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Yearly Archives: 2021 − News & Stories


Engelskbuk­ta, Ny-Åle­sund – 11th August 2021

Today’s wea­ther is a bit grey. We star­ted the day with a tun­dra walk in Engelskbuk­ta.
 
Flowers, some gra­ves and a blub­ber oven from the days of the ear­ly wha­lers.
 

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Later, we visit Ny-Åle­sund, Spitsbergen’s nort­hern­most sett­le­ment with ever­ything that beongs to it: old sto­ries and modern sci­ence, Kongsfjor­dbu­tik­ken and coal ming, polar histo­ry and a gui­ded city walk.

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Kongsfjord is grey and will remain so the next cou­p­le of days, so we lea­ve and head north befo­re we get the nort­her­ly wind that the fore­cast indi­ca­tes.

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St. Jonsfjord – 10th August 2021

For­landsund tur­ned out to be fog­gy and a bit win­dy today, so we deci­ded to have a look at St. Jonsfjord. Talk about right place and right time! Full sunshi­ne on the beau­ti­ful gla­cier sce­ne­ry in the inner part of the fjord. Many ber­gy bits on the water from the 2 pret­ty acti­ve gla­ciers in the area. One of them is cur­r­ent­ly advan­cing; the posi­ti­on that we had reached in 2019 is cove­r­ed by the gla­cier now. The other, neigh­bou­ring one is, howe­ver, retrea­ting, as most of Spitsbergen’s gla­ciers the­se days.

We mar­vel­led at this stun­ning sce­ne­ry from all per­spec­ti­ves we could think of: from a per­fect­ly pla­ced moun­tain ridge, from sea level and from a litt­le island that has only very recent­ly emer­ged from the gla­cier. Bet not too many peop­le had been the­re befo­re us!

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For­landsund – 09th August 2021

It is still Mon­day, 09 August, and the day is not over yet. After a short stretch with fog and swell, For­landsund wel­co­mes us with sunshi­ne and dozens of fin wha­les!

Later in the evening, at Prins Karls For­land, the fog has caught up again with us. Nevertheless, we take the oppor­tu­ni­ty for a late evening mee­ting with a herd of wal­rus.

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Erd­mann­flya, Ymer­buk­ta – 09th August 2021

The sun was hiding behind a low cloud lay­er, but calm wea­ther and good visi­bi­li­ty temp­ted us to hike across Erd­mann­flya, a wide tun­dra plain with many rein­de­er, various birds, lakes, wet­lands and low rocky rid­ges with lovely views. The cros­sing took a lar­ge part of the day and was com­ple­ted with clo­se-up views of Esmark­breen from the ship. Now ever­ything around us has disap­peared in the fog as we lea­ve Isfjord. Soon we will turn nor­thwards.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en – 08th August 2021

Final­ly, after almost 2 years, we can set sail again in Spits­ber­gen! We can hard­ly belie­ve it, but we are moving, skip­per Hein­rich, my col­league Hel­ga and nine who are keen to see a lot of Spits­ber­gen the upco­m­ing 18 days.

The first evening brings a walk in Borebuk­ta on the north side of Isfjord, a wal­rus and gre­at views over wide tun­dra are­as in the gol­den light of the mid­ni­ght sun.

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Pyra­mi­den and Dick­son Land. And SV Anti­gua is back in Spits­ber­gen!

As I men­tio­ned recent­ly – we spend a lot of time out­side, and the­re is always some­thing to do in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. So the lap­top is clo­sed most of the time, wri­ting is not the main thing here and now. But the hiking boots are some­ti­mes stea­ming, and at other times the out­board engi­ne of our litt­le Zodiac and at yet other times the came­ra. And that is how it should be.

SV Anti­gua final­ly back in Spits­ber­gen

Antigua, Ymerbukta

Anti­gua in Ymer­buk­ta.
We went out the­re for a lovely ren­dez­vous.

Good old Anti­gua is back in Spits­ber­gen! Gre­at! We went by Zodiac to Ymer­buk­ta to meet the good ship and her crew the­re, whe­re the ship was ancho­red for a rest after the cros­sing. It was good to see Cap­tain Mario and the crew again! We took the oppor­tu­ni­ty tog­e­ther to take a detour into Cole­s­buk­ta on the way to Lon­gye­ar­by­en, whe­re the crew is now get­ting the ship rea­dy for the first depar­tu­re next week. I am loo­king for­ward to join them in late August. First, I’ll be out with SY Arc­ti­ca II soon.

Captain Mario, Colesbukta

With Mario, Cap­tain on SV Anti­gua, in Cole­s­buk­ta, cele­bra­ting the occa­si­on.

