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Home → April, 2020

Monthly Archives: April 2020 − News & Stories


Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne exten­ded

The Sys­sel­man­nen has announ­ced that the com­pul­so­ry qua­ran­ti­ne will be exten­ded until May 18 (18.00 hrs). It may be exten­ded bey­ond this date if necessa­ry.

This means that ever­y­bo­dy who tra­vels to Spits­ber­gen needs to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne for 14 days, regard­less of how one gets the­re and whe­re exact­ly one arri­ves.

Health and emer­gen­cy ser­vices might soon be in a dif­fi­cult situa­ti­on in case of a Covid-19 out­break in Spits­ber­gen, so aut­ho­ri­ties are taking any fur­ther steps with gre­at care. Con­si­de­ra­ti­ons are cur­r­ent­ly being made for star­ting to open the school again and for the cele­bra­ti­ons of the Nor­we­gi­an natio­nal day on 17th May. This date was one of the rea­sons to cho­se the 18th of May as the mini­mum dura­ti­on of the cur­rent qua­ran­ti­ne regu­la­ti­ons.

Corona-quarantine, Spitsbergen

App­lies to all of Spits­ber­gen: Coro­na-qua­ran­ti­ne (pho­to com­po­si­ti­on).

At the same time plans are being made to return back to a – in a very wide sen­se – “nor­mal” life again in socie­ty and eco­no­my. Aut­ho­ri­ties empha­sise that this will be a long pro­cess that will requi­re gre­at care and may inclu­de set­backs. The impor­t­ance of hygie­ne- and social distancing rules are high­ligh­ted and the public is reques­ted to abs­tain from tra­vel­ling to Spits­ber­gen unless necessa­ry.

The­re are, as of now, no con­fir­med cases of Covid-19 in Spits­ber­gen.

Star­ting tou­rism up again in July?

Spits­ber­gen is cur­r­ent­ly almost com­ple­te­ly clo­sed to tou­rism. Only local inha­bi­tants and Nor­we­gi­ans may come at all, theo­re­ti­cal­ly also Nor­we­gi­an tou­rists, but ever­y­bo­dy has to stay in qua­ran­ti­ne for 14 days unless an excep­tio­nal per­mis­si­on is given in spe­cial cases. The air­line SAS is, howe­ver kee­ping the air traf­fic up, but the­re is men­ti­on of 10 flight pas­sen­gers per day in average, and the­se will hard­ly be tou­rists. The air­line Nor­we­gi­an is cur­r­ent­ly plan­ning to start fly­ing again in June.

The shut­down does obvious­ly have serious con­se­quen­ces for the local eco­no­my, inclu­ding rising unem­ploy­ment and calls for dona­ti­ons for examp­le from small com­pa­nies that have polar dogs, some­thing that has, by the way, at least part­ly been suc­cess­ful to some degree.

Nobo­dy knows when Spits­ber­gen will be open again for tou­rists. The fur­ther deve­lo­p­ment of the pan­de­mic will be decisi­ve, as you may have gues­sed, and decisi­ons have to be made on various levels.

Tourists, Longyearbyen

Tou­rists in Lon­gye­ar­by­en: Nobo­dy knows when they will return.

Now Longyearbyen’s mayor (lokals­ty­re­le­der) Arild Olsen has told Sval­bard­pos­ten that he wants to con­si­der ope­ning up for tou­rism again in July, “pos­si­b­ly limi­ted and we have to accept that it will be only Nor­we­gi­an tou­rists, to begin with”, as Olsen says. Limi­ta­ti­ons in an area that is still remo­te and does not have lar­ge-sca­le sophisti­ca­ted medi­cal infras­trac­tu­re will hard­ly sur­pri­se anyo­ne, but limi­ta­ti­ons per natio­na­li­ty may rise an eye­brow, con­si­de­ring the Spits­ber­gen trea­ty.

But the­re is obvious­ly still a way to go any­way befo­re any tou­rists will return to Spits­ber­gen or other remo­te desti­na­ti­ons.

Coro­na-cri­sis hits local eco­no­my bey­ond tou­rism

The Coro­na-cri­sis has hit Lon­gye­ar­by­en hard: tou­rism and ser­vice, both major fac­tors for the local eco­no­my, have lar­ge­ly col­lap­sed, lea­ding to a high level of unem­ploy­ment. Many fear losing their live­li­hood.

