Further opening steps for travel to Arctic regions | Polarjournal

CORRECTION: An error regarding the entry of tourists from the UK and Schengen countries into Norway has been reported to us. Obviously, the Norwegian government’s announcement does NOT apply to TOURISTS, but only to Norwegians and people with a Norwegian residence permit. According to the government on the relevant website, whose update appeared only after the completion of the article, tourists are still barred from entering Norway. We deeply regret this error and apologize for the inconvenience.
We have updated the link to the new page about entering Norway in the box.

The tourist season in most Arctic regions would actually be in full swing by now. But protective measures against COVID are still in place in most regions, making it almost impossible for foreigners to enter the country. But there is a ray of light in the sky. Picture: Michael Wenger

Since the emergence of the COVID pandemic, the question of travel to the Arctic has hardly been necessary. For the states had de facto closed the borders to tourists to protect the local population. With vaccination programs in place in many countries, case numbers are now dropping and Arctic states are beginning to slowly open their borders. An update from the far north should show the current status.

Norway and Greenland have officially announced relaxation of measures in recent days to make it easier for tourists to enter the country. But as is so often the case, the devil is in the details. Because for an entry still some factors are to be considered, which require quite a certain measure of “preparation” on the part of the tourists. Furthermore, both governments reserve the right to adapt the relaxations to the situation and, if necessary, to cancel them again if the COVID situation should change negatively. Below we have listed the regions and the current provisions (as of May 28, 2021). All information is without guarantee.

Norway

  • ALEE PROVISIONS APPLY ONLY TO NORWEGIANS AND FOREIGNERS WITH NORWEGIAN RESIDENCE PERMITS; TOURISTS ARE STILL BARRED FROM ENTERING THE COUNTRY
  • The distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” journeys no longer applies.
  • Travelers from Schengen countries with an incidence rate of less than 150 new infections per 100,000 population in the previous 14 days AND a positive test rate of less than 4 percent no longer have to go to a mandatory quarantine hotel but can quarantine at a location of their choice. Travellers from Schengen countries with an incidence rate below 25 cases / 100,000 inhabitants in 14 days are exempt from quarantine.
  • A quarantine must last at least 3 days if the above values are moderately exceeded in the country of origin and 7 days if entering from a Schengen country where the above values are far exceeded. After 3 or 7 days, quarantine can be terminated with a negative PCR test. This also applies to vaccinated persons.
  • Exceptions can be requested from the authorities.
  • Travellers to Svalbard must also take a rapid antigen test before departure, which (logically) must be negative.
  • Entry requirements for foreigners to Norway (in Norwegian, page must be translated independently)

As the COVID situation in Norway varies locally, travellers should carefully consider the situation in their destination area in advance. Currently, COVID outbreaks have been registered in some regions of Norway and stricter measures are in place there. The above rules currently apply to vaccinated individuals as well. But the government in Oslo is working on a “digital, secure and verifiable way of documentation for protected people” whose first vaccination was more than three weeks ago, according to Justice Minister Monica Maeland. With regard to polar travel, a few providers, especially smaller companies, want to decide on a situational basis whether a trip makes sense. But as the season gets shorter and shorter, effort and return have to be weighed carefully. Postponements to the 2022 season will probably be the norm.

Greenland

  • Travel to Greenland is only possible from Denmark and the entry regulations for Denmark must be observed. A maximum number of 600 people per week is specified. The number of tickets is limited and only Air Greenland flights are allowed.
  • For entry into Greenland, a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours old must be available and a completed entry declaration (SUMUT) and a booking for a PCR test during quarantine must be made in advance.
  • All persons must quarantine themselvers immediately after entry
  • Vaccinated persons can undergo a PCR test one day after entry and be released from quarantine if the result is negative. For all others (unvaccinated and partially vaccinated persons included) a quarantine of at least 5 days applies
  • These regulations apply from June 1 until further notice
  • https://en.coronasmitte.dk; https://corona.nun.gl/emner/til_den_rejsende/indrejse_til_groenland?sc_lang=da

The Self Ruling Government in Greenland also points out that Denmark’s opening strategy automatically applies to Greenland and the Faeroe Islands. However, it reserves the right to introduce more stringent measures than would apply to Denmark. As far as the current figures are concerned, the capital Nuuk has discovered three cases and has put appropriate measures in place there. Numerous operators, especially the larger companies, have adapted their schedules accordingly and offer trips to the various regions of Greenland, with adapted safety concepts.