Pyra­mi­den and Dick­son Land

Now it has alrea­dy been a while sin­ce we spent some days in and around Pyra­mi­den in July. We went to look for – and found – a fos­si­li­sed forest, which was cove­r­ed with mud by a flood in a flu­vi­al plain almost 400 mil­li­on years ago. Most of the trees (sigil­la­ria) just kept stan­ding as they had been gro­wing, and the still stand the day today. We had seen ano­t­her part of this forest last year; flu­vi­al ero­si­on keeps brin­ging other parts to the light of day for a geo­lo­gi­cal split-second, befo­re they disap­pe­ar and get lost fore­ver. If you hap­pen to be in the area during this geo­lo­gi­cal moment, then you just have to take the oppor­tu­ni­ty.

And any­way, Dick­son Land is just one of Spitsbergen’s most beau­ti­ful are­as, if you ask me.

Gal­le­ry – In and around Pyra­mi­den

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

In Mar­tin Conway’s foots­teps in Bol­terda­len

The Arc­tic! Spits­ber­gen! Natu­re! Being out the­re! Fan­tastic …

That the sum­ma­ry 🙂 and that is what it is all about here the­se days, in and around Lon­gye­ar­by­en. I have spent alrea­dy far too much time on the com­pu­ter this year, that has to wait now. Other­wi­se I could alrea­dy have writ­ten a lot here on my arc­tic tra­vel blog.

But today is a day of rest, time to catch up a bit.

The pre­sen­ta­ti­on seri­es “Arc­tic Wed­nes­day” was a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to dig deeper in sto­ries and sub­jects that are important to me, and the best thing is, of cour­se, to do that in situ. Who remem­bers my pre­sen­ta­ti­on about Mar­tin Conway’s first cros­sing of Spits­ber­gen in 1896? (That was online last April, in Ger­man).

Now we were fol­lowing Conway’s foot­prints at least for a short bit of is path. Con­way and his com­pa­n­ion Gar­wood wan­ted to find a way from Advent­da­len to Van Mijen­fjord in the south. Due to a lack of geo­gra­phic infor­ma­ti­on (this lack of know­ledge was their rea­son to get out in the first place, obvious­ly), they star­ted on a rou­te that appears rather absurd today. The who­le thing ended up as an impres­si­ve for­ced march until they had found what they were loo­king for and made it back to their camp in Advent­da­len.

Tverrdalen, Conway

Con­way and Gar­wood fol­lo­wed this val­ley in 1896 to the end, whe­re we can see Reinda­len. Hence, they had found a rou­te from Advent­da­len to Van Mijen­fjord.

We didn’t do a for­ced march of 40 kilo­me­tres, but nevertheless, Bol­terda­len has all the plea­su­res of arc­tic ter­rain that one needs for a day of fun: wet tun­dra for kilo­me­tres on end, river cros­sings and wide, rocky morai­ne land­s­cape. That’s the Arc­tic!

The reward comes in shape of a lot of arc­tic natu­re, with a colour­ful flo­ra, curious rein­de­er – many of them with cal­ves – and petri­fied wood from the Ter­tia­ry.

After our hike, we got back into the car and dro­ve back to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Con­way, in con­trast, got back to his camp in pou­ring rain. One of his two ponies had run away from the­re and all the way back to Advent Point (today: Advent­pyn­ten, near the air­port). The poor bear was alrea­dy tired of the end­less snow bogs. One of Conway’s men had to walk all the way back to get the poor ani­mal. Sin­ce then, the val­ley has got its name: Bol­ter Val­ley, today Bol­terda­len.

Gal­le­ry – Bol­terda­len

Here a cou­p­le of impres­si­ons of our day in Bol­terda­len, actual­ly star­ting near Lon­gye­ar­by­en:

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Fare­well to Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni

Most days have been a bit grey and win­dy recent­ly, but full of joy and good expe­ri­ence out­doors, so time keeps fly­ing. After a long peri­od of absti­nence, for­ced upon me by the pan­de­mic, I enjoy being out­side and that’s defi­ni­te­ly the focus the­se days, rather than spen­ding time on the com­pu­ter. The­re would be more than enough to wri­te about, sto­ries and pic­tures from Spitsbergen’s stun­ning natu­re, so many beau­ti­ful impres­si­ons …

But that has to wait right now, we’ll get the­re later.

Things keep hap­pe­ning also up here in Spits­ber­gen, and it would be qui­te out of place to wri­te about being in the out­doors, with stun­ning sce­ne­ry, wild­life encoun­ters and inte­res­ting “dis­co­ve­ries” of phe­no­me­na such as fos­sils and others, without having writ­ten about cer­tain other events first.