But also sec­tors out­side tou­rism and ser­vice are affec­ted: accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the mining com­pa­ny Store Nor­ske Spits­ber­gen Kul­kom­pa­ni AS has redu­ced the work­for­ce in mine 7 near Lon­gye­ar­by­en by 8 peop­le becau­se the demand for indus­try coal has col­lap­sed on the inter­na­tio­nal mar­ket. The­se workers have alrea­dy moved to Sveagru­va to take part in the lar­ge clean-up that fol­lows the end of coal mining the­re.

Coal mining in Svalbard: hit by the Corona-crisis

Coal mining in Spits­ber­gen is hit by the Coro­na-cri­sis
(archi­ve image, Svea Nord).

Also a major cus­to­mer of Sval­sat (Kong­s­berg Satel­li­te Ser­vices på Sval­bard) has gone bankrupt due to the Coro­na-cri­sis, accord­ing to the web­site Highn­orth­news: the glo­bal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons com­pa­ny One­web had the plan to pro­vi­de the who­le Arc­tic north of 60 degrees of lati­tu­de with high-speed, satel­li­te-based inter­net. 648 satel­li­tes should have been part of that pro­ject, 74 of which have alrea­dy been lifted up to the orbit sin­ce August last year.

Major ground infra­st­ruc­tu­re in high lati­tu­des is nee­ded to con­trol the satel­li­tes and to trans­fer data both ways, ser­vices that are pro­vi­ded by Sval­sat, a com­pa­ny that runs a lar­ge park of anten­nas on Pla­tå­berg near the air­port in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. One­web hat a major con­tract with Sval­sat. A num­ber of anten­nas dedi­ca­ted to the One­web pro­ject has alrea­dy been built, the­re was men­ti­on of 60 One­web anten­nas in total on Pla­tå­berg.

Svalsat, Spitsbergen: hit by Corona

Sval­sat near Lon­gye­ar­by­en: also hit by the Coro­na-cri­sis.

The future of One­web and of the arc­tic inter­net pro­ject, inclu­ding the lar­ge invest­ments that have alrea­dy been made, is uncer­tain.

Sval­sat has a rela­tively small num­ber of employees, but is its­elf an important cus­to­mer for many other local com­pa­nies. Sval­sat has a num­ber of other important cus­to­mers, inclu­ding lar­ge orga­ni­sa­ti­ons such as ESA and NASA.

Coro­na cri­sis: small com­pa­nies with dogs under pres­su­re

The Coro­na virus has not yet come to Spits­ber­gen (as far as known at the time of wri­ting). The strict qua­ran­ti­ne rules are still in for­ce, they have actual­ly been exten­ded on Fri­day (17 April) and will now last at least until 01 May, as the Sys­sel­man­nen infor­med.

As for eco­no­mies all over the world, Lon­gye­ar­by­en is suf­fe­ring severely from the eco­no­mi­c­al con­se­quen­ces. Many com­pa­nies and peop­le depend on inco­mes deri­ved wit­hin tou­rism. Unem­ploy­ment has risen shar­ply to levels pre­vious­ly unknown at 78 degrees north.

Ever­y­bo­dy has regu­lar expen­ses and is under pres­su­re to cover them, but some have even hig­her regu­lar cos­ts and this inclu­des com­pa­nies with polar dogs. Dogs need food and care even when the­re are now tou­rists. Cur­rent eco­no­mi­c­al aid by the Nor­we­gi­an government is amongst others aiming at hel­ping com­pa­nies with their expen­ses until May. But the cur­rent win­ter sea­son is now com­ing to an end, and eco­no­mi­c­al­ly, the 2020 sea­son just never hap­pen­ed, and the next win­ter sea­son will not come any ear­lier than ear­ly 2021 – if it comes, that is. Com­pa­nies have said that they will be hap­py if 2021 brings 60 % of a nor­mal annu­al inco­me.

Sledge dogs, Longyearbyen

Out on tour with dogs near Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Makes serious­ly hap­py!
And so does food for the dogs after the tour.

Some of the smal­ler com­pa­nies have alrea­dy appealed for help: Sval­bard Hus­ky have an appeal on their web­site, and Sval­bard Vill­marks­en­ter have made an appeal in a local social media group, cal­ling for “dona­ti­ons ear-mar­ked dog-food”. Both are local fami­ly com­pa­nies.

