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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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