has become smaller and smaller. Now the government in Oslo has tightened the screw again and imposed a ban on ships over 30 people on Svalbard.
The Norwegian government’s move was published in a press release. The Minister of Health, Bent Høie, stated that, after assesing the situation, the Ministry of Health considered it necessary to introduce a ban on the implementation of tourism activities in the form of cruises on Svalbard. “Infection on board a cruise ship requires large resources to limit the outbreak, and entails a number of practical challenges. This is especially true in Svalbard, where cruise operations involve special challenges for both health and rescue preparedness. Therefore, it is necessary with a rule change that lowers the risk of a similar outbreak as on the Hurtigruten,” the minister writes. The ban is expected to remain in force until November 1.
The government is blaming the de facto outbreak of COVID cases on board the Hurtigruten ship “Roald Amundsen” at the end of July for the decision. After the outbreak, the Ministry of Health was asked to examine whether the Norwegian government’s rules and guidelines for cruises along the Norwegian coast should be changed. After the assessment and recommendation by the Ministry of Health to introduce a ban on cruises with some exceptions, the government followed this recommendation. The exception are day cruises and journeys from Longyearbyen to Longyearbyen with ships with a total of 30 people on board. The government also writes that an assessment of the situation will be carried out on a regular basis until November 1 in order to be able to make any amendments.
The government’s decision to further restrict cruise tourism on Svalbard is unlikely to meet with much appreciation. Marcel Schütz, Swiss founder and co-owner of Spitzbergen-Reisen AS, said in a telephone conversation: “I understand the rationale for this measure and it was also foreseeable. Here in Longyearbyen, our health options are limited. But we certainly don’t make leaps of joy.”. The announcement should also come as a surprise, as just a few weeks ago, both the Minister of Trade, Iselin Nybø, and the Minister of Justice, Monica Maeland, assured that the government would do its utmost to support tourism on Svalbard. However, both stressed that they had no free or gold cards to get the Longyearbyen business through the crisis. What is certain is that the current decision will not improve the situation.
Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal AG
More on the subject: