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Home → May, 2020

Monthly Archives: May 2020 − News & Stories


Unemployment remains high in Longyearbyen

Unemployment has reached levels unheard of in Longyearbyen before during the Corona crisis and it remains high: currently, 344 persons have registered as unemployed (completely or partly) with NAV (Arbeids- og velferdsforvaltningen, the Norwegian authority for unemployment and social security office), according to Svalbardposten.

Corona virus, Spitsbergen

Much more dangerous than polar bears: the Corona-virus.
kills people and jobs all over the world (photo composition).

That is only 6 less than during the previous week, in spite of preprarations and bookings having started for the first tourists from mainland Norway who are expected to return to Spitsbergen from 01 June.

The high unemployment level causes great problems for many. Social welfare from Norway for citizens of countries outside EEA (European Economic Area) is limited until 20 June. After that, the only help that citizens of such countries may get is a subsidy to their travel expenses on the journey to their country of origin.

Because of the Spitsbergen Treaty, there is almost complete liberality of access, stay and work, but in exchange, there is no social security by Norway for non-Norwegian citizens.

Public grants for travel costs instead of living expenses; tourism starting up again

Unemployment has gone through the roof in Longyearbyen during the Corona pandemic and many have come into financial troubles. Only Norwegian citizens are eligible for support from the Norwegian public welfare system because of the conditions of the Spitsbergen Treaty. Others have to take care of themselves or they have to ask for support in their home countries.

Nevertheless, the Norwegian government had stepped in and offered public help for citizens of third countries in Longyearbyen to prevent a social crisis. This programme will, however, cease on 20 June and the government in Oslo does not consider to extend it, despite such demands being raised in the discussion in Longyearbyen. Instead, the government wants to offer financial help with travel expenses to those who want to leave and return to their home countries, according to a press release by minister of justice Monica Mæland..

Tourists, Longyearbyen

Tourists and locals enjoying the sunshine in Longyearbyen:
this is what everybody is hoping for from 01 June.

Politicians, companies and many individuals in Longyearbyen hope that not many will have to make use of this offer from the government. Tourists from mainland Norway can come to Spitsbergen again from 01 June and bookings have started to come in. Some tour operators have told Svalbardposten that they are currently happy with the development of bookings. Still, the majority of employees are at home without work, and some have already left Longyearbyen. But for many who come from countries further away such as Thailand, getting to their home countries would be very difficult because of current travel restrictions.

In the end, it will of course be the development of the Corona pandemic that will control the development: so far, there is no case of Corona confirmed in Longyearbyen. Nobody can tell how long this will last and what will happen then.

Stepwise ease on Corona-quarantine in Spitsbergen UPDATED

Updated 16 May and 17 May

The quarantine regulations for Spitsbergen are about to be phased out for locals and tourists. To start with, the quarantine will be disestablished for locals from today (Friday, 15 May) 1800. This will include private guests and visitors who are coming for professional reasons, including scientists, according to a press release from the Sysselmannen. The regulations in detail as issued by the Sysselmannen can be found here. Private guests are defined as closely related family members by Minister of Justice Monica Mæland.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

About to be eased: Corona quarantine on Spitsbergen: (photo composition).

Travellers coming for work purposes shall be allowed to come to Svalbard without quarantine from 01 June.

“Leisure visitors” – tourists, in other words – from Scandinavian countries (“Norden”) can come from 15 June without having to stay in quarantine.

It will be considered to open for tourists from other neighbouring European countries from 20 July, as Minister of Justice* Monica Mæland said during a press conference on Friday.

(*in an earlier version of this text, it said “Minister for Economic Affairs”. This was not correct. Monica Mæland is, of course, Minister of Justice and emergency services).

Hygiene and health safety plans which are accepted by authorities will be required for any organized travelling.

The Sysselmannen emphasizes that it will not be a quick and full return back to what it used to be, but a step-wise approach to a new kind of normality. Limiting the total number of tourists in Spitsbergen is in consideration, and it is said that it will still take “some time” before cruises over several days can take place again.

Generally, the Norwegian government does not recommend international holidays until at least middle of August.

First complete count of Beluga whales in Spitsbergen

Marine biologists have for the first time made a complete census of Beluga whales in Spitsbergen to get a precise estimate of the population. The result was made available on Researchgate in February.

