Press release | Date: 02/07/2020| No: 153 - 2020
Starting 15 July, the Government plans to allow travel to Svalbard by residents of the parts of the Schengen Area and European Economic Area that will no longer be subject to Norwegian quarantine regulations as of that date. This applies to such travellers as those arriving on scheduled flights from the mainland or on coastal cruise ships.
‘It is important to include the tourism sector in Svalbard as we reopen our society, but due to emergency rescue and health-care concerns in Svalbard, the reopening there must be gradual and more controlled than on the mainland,’ said Minister of Justice and Public Security Monica Mæland (Conservative Party).
The scale of Svalbard’s emergency rescue and health-care services is insufficient to handle a large COVID-19 outbreak while maintaining adequate readiness for other incidents. In the current situation the rescue and health-care systems appear appropriately dimensioned for the number of tourists that may come to Svalbard.
The Northern Norway Regional Health Authority has collaborated with the University Hospital of North Norway’s Longyearbyen hospital and the Governor of Svalbard to review contingency plans, implement measures and estimate the volume of tourists in Svalbard through the summer.
‘The assessment by the North Norway Regional Health Authority indicates that it’s possible to open for tourism in and around Svalbard,’ said Minister of Health and Care Services Bent Høie (Conservative Party). ‘As things are today, there seems to be a good correlation between health and rescue preparedness and the number of tourists who may arrive in Svalbard.’
‘The tourism industry and the international university community are both important in Svalbard,’ said Minister of Transport Knut Arild Hareide (Christian Democratic Party). ‘It’s therefore a positive development that more people who live in Europe are able travel safely to Svalbard by plane or boat.’
A further increase in the number of visitors could present challenges, however. In an interim instruction, the Ministry of Transport has asked the Civil Aviation Authority not to grant dispensation for international charter flights to/from Svalbard Airport, Longyear, which is a national airport. Dispensation may nevertheless be granted under special circumstances, such as for flights that are necessary for critical public functions, transport of key personnel in important companies, agencies or operations, and scientific activity. The interim instruction will have no impact on implementation of the 1974 agreement with Russia regarding the use of Svalbard Airport, Longyear.
Svalbard’s emergency rescue and health systems would be seriously challenged by the arrival of coastal cruise ships carrying passengers from areas still subject to Norway’s quarantine requirement and from cruise ships with a capacity of more than 500 passengers. Passengers and crew members from such vessels are therefore not welcome to go ashore in Svalbard. The Ministry of Health and Care Services, in consultation with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, will consider amendments to the COVID-19 Regulations that would lead to the introduction of a ban on disembarkation from such vessels in Svalbard.