If you want to be a spon­sor or god­pa­rent to a polar dog in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, then you are wel­co­me to get in touch direct­ly with eit­her Sval­bards Hus­ky through their web­sei­te (click here), via email (post@svalbardhusky.no) or give them a call: +47 784 03 078.

Or get in touch with Sval­bard Vill­marks­en­ter through the web­sei­te (click here), via email (info@svalbardvillmarkssenter.no) or on the pho­ne: +47 79 02 17 00.

Mar­tin Munck of Green Dog Sval­bard, a lar­ger com­pa­ny with 275 dogs, cal­cu­la­tes 100,000 kro­ner per mon­th just for dog food (cur­r­ent­ly near 8900 Euro). In a con­ver­sa­ti­on with Sval­bard­pos­ten, he stron­gly rejects rumours that kil­ling dogs could be an opti­on.

Coro­na cri­sis: many lost their jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

The Coro­na virus hits eco­no­mies hard ever­y­whe­re in the world. Lon­gye­ar­by­en is no excep­ti­on and the cur­rent cri­sis gives rise to a phe­no­me­non that has so far been almost unknown up the­re: unem­ploy­ment. Tou­rism and the ser­vice indus­try have lar­ge­ly col­lap­sed and several hund­red peop­le have lost their jobs. Accord­ing to offi­cial sta­tis­tics, the­re were 9 peop­le without jobs in Lon­gye­ar­by­en on 10 March, but alrea­dy 261 on 23 March – the stron­gest incre­a­se in all of Nor­way, and the cur­ve is still going up stee­ply. The actu­al num­ber is sup­po­sed to be hig­her, becau­se citi­zens of coun­tries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area (EEA) can not regis­ter as unem­ploy­ed in Nor­way.

The fact that unem­ploy­mentship has been vir­tual­ly unknown in Lon­gyear­ben is not only due to the good eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on. Actual­ly, recent years have seen the col­lap­se of lar­ge parts of the coal mining indus­try and a lot of jobs were lost in this pro­cess. On the other hand, tou­rism and sci­ence have deve­lo­ped posi­tively. But the back­ground is ano­t­her one, which has to do with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty which recent­ly beca­me 100 years old: the trea­ty gives citi­zens from signa­to­ry coun­tries the same indi­vi­du­al rights as Nor­we­gi­ans. Ever­y­bo­dy can live and work in Lon­gye­ar­by­en without asking for per­mis­si­on.

But this free­dom has a pri­ce tag: the­re is no social sys­tem that takes care of ever­y­bo­dy. Essen­ti­al­ly, ever­y­bo­dy is respon­si­ble to take care of him- or herself. If you can’t finan­ce you life in Spits­ber­gen, then you have to lea­ve. Five per­sons have been expel­led by the aut­ho­ri­ties sin­ce 2017 becau­se they were not able to sup­port them­sel­ves finan­cial­ly. Four out of the­se five were expel­led befo­re 2020, so the­re is no con­nec­tion to the recent cri­sis.

In other words: if you can’t afford to live in Lon­gye­ar­by­en then you are not going to stay long, so the­re has not been unem­ploy­ment on any signi­fi­cant level until recent­ly. If you nee­ded public sup­port, then you had to rely on the social sys­tems of your home coun­try, many of which may not sup­port citi­zens living abroad or only to a degree that will not make much of a dif­fe­rence as Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a very expen­si­ve place.

This is, in princip­le, not going to chan­ge: Nor­way is gene­ral­ly neit­her obli­ged nor wil­ling to take respon­si­bi­li­ty for citi­zens of third coun­tries who are get­ting in dif­fi­cul­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. On the other hand, the cur­rent situa­ti­on is acu­te. Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a very inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on. The­re is, for examp­le, a signi­fi­cant num­ber of peop­le from Thai­land who came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en years ago to live and work the­re. Many have typi­cal­ly jobs in restau­rants or other ser­vice indus­tries that have now col­lap­sed. Many can hard­ly expect much sup­port from their ori­gi­nal home coun­tries, and retur­ning the­re may also not be an opti­on easi­ly avail­ab­le to ever­yo­ne as many have given up the­re homes the­re years ago, plus the impos­si­bi­li­ty to tra­vel any­whe­re the­se days.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en during the Coro­na-cri­sis: dark times, even though it does not get dark any­mo­re in rea­li­ty and the sun will soon shi­ne 24 hours a day.