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni left Spits­ber­gen invol­un­ta­ri­ly

Espe­cial­ly when it is about someo­ne who had to lea­ve the island after more than 10 years (13, to be more pre­cise). Someo­ne who didn’t have plans to lea­ve.

The power of the Sys­sel­mes­ter, the Nor­we­gi­an government’s hig­hest repre­sen­ta­ti­ve in Sval­bard, inclu­des to expel someo­ne from the islands. This is some­thing that hap­pens rather rare­ly, for examp­le in cases of per­sons repe­tead­ly found to have used or even sold ille­gal drugs, some­thing con­si­de­red even more dan­ge­rous to a rela­tively young com­mu­ni­ty in the far north, with several mon­ths of polar night, than else­whe­re in the world.

Also tou­rists who arri­ved without any means to sup­port their stay in Spits­ber­gen have alrea­dy been sent back on the next flight. The aut­ho­ri­ties don’t want peop­le to sleep in the streets or to camp wild in or near Lon­gye­ar­by­en, some­thing that is a) for­bid­den and b) dan­ge­rous (polar bears).

So far, so under­stand­a­ble. But someo­ne who has lived here fo 13 years?

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni: 13 years of Spits­ber­gen, 13 years of “Ice­peop­le”

The Ame­ri­can Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni, per default a news­pa­per- and media per­son, had alrea­dy spent con­si­derable time in pla­ces inclu­ding Ant­arc­ti­ca when he came to Lon­gye­ar­by­en 13 years ago and star­ted publi­shing his free, Eng­lish news­pa­per and web­site “Ice­peop­le”, an alter­na­ti­ve media plat­form next to the local news­pa­per Sval­bard­pos­ten and lan­guage-wise cer­tain­ly more acces­si­ble to an inter­na­tio­nal public. Sin­ce then, Mark has been part of Longyearbyen’s inven­to­ry, sit­ting at a table in a cor­ner of Café Frue­ne and focus­sing on his com­pu­ter while live is busy around him, kee­ping his news­pa­per and web­site updated.

But eco­no­mi­c­al­ly, “Ice­peop­le” never beca­me a source of wealth (some­thing that its edi­tor and aut­hor had never pri­ma­ri­ly inten­ded): paper edi­ti­on (the “fishwrap­per”, as Mark hims­elf calls it) and the web­site are ful­ly acces­si­ble for free, and adver­ti­sing has never brought much busi­ness. The har­dest of several eco­no­mi­c­al blows that Mark had to suf­fer, howe­ver, was the Gam­le Sykeh­jem (“Old hos­pi­tal”) sto­ry. This is a long sto­ry in its­elf (click here read more about it). In short words: Mark was one of several who bought a flat in this house which then show­ed struc­tu­ral dama­ge due to mel­ting per­ma­frost, so it had to be evacua­ted on short noti­ce and tho­se who had bought a pro­per­ty the­re suf­fe­red more or less a full loss (some more than others, depen­ding on cir­cum­s­tan­ces). Other blows that Mark had to suf­fer affec­ted his health, inclu­ding fal­ling and get­ting hurt bad­ly in times of clear ice on the street in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. This all is well-known local gos­sip and Mark has never made a secret of it.

Eco­no­mi­c­al and health-wise down­hill deve­lo­p­ment

Final­ly all reser­ves were used up, and Marks eco­no­mi­c­al situa­ti­on in the nort­hern­most sett­le­ment (if we exclu­de Ny-Åle­sund, which does not have a nor­mal popu­la­ti­on) of the rich coun­try Nor­way reached a point whe­re he had incre­a­sing dif­fi­cul­ties to fund his dai­ly spen­dings. So it went on for a while. Many did this and that to help, and it went on, with bet­ter and more dif­fi­cult times.

It is one of the con­se­quen­ces of the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty that the­re is no net­work for social secu­ri­ty bey­ond what is pro­vi­ded by everybody’s home coun­tries. And as the Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties do not accept peop­le living in unsett­led situa­ti­on in Spits­ber­gen, they reser­ve the right to expel peop­le from Sval­bard who are not eco­no­mi­c­al­ly able to take care of them­sel­ves on a level accep­ted by the aut­ho­ri­ties.

New Sys­sel­mes­ter Lars Fau­se has a dif­fe­rent view­point on this who­le ques­ti­on than his pre­cur­sor, and he deci­ded to “take respon­si­bi­li­ty” as soon as he came into power recent­ly.

Mark hims­elf has told his view of this sto­ry in public a num­ber of times, inclu­ding Sval­bard­pos­ten, his own web­site Ice­peop­le and social media and in per­so­nal com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, also to this aut­hor. He empha­si­zes that he does not only under­stand and accept the Sysselmester’s decisi­on, but he also con­si­ders it to be the right decisi­on, in the light of the deve­lo­p­ment in recent years.