The scientists around the Norwegian marine biologist Christian Lydersen have made aerial surveys of the coastlines of almost all islands in Svalbard. Additionally, they have covered the open water areas of the large fjords on the west coast and individual transects out towards the open sea to get an overview as complete as possible.

Beluga whale, Spitsbergen

Beluga whale in Dicksonfjord. Large groups are very difficult to count. There is only one in the picture, but how many did we see within 5 km or so around it? Dozens? Hundreds?

The result is indeed surprising: 22 groups with a total of 265 animals were sighted. Statistical calculations result in a population estimate of 549 White whales for the whole Spitsbergen archipelago (95 % confidence interval: 436-723).

There are, of course, remaining uncertainties. More animals than estimated may have remained invisible during the survey. But even if you increase the result based on a higher estimate of unseen individuals, it remains surprisingly low. Until now, all there was was rough estimates based on observations which were more punctual in space and time. These may have been corrupted by the migrational behaviour of White whales, which often seem to circle around in certain areas for a while, giving an observer who remains in one place on the coast the impression that one group is moving through after the other.

It is also so far unknown if there is a connection to Beluga whales in Frans Josefs Land (Russian Arctic). If Spitsbergen and Frans Josefs Land share a population, as is the case with polar bears and walruses, then it would again be a completely different picture. But the few data that are available from tracking Beluga whales do not support this, but it can certainly too early to exclude this hypothesis.

Opening Spitsbergen for tourists: work in process

Opening Spitsbergen for tourists again in the Corona crisis is still work in process. Negotiations supposed to result in a careful are going in between the industry and various authorities. Tourism representatives had expressed their hope to get a date already on Friday or at least on Monday (11 May), but this has obviously not yet happened. Some tour operators hope to re-start their business from 01 of June.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

Applies to all of Spitsbergen and will stay for a while:
Corona-quarantine (photo composition).

Especially travellers from outside Norway should take their time, observe the further development and read the small print. It appears likely – official confirmation is pending – that Norway will keep a quarantine for everybody who enters the country, according to the newspaper Dagbladet. The quarantine will be reduced from 14 to 10 days, probably also in Spitsbergen, and it will apply to everybody who is entering the country regardless of nationality, something that would make such a procedure comply with the Spitsbergen Treaty. This means that Spitsbergen as a destination might not be realistic for people who are not already in Norway.

All organised travelling will require a health safety plan accepted by the authorities.

This appears to be the current situation. Final confirmation and the futher development remains to be seen.

Talks about careful re-opening of tourism

Several meetings have taken place in Longyearbyen this week with representatives of the tourism industry, the Sysselmannen and other authorities to discuss options for a careful opening of tourism, upon which many jobs depend.

A central task is creating a plan with hygiene- and other practical measures that ensure a safe and healthy practice for travelling. Such a plan is now work in process.

Sysselmannen Kjerstin Askholt emphasizes that a quick and complete restart will not happen. The idea is a careful and step-wise approach of a normal situation. Public health and safety, with the limited emergency and health services in mind, will have priority.

All involved seek a date to start first activities to give the companies a basis for planning. Such a date is not known at this time.

Hospital, Longyearbyen

Hospital in Longyearbyen: Capacities are limited and the next big hospital far away.

It is unclear which ways of travelling will be possible again to start with. The assumption that tourism will, for a while, be limited to forms of travelling that involve limited numbers of persons and that take place not far from existing infrastructure seems to make sense. It is also unclear for how long and how far practical or, possibly, other limitations for international traffic will be in place.

Currently and at least until 18th May, everybody who arrives in Spitsbergen needs to stay in quarantine for 14 days.

No admissions to UNIS-courses for the rest of the year

UNIS has announced to not admit new students to courses for the summer and fall 2020 because of the Corona crisis. As there is so far no case of Covid-19 in Spitsbergen, the strategy is to make sure that those scientists and students who are already in Longyearbyen can continue with their work and education as normally as possible, and being (and staying) Covid-19-free does allow for a range of opportunities that UNIS wants to make use of.

UNIS, Longyearbyen

Guest lecture by Maarten Loonen, the Ny-Ålesund-gooseman from the Netherlands,
at UNIS.

With this background, no new students will be admitted to regular courses for the rest of the year. A few exceptions will only be made under strict conditions for master and PhD-students who need to to fieldwork for their thesis.

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News-Listing live generated at 2020/October/29 at 16:26:05 Uhr (GMT+1)
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