On the day the new regulations entered force, on 27 May, the government released another note with additional information, including an entry ban for tourists as one key point. One might get the impression that the Norwegian government took this as an implicitness that did not require explicite mentioning beyond insinuation in the said release.
Non-norwegian tourists are NOT allowed to enter Norway
The above-mentioned release from 27 May says amongst others:
“These (add: persons) can not enter Norway (applies to citizens of all countries, including citizens from EU/European economic zone and scandinavian countries):
Followed by a list of groups that are currently not allowed to enter Norway (unless an excemption applies to them on an individual case basis), including distant relatives (such as grandparents!), foreign students (including those from scandinavian countries), persons with residence or work permit but who do not already live in Norway, business-related travelers, owners of holiday houses etc. (not complete).
Mentioning tourists as the first group in this list, and with the single word “tourists” in contrast to all other groups, sends a clear message: tourists are currently not welcome in Norway.
Airport at Oslo Gardermoen: international tourist traffic is a one way road at the time being: Norwegians may visit other countries, but not the other way around.
There are excemptions for travelers who may enter Norway despite of the general entry ban. This includes, amongst others, non-Norwegians who live in Norway, people from regions or countries which sufficiently low incidence that the quarantine obligation does not apply, visitors to close relatives, people in certain professions (for example journalists, seafarers, medical personell from certain countries, …) and people who are registered residents in Spitsbergen.
It is the map of the FHI, the Norwegian national health authority, that will play an important role in this context for another while. Currently, almost all European countries are listed as “red”.
As you go into detail, the roles are complex, please check with the official websites of relevant Norwegian authorities for binding information. But in general, the message is pretty clear, see above.
Sunday, 30 May 2021, early afternoon – about 30 arctic travellers would now board SV Antigua in the port of Longyearbyen and meet the crew and each other.
Not so today, for reasons that are not a secret. The trip does not happen for the second time in a row, just as our longer voyage in late June/July.
Nobody will ever know what we are now missing. That is the beauty of these trips: every trip is like the first one (well, almost), and even those who have been around for some time in Spitsbergen don’t know what exactly will happen. Any trip will bring experiences that will surprise everybody. You can never know where you will end up, what the weather will be like and where you happen to see the various sorts of wildlife.
With Antigua at the ice edge in Smeerenburgfjord, early June 2019.
It is nothing we could catch up with later. Next year will be a new year, also 2022 will be only 12 months long and it will bring whatever it will bring, regardless of what we may have missed in 2021.
Just for fun, we can do what we always do before any trip and have a look at the ice chart and weather forecast. As you can see, the north coast of Spitsbergen is locked in behind dense drift ice. In Storfjord, on the southeast side of Spitsbergen, there are, in contrast, some wide fields of more open drift ice. It would have been an interesting idea to set course for south and southeast Spitsbergen rather than to the north, where you currently have open water and the suddenly meet with an impenetrable ice edge. Spitsbergen’s southern fjords are beautiful and the ice in the southeast is tempting. It is amazing to be on a sailing ship and have ice floes in all directions around you.
The weather is, of course, another important factor. It would not have been a full week of blue skies and bright sunshine, but a week of normal arctic late spring/early summer weather, with a bit of everything from blue to grey skies and anything that comes with it. The forecast is anything but reliable. If you want to know what it’s like in Smeerenburgfjord or Hornsund on Wednesday, then you have to be in Smeerenburgfjord or Hornsund on Wednesday. As simple as that.
Sadly, we will not find out. About 40 people (including crew and guides) will miss an experience of a lifetime. Plus, there is the economical aspect for the ship owner, the Tallship Company, the tour operator, die Geographische Reisegesellschaft, and those who are working on the ship. I hope they (this includes me) get well through this period and towards better times.
We’ve still got some hope for the trips later this summer. If you want to travel anyway, and certainly if you want to travel on a small ship in a remote area: make sure, if you can, to get that vaccine in time. And then: fingers crossed.