Back to Alas­ka

Mark left Spits­ber­gen last Wed­nes­day, hea­ded for June­au in Alas­ka, whe­re he wants to reco­ver health-wise and eco­no­mi­c­al­ly. Then, he wants to find hims­elf a place in Alaska’s media land­s­cape, pre­fer­a­b­ly with a focus on remo­te com­mu­nities.

Mark Sabbatini

Mark Sab­ba­ti­ni during his good­bye in Lon­gye­ar­by­en last Wed­nes­day. Pho­to: Ice­peop­le.

Mark wants to con­ti­nue with Ice­peop­le, so the page will be acti­ve and updated also in the future, sup­ply­ing an inter­na­tio­nal public with inte­rest in local mat­ters with all sorts of detail­ed infor­ma­ti­on, pre­sen­ted in Mark’s own way, often with a touch of humour and writ­ten in a style that may occa­sio­nal­ly be slight­ly chal­len­ging for non-nati­ve Eng­lish spea­kers.

By the way, Mark has con­tri­bu­t­ed with proofrea­ding to a num­ber of texts used in various publi­ca­ti­ons, print and online, by this aut­hor, inclu­ding shor­ter texts such as qui­te recent­ly in Sval­bardhyt­ter or lon­ger ones inclu­ding updates of the Eng­lish ver­si­on of the gui­de­book Spits­ber­gen-Sval­bard. Accord­ing to Mark, he will be hap­py to make simi­lar con­tri­bu­ti­ons also in the future, some­thing I’ll be hap­py to make use of (as a paid ser­vice, as befo­re)

If you want to read more about the cir­cum­s­tan­ces of Mark’s depar­tu­re, then you will find ple­nty of stuff on his own site, Ice­peop­le.

So long for now, Mark! See you again!

Adven­ture Oslo air­port. And: the ans­wer

The Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken mys­te­ry

To start with, the ans­wer to the ques­ti­on in the last blog. It was about this pho­to:

Svalbardbutikken, Longyearbyen

A cor­ner in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s refur­bis­hed super­mar­ket.
$64-ques­ti­on for Spits­ber­gen-nerds: what’s wrong here? 🙂

So, what is wrong? Obvious­ly, it wasn’t real­ly obvious 🙂 the pho­to on the wall is mir­ror-inver­ted. They say they will get a cor­rec­ted ver­si­on at some sta­ge.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port

Spen­ding a cou­p­le of hours in an air­port is pret­ty much the most boring thing that I can think of. why wri­te about it? Becau­se it can go wrong if you expect it to work as nor­mal.

Test or no test, that is the ques­ti­on

The ques­ti­on keeps com­ing up wether or not coro­na tes­ting is requi­red on a trip to Spits­ber­gen. The cur­rent situa­ti­on is that immu­nis­ed tra­vel­lers (ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or recent­ly reco­ve­r­ed, docu­men­ted with an ack­now­led­ged docu­ment such as a digi­tal Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te) do not have to show a cer­ti­fi­ca­te for a nega­ti­ve test upon ent­e­ring Nor­way or che­cking in on a flight to Spits­ber­gen. That may chan­ge at any time, as ever­ything the­se days; aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the Sys­sel­mes­ter have alrea­dy deman­ded to re-intro­du­ce the test obli­ga­ti­on.

In my expe­ri­ence, it is an incre­a­sing risk that you can’t necessa­ri­ly rely on gover­nemt decisi­ons espe­cial­ly when things are chan­ging more or less every week. Then it’s wha­te­ver the air­port offi­cial you are dealing with thinks. What use is in being right if you don’t get any fur­ther with is? An non-Coro­na-examp­le: legal­ly, as a EU citi­zen you don’t need a pass­port to tra­vel from Nor­way to Spits­ber­gen, an ID card will do. But at the air­port they demand a pass­port from non-Nor­we­gi­ans. Addi­tio­nal­ly, machi­nes like auto­ma­tic check-in machi­nes or auto­ma­ted pass­port con­trol machi­nes can only read pass­ports and not ID cards, so you are well advi­sed to bring your pass­port any­way.

Digital EU-vaccination certificate, Oslo Gardermoen

Digi­tal EU-vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te: makes the pro­cess more effi­ci­ent in Oslo Gar­der­mo­en.
But not necessa­ri­ly effi­ci­ent.

