Working on setting a specific date for limited opening of tourism

Efforts are being made to set a specific date for when Svalbard can again welcome tourists from the Norwegian mainland and for when the quarantine for travellers to Svalbard can be lifted. - The tourism industry in Svalbard has now been given the responsibility to prepare guidelines and concrete plans for how to operate in an infection control responsible manner, says Governor Kjerstin Askholt.

Published 5/7/2020

- The various actors and businesses are themselves responsible for acting in accordance with the health authorities' requirements and norms, and specifically describe how they must comply with the infection control measures and the Covid-19 regulations, she emphasizes.

- A separate committee has been set up to prepare proposals for advice and guidance for the gradual opening of activities and businesses in Svalbard based on government decisions, national guidelines, laws and regulations and industry standards. This deals primarily with activities and businesses related to tourism, states the governor.

- I am very pleased that the central authorities give this matter a high priority, says Kjerstin Askholt.

The committee is broadly composed and consists of members from the Governor, Longyearbyen Community Council, Longyearbyen hospital, Visit Svalbard, Svalbard Business Association, Avinor Svalbard and AECO (Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators).

The committee had its first meeting on Wednesday this week. The various businesses and actors in the tourism industry in Svalbard will now jointly develop a draft of an overall guideline. Visit Svalbard coordinates this work, which is in full swing. The input shall be anchored to the central authorities. At the first meeting, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security and the Ministry of Health and Care Services were also represented.

On Wednesday, the Governor also had a meeting with Visit Svalbard and members of the tourism organization about the current situation and plans to give Svalbard tourism the opportunity to reopen according to more detailed rules and guidelines.

The government is continuously assessing measures to deal with the covid-19 pandemic and at the same time prioritizing when businesses and activities can be gradually re-opened. A prerequisite for this is that there is still control over the infection situation and that the conditions otherwise allow. Companies and activities must therefore plan for how they can comply with infection control measures to keep the spread of infection down in the future. In addition, it is assumed that the gradual opening does not challenge the capacity of the health service.

- The same conditions apply for the gradual reopening of businesses and activities in Svalbard, emphasizes Kjerstin Askholt.

- We hope to come up with a specific date to cancel the quarantine order so that it can be possible to book trips to Svalbard for people from the Norwegian mainland. As mentioned, the prerequisite for that trips and activities can be implemented, is that guidelines and plans are in place. In any case, it will not be a full opening now, but a reduced offer compared to previous times. We are talking about approaching a new normality.

- We are considering a gradual, regulated repeal of the quarantine regulations. For tourists and others who do not live in Svalbard, however, it will apply until the tourism industry has in place the overall local guideline and the individual businesses have specific plans for how to operate in an infection control manner, she says.

The Governor states that the regulations and guidelines will apply to all tourism businesses in Svalbard, not just those organized in Visit Svalbard.

- The difference is that the organized tourism businesses can now help shape the guidelines, while the unorganized tourism businesses do not get to do that, she says.

In the event of an outbreak of infection in Svalbard, continuous assessments shall be made of the infection control doctor at the Longyearbyen hospital in collaboration with the Governor and the Longyearbyen Community Council regarding the need for any tightening of measures.

- I have a great understanding for the tourism businesses and their employees, who are in a very difficult situation, but our main focus has been and will continue to be that life and health come first.

The main reason why the Governor has adopted the quarantine regulations for all travellers to Svalbard, including residents, is the vulnerable and limited health preparedness in Svalbard. A lot of work has been done on this in collaboration with central health authorities. We are beginning to put in place a contingency and a system that can deal with a situation where there is spread of infection of the coronavirus on the island.