!!! In a later release, the Norwegian government has pointed out that the untightened travel restrictions as described below apply only to Norwegian citizens. Details will follow later today in a new article on this page.
The Norwegian government has untightened the strict entry requirements for travellers to Norway. This comes into force today (Thursday, 27 May), according to an official press release.
In very short words, until yesterday the system for entry into Norway has been for months: “who are you and what do you want”, with the result that entry was possible or not depending on nationality and travel purpose. And “not possible” was usually the answer for non Norwegian travellers, unless they had an accepted reason such as a visit to close relatives, business etc.
From now on, the question is again: “where do you come from”.
Entry not based on “who are you and what do you want”, but “where do you come from”
Travellers from the Schengen treaty area as well as the UK may now enter Norway again provided corona infection figures in their area of origin meet certain requirements. In the best case, the obligation to spend some time in a quarantine hotel may even be omitted: in these cases, travellers are allowed to spend quarantine time at home or another suitable place of their choice. This applies to travellers from European countries (Schengen area and UK) with a corona incidence of less than 150 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 2 weeks (! the figures usually communicated in most countries are based on one week), as long as the rate of positive tests is maximum 4 %. So it is important to keep a good eye on data, which may obviously change on relatively short notice.
There is no differentiation between necessary and unnecessary traves anymore.
Airport Oslo Gardermoen: may become a bit more lively again in the near future.
Many still have to do some time in a quarantine hotel
The following persons will need to spend some time in quarantine in an approved hotel. It still is a bit complicated when it comes to the details, but it applies to most travellers that they will have to spend at least 7 days in a quarantine hotel before they can get tested out. Everybody is obliged to spend 7 days in quarantine, but the question if this has to be done in an approved hotel near Oslo Gardermoen (the airport) or in another place of one’s own choice may make a huge difference for many travellers.
Travellers from countries outside the Schengen area or the UK still have to spend 7 days in a quarantine hotel.
Travellers from the Schengen area or the UK also have to spend time in a quarantine hotel if the corona incidence in their region of origin exceeds the values described above moderately. These persons have the chance to continue their quarantine at another suitable place of their own choice after a minimum of 3 days and a negative test. The quarantine ends after a minimum of 7 days and a negative test.
What about travellers from the Schengen area or the UK with a corona incidence that exceeds the values described above drastically? The Norwegian government has not yet decided on the details, but these travellers will have to spend at least 7 days in a quarantine hotel before they can be tested in order to potentially leave from quarantine.
Proper Norwegian authorities may give dispensation from the obligation to quarantine. Such dispensation will, however, only be given in special cases and this needs to be done before entering the country.
The door has opened – a little bit
As a bottom line, Norway has opened the door again a little bit after months of entry restrictions which were amongst the toughest in the western world. We are still far away from free travelling as known from times before corona, but travelling for tourists from European countries is at least not something completely unthinkable anymore. It is not yet known when and how the regulations now in force will be untightened further. Technical authorities have suggested 3 days in quarantine also for fully vaccinated people, but regarding this, no decision has been made as of now.
Entry for vaccinated and recovered people
Decisions are yet to be made, but everything points to more freedom, possibly up to free entry, for people who are vaccinated or who have recovered from a corona infection. Norway will join the European system of a digital vaccination certificate, which needs to be in place before we may see such facilitations. According to Norwegian news (e.g. NRK Dagsrevyen, 26.5), preparations for such a certificate are well advanced in Norway and the system may be operating at some point in June.
A negative corona test is still required to travel to Spitsbergen and nothing has been said about when this will be omitted.
SV Antigua in Spitsbergen, with a touch of eary winter. It is currently impossible to know for sure if Antigua and other ships will be able to operate in Spitsbergen in the late season, but there is still some hope.
It is also not know if opportunities to operate “coastal cruises” will come up this season. Months ago, the Norwegian government has announced to come back to this until the end of May, so there may soon be new information relevant to those who have plans for ship-based travels.