So, back to the initi­al ques­ti­on: cur­r­ent­ly, tes­ting is not requi­red under the abo­ve-men­tio­ned con­di­ti­ons. But it may still be a good idea to have enought time to get one, just in case. The­re are tes­ting faci­li­ties at Oslo Gar­der­mo­en air­port, but you may need a cou­p­le of hours until you get the cer­ti­fi­ca­te, depen­ding on traf­fic. And, accord­ing to Sval­bard­pos­ten, the coro­na test sta­ti­on at Trom­sø air­port accepts only tra­vel­lers com­ing in from inter­na­tio­nal flights, but not out­go­ing ones desti­ned for Sval­bard. Tho­se have to use equi­va­lent ser­vices in Trom­sø cent­re. Next to the extra time, expect cos­ts of 1500 kro­ner (plus trans­por­ta­ti­on) unless you are a regis­tered resi­dent in Spits­ber­gen, then it is free.

Adven­ture Oslo air­port: tra­vel infor­ma­ti­on

The usu­al two hours from arri­val at Oslo Gar­der­mo­en air­port until depar­tu­re may be enough when it’s ear­ly in the morning. Or may­be not. It is bizar­re how rapidly the queu­es are get­ting lon­ger and lon­ger until they reach ama­zing dimen­si­ons. Last wee­kend, one could get the impres­si­on that they are dis­cus­sing tes­ting requi­re­ments in detail with every sin­gle pas­sen­ger befo­re you could con­ti­nue to the actu­al check-in area. For us, with desti­na­ti­on Lon­gye­ar­by­en and ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted, it was a very short con­ver­sa­ti­on – “have a good trip” was the only com­ment as soon as we had pro­vi­ded our infor­ma­ti­on. But get­ting that far is the point, and it takes much, much lon­ger for many other flight pas­sen­gers, and you may have hund­reds in the queue ahead of you. From then on, the pro­cess was actual­ly rea­son­ab­ly effi­ci­ent (secu­ri­ty check, pass­port con­trol). Luck­i­ly.

Oslo Gardermoen Airport

An empty air­port Oslo Gar­der­mo­en: that’s histo­ry!

Accord­ing to Nor­we­gi­an media, tra­vel­lers have recent­ly spent up to 8 hours queu­ing up in the air­port of Oslo Gar­der­mo­en, mis­sing their flights and ever­ything that comes with that (for­get about social distancing!). In the inte­rest of all tra­vel­lers, we can only hope that they impro­ve the logistics signi­fi­cant­ly soo­nest. Any­way, if you plan to tra­vel through Oslo at any time soon, make sure to have extra time.

And make sure to have even more time if you are not ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted or don’t have an accep­ted docu­ment for this.

Final­ly … Spits­ber­gen!

Final­ly – Spits­ber­gen! That has been a long, long dry spell … but now we are back in Lon­gye­ar­by­en, keen and full of ide­as and plans. Let’s see what the next weeks and mon­ths will bring.

If you want to fly any­whe­re from Oslo, make sure you have got enought time in Oslo Gar­der­mo­en. The queu­es can real­ly be very long, and it is not a very effi­ci­ent pro­cess.

And you should also plan some extra time when you go into Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s super­mar­ket. It is kind of twice the size it used to be. But not ever­ything is per­fect (yet) …

Svalbardbutikken, Longyearbyen

A cor­ner in Sval­bard­bu­tik­ken, Longyearbyen’s refur­bis­hed super­mar­ket.
$64-ques­ti­on for Spits­ber­gen-nerds: what’s wrong here? 🙂

Some first litt­le impres­si­ons from Oslo and Lon­gye­ar­by­en:

Final­ly – Spits­ber­gen! Ein paar ers­te, klei­ne Ein­drü­cke, Lon­gye­ar­by­en und nähe­re Umge­bung

Click on thumb­nail to open an enlar­ged ver­si­on of the spe­ci­fic pho­to.

Van Mijen­fjord: new natio­nal park

It has been a long pro­cess, hence it did not come as a sur­pri­se when the new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park was estab­lis­hed by law on 18 June. The new natio­nal park inclu­des the nort­hern part of Van Keu­len­fjord and adjoins the South Spits­ber­gen Natio­nal­park. As a result, the who­le sou­thern part of the main island of Spits­ber­gen from sou­thern Nor­dens­kiöld Land (the land area bet­ween Isfjord and Van Mijen­fjord) is now pro­tec­ted on natio­nal park level.

national park

Inner Van Mijen­fjord in late May: now a natio­nal park.