So the­re are many peop­le now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en who don’t have an inco­me. The­re are esti­ma­tes of near 300 peop­le. Mea­su­res are taken now in Lon­gye­ar­by­en (Lokals­ty­re) to offer public help to citi­zens from third coun­tries out­side the Euro­pean Eco­no­mic Area. The­se mea­su­res come with a time limi­ted, but the­re is clear­ly need for action right now. In the future, com­pa­nies in Lon­gye­ar­by­en may have to install social insuran­ce sys­tems for their non-Nor­we­gi­an employees, but right now the pre­sent situa­ti­on needs to be dealt with. The­re have alrea­dy been pri­va­te aid appeals for fami­lies in dif­fi­cul­ties, espe­cial­ly for peop­le who moved to Lon­gye­ar­by­en less than 6 mon­ths ago becau­se they are sup­por­ted only for 20 days in the cur­rent Coro­na cri­sis packa­ge by the Nor­we­gi­an government. Tho­se who have been in Lon­gye­ar­by­en more than half a year will be sup­por­ted until 20 June.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re (com­mu­ni­ty coun­cil) has app­lied for 178.5 mil­li­on kro­ner from the Government in Oslo to sup­port the local eco­no­my. This may inclu­de goods and orders that can be deli­ve­r­ed quick­ly by local com­pa­nies, finan­cial reli­ef for inha­bi­tants by cut­ting fees for examp­le for water, power and long-distance hea­ting, all of which is very expen­si­ve in Lon­gye­ar­by­en and to com­pen­sa­te for los­ses expec­ted in the eco­no­my of the com­mu­ni­ty. Just the can­cel­la­ti­ons by lar­ge crui­se ships for this year will pro­bab­ly cost more than 20 mil­li­on kro­ner in har­bour fees that will be lost.

Just as any­whe­re in the world, nobo­dy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en has got an idea when and how the situa­ti­on will nor­ma­li­se again.

Mon­th­ly tem­pe­ra­tu­re in March below average

The wea­ther sta­tis­tics from Lon­gye­ar­by­en have, for years on end, yiel­ded tem­pe­ra­tures abo­ve the long-term average. This has been the case for 111 mon­ths, a seri­es that star­ted in Novem­ber 2010: sin­ce then and until Febru­a­ry 2020, the­re has not been a sin­gle mon­th with an average tem­pe­ra­tu­re below the long-term sta­tis­tics.

But March 2020 tur­ned out to be the mon­th that final­ly breaks up this seri­es of more than 9 years. It is very unli­kely to be a new trend, just a cold mon­th bet­ween many war­mer ones, but still – the mon­th­ly average of March 2020 was -16.2°C or half a degree below the long-term average, accord­ing to Ketil Isak­sen from the Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal insti­tu­te.

Ice, Adventfjord

A cold March: fresh ice forming in Advent­fjord near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Half a degree below average is not exact­ly an awful lot, but nevertheless Isak­sen assu­mes that the cold win­ter gives the war­ming per­ma­frost a litt­le break: becau­se of the thin snow cover, the cold should have pene­tra­ted the ground, an effect that should last a while into the sum­mer.

The refe­rence peri­od for the long-term average is 1960-1990. As soon as the cur­rent year is over, the­re will be a new refe­rence peri­od: 1990-2020. This will incre­a­se the refe­rence average tem­pe­ra­tu­re values becau­se the­se recent deca­des have been signi­fi­cant­ly war­mer than the pre­vious ones. Hence, as the new refe­rence value will then be hig­her, we will, in the future, see more mon­ths again with average tem­pe­ra­tures below the long-term average: a result of the new sta­tis­ti­cal base rather then the end of cli­ma­te chan­ge with will keep making the Arc­tic war­mer. This is, based on all cur­rent know­ledge, not going to chan­ge any time soon. The meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal record from Lon­gye­ar­by­en air­port (Sval­bard Luft­havn) shows that the tem­pe­ra­tu­re has risen by no less than 5.6 degrees sin­ce 1961!

Ice chart, Svalbard

Ice chart as of 01st April 2020. No April Fool’s Day joke, but qui­te a lot of ice.
© Nor­we­gi­an meteo­ro­lo­gi­cal Insti­tu­te.

Cur­r­ent­ly, we can at least enjoy the fact that the­re is a good ice cover in and near Spits­ber­gen, both fast ice in coas­tal waters and drift ice, cur­r­ent­ly reaching as far south as Bear Island (Bjørnøya)!

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