Let’s take another virtual tour – it was time to play with some new panorama images and to create a new page. Join me on a little mountain walk on Blomsterdalshøgda, a ridge on the north side of Platåberg, just behind the airport. This is a comparatively easy walk, but it does not only have some flowers (as the name suggests) – I fiddled a bit with my camera to get some good flower shots with the focus stacking technique, and you can see a result on the new page.
Screenshot with a part of one of several panoramas on Blomsterdalshøgda. Click here to see the new page with the real panoramas, some pictures and the story of the oldest coal mine near Longyearbyen.
“Svalbardpakke 2” is the second Norwegian package of corona backing for companies in Longyearbyen that have suffered economically from the pandemic. The package includes 40 million Norwegian crowns (4 million Euro) and it was brought on the way by the Norwegian parliament on 23 February because many local companies, especially tour operators, were suffering from an acute liquidity crunch. But the allocation of the funds reveals a two-class society with discrimination of some companies who are “not Norwegian enough”.
Longyearbyen Lokalstyre, the community administration, stated in a press release on 09 March (this author’s translation): “Mayor Arild Olsen mentions that the administration will emphasise criteria that support general Norwegian Svalbard politics. This will obviously include good working condition, but also the affiliation of the company. For example that the responsible companies are 100 % in Norwegian ownership and that the public limited companies are at least 34 % owned by Norwegian citizens and pay taxes in Longyearbyen. Alternatively, companies are included that have been active in Svalbard for at least five years.”
This was just a press release and not a legally binding text. Later, the minimum period of local activity was increased from five years up to ten for those those companies that are not in Norwegian ownership as described. This is now causing difficulties for several companies.
To prevent any misunderstandings: this is in any case exclusively about Norwegian companies that are registered in the Norwegian Brønnøysund registre and that are based and active in Longyearbyen, and not about companies from elsewhere.
The Spitsbergen Treaty emphasizes the equal treatment regardless of nationality, but sometimes, some are more equal than others (Norwegian national day, 17 May, in Longyearbyen)
But acccording to the current handling of the recent package of corona aids, the nationality of the owners is to play a decisive rule. This includes cases where non-Norwegian citizens have founded a company in Longyearbyen years ago, who live and work in Longyearbyen, create local jobs and pay local taxes, al according to local regulations. It is not about preventing abuse and fraud, but about excluding companies owned, partly or fully, by non-Norwegians.
It does not surprise that some who are concerned feel discriminated. Marcel Schütz has been active with his company Spitzbergen Reisen in her present shape since 2016 after having started with the precedessor in 2012, as he told Svalbardposten. He has invested substantially in Longyearbyen, amongst others in local accommodation of his clients, created several permanent plus several seasonal jobs and pays local taxes. Not being included because of nationality when tax money is returned to companies in need does doubtless not create good feelings, after having contributed to the development of the local economy for years.
Five or six out of 76 companies that are registered in Visit Svalbard may be excluded because of the ownership regulations. Schütz demands the relevant paragraph to be revised and ideally to be fully removed.
Mayor Olsen said that Svalbard, in contrast to mainland Norway, is not part of the European Economic Area and thus more free to make local decisions, and that paragraph 5 is meant to support Norwegian Svalbard politics, which generally aim at a Norwegian focus of local activities.
The Norwegian government has started work on a new set of rules for tourism in Spitsbergen. With the department of trade and industry and the department of justice, two ministries are involved in the work which will touch many aspects. It appears that guides will play one central rule. Guides are present during any touristic activity in Spitsbergen and they play a central rule in multiple ways: they carry responsibility for a quality experience, often with an educational aspect, for safety – an important aspect in a potentially dangerous environment such as the Arctic – and for compliance with a range of legal regulations and industry and company standards concerning safety and the protection of the environment including wildlife and cultural heritage.