Suc­ces­sor of the Nor­dens­kiöld Land natio­nal park

The Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park is the ampli­fied suc­ces­sor of Nor­dens­kiöld Land natio­nal park which was estab­lis­hed in 2003, but restric­ted to a land area on the north side of Van Mijen­fjord. The­re have been chan­ges sin­ce 2003 that have made the adjus­t­ment necessa­ry, inclu­ding the lar­ge clean-up of the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va. Ano­t­her aspect that nee­ded pro­per regu­la­ti­on were the regu­lar requests by the Sys­sel­man­nen (now Sys­sel­mes­ter) who asked the public to stay clear of cer­tain sen­si­ti­ve are­as during the late spring and eary sum­mer, but without a pre­cise defi­ni­ti­on of the area and time inter­val in ques­ti­on and the legal bin­ding­ness, lea­ving room for doubt for tho­se who were ope­ra­ting in the area. This is now regu­la­ted bey­ond any grey zone poten­ti­al. Yet ano­t­her aspect is moto­ri­sed traf­fic (snow mobi­les) on fjord ice. Also here, the Sys­sel­man­nen has spo­ken out bans on such traf­fic on a regu­lar basis. Inclu­ding the­se bans which were spo­ken out on an annu­al basis in a per­ma­nent law makes it easier to know what one has to deal with. The details of some of the­se regu­la­ti­ons are of cour­se at least in part con­tro­ver­si­al; the government has cho­sen a very exten­si­ve and strict approach to the ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic, some­thing that not all local tour enthu­si­asts in Lon­gye­ar­by­en are hap­py with as the oppor­tu­nities to visit the south part of the main island are now stron­gly restric­ted. It is defi­ni­te­ly important to some peop­le, but their num­ber is actual­ly limi­ted as even in Lon­gye­ar­by­en the­re are not too many peop­le adven­tur­ous (and inte­res­ted) enough to ven­ture on long trips into the­se are­as, far from the com­mon rou­tes. The­re were no snow mobi­le rou­tes of rele­van­ce for tou­rists in the area in ques­ti­on.

Three new bird sanc­tua­ries, snow mobi­le traf­fic stron­gly restric­ted

Van Mijenfjord national park

The new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park (green bounda­ry). Yel­low dots: new bird sanc­tua­ries. Red area: moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice restric­ted (see text). Shaded area: total ban on moto­ri­sed traf­fic on fjord ice.
Map © Nor­we­gi­an Polar Insti­tu­te / Sys­sel­mes­ter på Sval­bard, modi­fied.

Gene­ral­ly, the new Van Mijen­fjord natio­nal park law inclu­des the same regu­la­ti­ons that app­ly to all natio­nal parks. Bey­ond the­se, fol­lowing rules of prac­ti­cal impor­t­ance for locals and tou­rists inclu­de the fol­lowing:

  • Mid­ter­hu­ken, Ehol­men and Maria­hol­men are now bird sanc­tua­ries and it is for­bid­den to approach the­se are­as or to move wit­hin them from 15 May to 15 August. Click here to access a map that shows the exact loca­ti­ons of the­se new bird sanc­tua­ries.
  • Snow mobi­les and other moto­ri­sed traf­fic on the fjord ice of Van Mijen­fjord and Van Keu­len­fjord are now lar­ge­ly restric­ted every sea­son from 01 March. Only regis­tered locals are allo­wed to cross the fjord ice of parts of Van Mijen­fjord on the shor­test safe rou­te, while other are­as are now com­ple­te­ly off limits for this kind of traf­fic from 01 March. Click here to access a map that shows the are­as in detail. Non-moto­ri­sed traf­fic (ski, dog sledge) remains legal­ly pos­si­ble wit­hin the usu­al legal frame­work.
  • The core area o the for­mer mining sett­le­ment of Sveagru­va is exclu­ded from the natio­nal park. Here, exten­si­ve clean-up works will con­ti­nue for ano­t­her while until most of the sett­le­ment is remo­ved.

Nor­we­gi­an government plans to denu­de non-Nor­we­gi­an inha­bi­tants of Lon­gye­ar­by­en of their right to vote

This is a remar­kab­le pro­ce­du­re wit­hin a frame of poli­tics that may on occa­si­ons well be descri­bed as natio­na­listic: The Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of jus­ti­ce has pro­po­sed to remo­ve the right to vote or to be elec­ted from non-Nor­we­gi­an citi­zens in Lon­gye­ar­by­en unless they have lived at least three years in main­land Nor­way.

