Openings for Arctic tourism despite threat of delta variant | Polarjournal
A picture from happy days: tourists admire the mighty Greenland Ice Sheet and enjoy the steps in bright sunshine. For more than a year, international tourists have hardly made such moves. Picture: Michael Wenger

For the tourism sector in the Arctic regions, the COVID pandemic must feel like the end of the world. Since March 2020, the once booming sector has virtually ground to a halt as most countries have kept their borders de facto closed to tourists. But now countries and regions such as Iceland, Greenland and also Norway have announced opening steps, driven by rising numbers of vaccinated people. At the same time, however, a new, much more infectious variant of the virus threatens to dash these hopes.

From tomorrow, July 1, 2021, an EU-wide vaccination certificate will be the ticket for Arctic fans willing to travel, allowing quarantine-free entry into Greenland, Iceland and Norway, at least in theory. If one takes a closer look at the entry regulations, there are still some factors that have to be considered in order to actually be able to move in the arctic regions. But between tomorrow and July 5, easements and relaxations are to come into effect. We have listed the current information, as far as possible, here. All information is as of June 30, 2021 and is subject to change without notice.


As of July 5, entry rules to Norway will be readjusted. Tourists, with a few exceptions, are still barred from entering the country. The list of exceptions as to who is allowed to enter is now longer than the list of non-permitted groups of people. BUT: Those who, among other things, are in possession of a European COVID certificate recognised by Norway (vaccination or survived COVID disease) can enter quarantine and test-free, provided the person enters from an EU/EFTA/Schengen country. And also for the list of EU countries with recognized certificate exists another list again. Only Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Croatia, Iceland, Poland and Latvia are currently on this list. Furthermore, Norway will use the threshold values for COVID disease (incidence value) used by the EU, which means that travellers from countries with an incidence value below 500 / 100,000 inhabitants within two weeks will be allowed to enter (green countries). This then also applies to onward travel to Svalbard, where there is currently still a requirement for rapid testing before departure.


Tourists have been on the move again in Iceland for some time now. Especially the volcanic eruption at Fagradasfjall has attracted many visitors. With vaccinations, it is now even easier to enter the country. Image: Bersekur / Wiki Commons

Iceland allows the entry of all persons who have been verifiably vaccinated or who have survived a certified illness in the past six months. There is also a registration requirement for all entrants. The testing on arrival requirement will no longer apply to certificate holders as of July 1. Travelers without these certificates must still bring a PCR test no more than 72 hours old, get tested, and be quarantined in a government-assigned hotel. But this is free of charge. All provisions are formally valid until August 15.


Flights from Denmark and Iceland will bring tourists to Greenland again from next week. Air Greenland and Icelandair will be pleased. Image: Air Greenland

Greenland can again be reached by flights from Iceland or Denmark. Appropriate entry conditions to these countries must be observed. Transit travellers to Greenland from EU/EFTA countries that have been set to “green” or “yellow” by Denmark can stay in a hotel for one night without further restrictions and then continue their journey. For Greenland itself, all persons must enter a 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Verifiably vaccinated persons can leave this quarantine immediately with a negative PCR test, all others must have a second test carried out five days later, which of course must also be negative. In addition, all entrants must be able to present the completed SUMU form upon entry. Not all places in Greenland are directly open to travellers. Quarantine locations are clearly defined by the government, other locations are only accessible once the quarantine and testing regime has been passed.


It’s still empty at one of the busiest airports in the world. Denmark is cautiously opening up to the world. Picture: Ronny Burkhalter

Fully vaccinated persons from EU/EFTA/Schengen countries can enter Denmark without testing and quarantine. An appropriate certificate accepted by Denmark is sufficient. Fully vaccinated means (as everywhere) at least two weeks after the last vaccination dose with a vaccine accepted by Denmark. Previously ill persons must bring proof of the illness, which may not be further back than eight months. For travellers from the UK, there are differences depending on the region of origin.


The inhabitants of the Arctic regions in Canada are unlikely to see many tourists this year. The central government in Ottawa has continued to close the country to foreign visitors seeking entry without an essential reason. Picture: Michael Wenger

For international guests Canada and the Arctic North of Canada is still basically closed. There are said to be discussions about possible openings, but these have not yet been elaborated.


In Anchorage and other parts of the USA, tourists from abroad will have to wait a while longer. Despite vaccinations, tourists are still not allowed in the US. Photo: U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher

Here, too, entry restrictions are basically still in force. International tourists are currently still barred from entering the country, regardless of vaccination status.

To get to the Russian Far East, flights are currently only available from Moscow. And it is precisely there that the delta variant of the COVID virus is raging particularly strongly. Nevertheless, not all countries have yet reacted and are maintaining possible flight connections with Russia. Image: C Turbolezdka

The very big difficulty at the moment is Russia. Because in Moscow and also in other Russian regions the infection numbers shoot up rapidly. The culprit is the new, much more infectious delta variant, which was first detected in India a few months ago. It has now been detected in numerous countries, leading to partial lockdowns and emergency prescriptions. Germany has also responded to the numbers in Russia by quarantining incoming travelers from Russia. This is a serious blow after Russia had been virtually the only gateway to the Arctic for at least German-speaking tourists at the beginning of the Arctic tourist season. Switzerland has not yet amended its risk list. But again, this should only be a matter of time. The situation remains tense due to this new variant and the new easing and opening steps can be reversed just as quickly. This again shows how fragile the current situation is regarding travel in general and to the far reaches of the Arctic in particular. Nevertheless, various providers have not given up hope and are using the planned openings of individual regions to give their customers the opportunity to dive into the Arctic and visit polar bears and co.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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