The polar guide: a central position, but not a protected profession
One can only wonder that such a central profession within an industry that is more than one hundred years old* and that has seen decades of intense industrial development both locally and internationally, is not protected. Anyone can offer guide services. Of course there is a range of considerations and initiatives to certify qualified guides, and this has been going on for many years now both locally in Longyearbyen (Visit Svalbard) as well as internationally (PTGA), and many active guides have used one or another supplier to achieve some kind of certification. And of course, AECO, the “Association of Expedition Cruise Operators”, is working on the issue and various tour operators have developed their own qualification schemes.
*Regular commercial Spitsbergen cruises started in 1891 with Wilhelm Bade.
Tourists observing walruses in Spitsbergen: the guide play a key role in enabling tourists to have a good, safe experience without disturbing the wildlife or doing any other kind of harm to nature.
The problem is: there is, so far, no officially acknowledged certification. It is unclear who can and will issue acknowledged certifications, which qualifications will be required for certifiation, how, where and by whom these shall be verified and so on.
The Norwegian government is working on an official certification scheme for Spitsbergen guides
This is supposed to change. The Norwegian government has asked the industry and other interested parties to give their input and to make suggestions.
Many might benefit from a well thought-through certification scheme, including the guides themselves. Payment and work conditions in parts of the industry have repeatedly been subject to criticism in recent years. It is easy for companies to replace experienced employees by newcomers when a profession is not protected. There are plenty of young people who would be willing to work for next to nothing or even for free for a season of adventure in the Arctic. This may even be understandable from the individual’s position, but it is, at the same time, a very unfortunate structure for experienced professionals who want to be just that – professionals in the sense that they want to make a living of their work.
Ideally, everyboy could benefit: tourists, the industry, the environment – and the guides
Additionally, many guides have already put a lot of effort into aquiring certifications without knowing if and by whom they will really be accepted. Essentially, any step within qualification is a good step, but if it involves more bureaucracy than anything else to document knowledge and experience that some have used and shown in everyday work in years, without being certain that it is really worth the effort, then it is understandable that a certification scheme rooted in relevant legislation may provide planning reliability that makes it worth to spend some time and effort on.
Spitsbergen’s corona immunisation schedule is making good progress. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has not yet been locally recorded, which is almost surprising as there have been plenty of infections in mainland Norway and tourists are regularly coming from there. It seems to be common that they think that the mandatory use of face masks, for example in shops, does not apply to them.
The government in Oslo is well aware of Spitsbergen’s remote location, which would cause massive problems in case of a local Covid-19 breakout. The local hospital is not prepared to take care of corona patients, and evacuating patients to the mainland involves a huge logistical effort. Norway has thus decided to give Spitsbergen priority within the national corona immunisation schedule. This applies not only to Longyearbyen, but also to the other settlements, such as Barentsburg, Ny-Ålesund and the research station in Hornsund.
“You shall not pass!”
Longyearbyen’s strategy against the corona virus, and the whole world’s.
Not Spitsbergen, but another fantastic world. Author’s work based on a drawing by Gonzalo Kenny (the original scene in “The Lord of the Rings” involves a slightly larger, highly “inflammable” virus 🙂 )
More than 1400 persons have already been vaccinated in Spitsbergen, including about 90 who have already got full protection with two required injections, as Svalbardposten reports. Today (Thursday, 06 May), another 500 persons are to get their vaccination. This means that a large proportion of Spitsbergen’s adult population will soon be vaccinated at least once.
As everywhere in the world, this involves hopes for increased personal safety and the chance to return to normal life. As of now, it is not known when this will come for international travelling. The government in Oslo has announced to make relevant decisions in May. Norway does also take part in the European project of a digital vaccination certificate, which is scheduled to be available from late June. But it will be every government’s individual decision what kind of options owners of such a document will have, such as entry to a country for non-essential purposes or participating in a ship-based voyage. But it certainly appears as a reasonal possibility that acknowledged documentation of a corona vaccination may contribute to such opportunities.