The back­ground: Local demo­cra­cy in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

A few words about the back­ground: Spits­ber­gen is, in accordance with the Spits­ber­gen Trea­ty, not orga­nis­ed in a demo­cra­tic way. The Sys­sel­man­nen is not elec­ted but appoin­ted by the government. On a com­mu­ni­ty level, all of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments were foun­ded by mining com­pa­nies and run by the­se com­pa­nies as com­pa­ny towns for most or all of their histo­ry. The intro­duc­tion of demo­cra­tic ele­ments has been dis­cus­sed on a num­ber of occa­si­ons in the 20th cen­tu­ry, but took shape not befo­re the 1990s and a town coun­cil (Lon­gye­ar­by­en Lokals­ty­re, LL) was estab­lis­hed in 2002. Only Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a coun­cil, the other sett­le­ments in Spits­ber­gen are still orga­nis­ed as com­pa­ny towns without a demo­cra­tic struc­tu­re.

Lon­gye­ar­by­en Loka­lyst­re, led by a mayor (here: lokals­ty­re­le­der), is so far elec­ted local­ly by all inha­bi­tants who have been regis­tered for a cer­tain mini­mum peri­od regard­less of their natio­na­li­ty. This is what the government in Oslo wants to chan­ge.

Near 3000 peop­le are regis­tered inha­bi­tants of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments, with a majo­ri­ty near 2500 in Lon­gye­ar­by­en. Of the total num­ber, more than 900 have a natio­na­li­ty other than Nor­we­gi­an. A lar­ge pro­por­ti­on of Longyearbyen’s popu­la­ti­on is thus of other than Nor­we­gi­an natio­na­li­ty. Natio­na­li­ties in Lon­gye­ar­by­en inclu­de Thai peop­le, Swe­des and Danes, Rus­si­an, Ger­mans, UK and US citi­zens and many others.

Right to vote and to be elec­ted to be remo­ved from non-Nor­we­gi­ans

A recent pro­po­sal from the Nor­we­gi­an minis­try of jus­ti­ce sug­gests to remo­ve the right to vote and to be elec­ted to be remo­ved from non-Nor­we­gi­ans unless they have been regis­tered in a Nor­we­gi­an main­land com­mu­ni­ty for at least three years, a con­di­ti­on met by very few of the many hund­red “for­eig­ners” living in Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Longyearbyen

Lon­gye­ar­by­en is a com­mu­ni­ty with a very inter­na­tio­nal popu­la­ti­on, but soon pos­si­b­ly with a much redu­ced level of demo­cra­cy.

The back­ground lies wit­hin gene­ral Nor­we­gi­an Sval­bard poli­tics, which aim at deve­lo­ping Lon­gye­ar­by­en as a Nor­we­gi­an com­mu­ni­ty. This does not necessa­ri­ly mean an ent­i­re­ly Nor­we­gi­an popu­la­ti­on, as is also high­ligh­ted by under­se­creta­ry of sta­te Lars Jacob Hiim of the minis­try of jus­ti­ce in this con­text. Accord­ing to Hiim, the pro­po­sal in ques­ti­on does not aim at chan­ging Longyearbyen’s popu­la­ti­on struc­tu­re, but is to ensu­re amongst others that voters and their elec­ted repre­sen­ta­ti­ves have know­ledge about “aims and frame con­di­ti­ons of (Nor­we­gi­an) Sval­bard poli­tics”.

Local rejec­tion

Mayor Arild Olsen decla­red hims­elf ful­ly taken by sur­pri­se by this pro­po­sal, as Olsen told Sval­bard­pos­ten. Neit­her he nor the local coun­cil had been invol­ved or infor­med befo­re the recent publi­ca­ti­on of the pro­po­sal, which Olsen stron­gly rejects.

Com­ment

Local­ly, the pro­po­sal is recec­ted not only by Olsen, but also by many others. Some of tho­se who are con­cer­ned are appal­led: denu­ding peop­le who have lived in their com­mu­ni­ty for years, some­ti­mes for many years, of the right to vote or to be elec­ted feels com­ple­te­ly out of place and poli­ti­cal­ly-demo­cra­ti­cal­ly rather unap­pe­ti­sing espe­cial­ly in the con­text of a demo­cra­tic coun­try in the 21st cen­tu­ry, let alo­ne in a coun­try like Nor­way which is usual­ly con­si­de­red to be a very modern and open socie­ty, often lea­ding the demo­cra­tic path for many other coun­tries in the world. The cur­rent pro­po­sal has a very natio­na­listic fla­vour and is some­thing one would rather expect, for examp­le, from cer­tain east Euro­pean coun­tries who have cho­sen a rather down­ward-lea­ding path in their demo­cra­tic deve­lo­p­ment.