Nunavut / Canadian Arctic

  • The regions remain inaccessible to tourists this year by order of the central government in Ottawa and in consultation with the self-governing authorities in Nunavut

Again, the government reserves the right to change the measures according to the situation in Nunavut, the rest of Canada and the world. Currently, Nunavut’s capital, Iqaluit, is being hit by a COVID outbreak. Numbers are dropping, but emergency ordinance and strict measures remain in place. Some expedition tour operators have not yet abandoned their schedules and make decisions on a situational basis.

Russian Arctic

  • Entries to Russia are country-dependent. Direct flights to Moscow are available for Germany and Switzerland. The UK have suspended all flight to Moscow and the US advise people not to travel to Russia currently. The UK have suspended all flight to Moscow and the US advise people not to travel to Russia currently. In addition to a valid visa, all that is required for entry is a negative PCR test in English or Russian that is no more than 72 hours old. Domestic flights are also available.
  • The COVID situation in the individual Arctic regions varies. Prior clarification of the situation is strongly recommended

Figures relating to COVID infections in different regions vary in availability. For example, for Chukotka, Kamchatka and other regions in the Russian Far East, the figures are more recent than in the Murmansk region. The situation in the Chukotka region is more relaxed and, thanks to its remoteness and low population density, the region has also had only a few hundred reported COVID cases and hardly any deaths since the outbreak. No new cases are known at present.

With the announced relaxations, are expedition trips happening or not? The decision has not yet been finalized. Many hurdles and ambiguities still stand in the way. Picture: Michael Wenger

The question now is whether the trips still listed by some expedition tour operators will take place after all thanks to the relaxations. The answer to this is not as simple as it seems. Because the now relaxed entry requirements apply in Norway and Denmark for tourists from the Schengen countries. But ships also need a ship’s crew, a hotel team and expedition guides. And here again it is the details that could present hurdles. The example of Norway illustrates this very clearly: on the one hand, ship crews are allowed to enter the country, but must be quarantined on board a ship before they can officially take up their duties. However, the question arises as to whether hotel staff on board an expedition vessel are included or not. This is because the regulation only applies to “ship personnel and people who help maintain socially important operations such as supply of goods and production on the Norwegian shelf,” according to the minister responsible, Iselin Nybø. The question of implementation also arises for voyages to Greenland departing from Iceland. Iceland allows entry for residents from Schengen countries and considers Greenland safe, but prohibits entry from third countries. However, because many ship operators hire personnel from the Philippines, the question arises as to where or even if they can come on board.

In the Arctic regions, vaccination programmes have started in many places and have shown some success. While in Svalbard, Greenland, the Canadian Arctic and Alaska, the vaccine from Moderna is mainly used, in the Russian regions, the domestic “Sputnik V” vaccine is used. Image: Tim Reckmann, CC-BY SA 2.0

Tourist travel in general has been and still is considered by governments as “non-essential travel”, despite the fact that for many Arctic regions and localities it is an important source of income. The protection of the local population from the consequences of a COVID infection ultimately outweighs this. Now, however, vaccination programs there have picked up steam and governments are reporting great success in vaccination numbers. For example, Svalbard has reported that about three-quarters of the total population will be fully vaccinated by mid-June. Vaccination is also progressing in Greenland, where the logistics of vaccination are more complex due to the location of the sites. The plan, which focuses not only on age or risk groups but also prioritizes locations, aims to have the majority of the over-18 group and above fully vaccinated in all major locations by the end of July. In the Canadian region of Nunavut, authorities report that 57 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated already. The authorities do not report more precise figures on targets, but want to immunize the majority of the population as quickly as possible. And in Russia’s Chukotka region, nearly 19 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated, a record within Russia.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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