New wea­pon regu­la­ti­ons

Whe­re­as most peop­le in more cen­tral parts of Euro­pe hard­ly have anything to do with fire­arms in their dai­ly life, things are dif­fe­rent in polar bear coun­try and with 5000 arms for near 2500 peop­le, Lon­gye­ar­by­en has a wea­pon den­si­ty that is pro­bab­ly not far away from Texan stan­dards. It is actual­ly not direct­ly requi­red by law to car­ry a rif­le when lea­ving the sett­le­ments as it is often ven­ti­la­ted by poor­ly infor­med media (or gui­des, unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly – click here for more about some com­mon­ly told arc­tic bull­shit sto­ries), but it is com­mon prac­ti­ce and it is gene­ral­ly stron­gly advi­sed to be pro­per­ly equip­ped when ven­tu­ring out into polar bear coun­try.

Com­mer­cial wea­pon ren­tal in Lon­gye­ar­by­en

Sci­en­tists, indi­vi­du­al tou­rists and others who need, can rent wea­pons in Lon­gye­ar­by­en from aut­ho­ri­sed wea­pon dea­lers, of which the­re are two. The­re was the time when some kind of ID was enough to get a hea­vy-calibre fire­arm; but this has been histo­ry for years now: to rent a wea­pon from a com­mer­cial sup­plier, you need to have papers that you are legal­ly enti­t­led to have a wea­pon of the rele­vant kind or of a hig­her class, for examp­le a Euro­pean fire­arms pass or a hun­ting licen­se. If you do not have any of the­se or equi­va­lent, you can app­ly for per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen.

Bor­ro­wing wea­pons from per­sons or com­pa­nies

Until recent­ly it was, howe­ver, easy to bor­row a wea­pon from a pri­va­te per­son or, as an employee, from a com­pa­ny. The owner of the wea­pon “just” had to make sure that the bor­rower had the pro­per skills and know­ledge and was cha­rac­ter-wise able to have con­trol over such a poten­ti­al­ly let­hal wea­pon. A simp­le form had to com­ple­ted by the owner to pro­vi­de evi­dence for legal bor­ro­wing for up to 4 weeks. But this is now histo­ry.

New Nor­we­gi­an wea­pon law from 01 June

A new wea­pon law came into for­ce in Nor­way inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen on 01 June, repla­cing the pre­vious one which was from 1961. One key chan­ge is this: The respon­si­bi­li­ty to check the borrower’s appro­pria­teness to be given a wea­pon is not the owner’s any­mo­re but now lies with appro­pria­te aut­ho­ri­ties. That is the poli­ce in main­land Nor­way and the Sys­sel­man­nen (new desi­gna­ti­on from July: Sys­sel­mes­ter) in Spits­ber­gen (Sval­bard), who pro­vi­des fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on on their offi­cial web­site.

This con­di­ti­on is con­si­de­red met when the bor­rower can pro­vi­de papers that enti­t­le him or her to own a wea­pon of the kind in ques­ti­on or a hig­her-clas­sed one (yes, the­re was a simi­lar sen­tence hig­her up on this page alrea­dy). This can, for examp­le, be a Nor­we­gi­an wea­pon card or a Euro­pean fire­arm pass. The owner is obli­ga­ted to check this befo­re han­ding a wea­pon to the bor­rower. This is valid both for bor­ro­wing wea­pons bet­ween pri­va­te per­sons, for examp­le bet­ween mem­bers of one fami­ly – a com­mon prac­ti­ce in Lon­gye­ar­by­en – and wit­hin com­pa­nies, for examp­le tour ope­ra­tors who sup­ply their gui­des with rif­les, also a very com­mon prac­ti­ce in Spits­ber­gen.

Rifle, Spitsbergen

Out and on tour in Spits­ber­gen: a rif­le is usual­ly not far away.

App­ly­ing for bor­ro­wing a wea­pon

If the bor­rower does not have pro­per cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on, then the only way to legal­ly bor­row a wea­pon is app­ly­ing for per­mis­si­on from the Sys­sel­man­nen, who will check the applicant’s gene­ral appro­pria­teness (cer­ti­fi­ca­te of good con­duct) and the rele­vant skills and know­ledge (“til­strek­ke­lig våpen­d­ugleik”) to hand­le a wea­pon. Accord­ing to the Sys­sel­man­nen, this can be done by pro­vi­ding evi­dence for having done mili­ta­ry ser­vice, acti­ve mem­bers­hip in a shoo­ting club or a safe­ty cour­se that inclu­des wea­pon hand­ling such as, for examp­le, the cour­ses usual­ly pro­vi­ded by UNIS in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to their stu­dents and employees. The app­li­ca­ti­on cos­ts 248 kro­ner (near 25 Euro). Click here to access an app­li­ca­ti­on form, app­li­ca­ti­ons by email are not accep­ted.

That’s the theo­ry. In prac­ti­ce, ques­ti­ons remain open: do offi­cial docu­ments such as a cer­ti­fi­ca­te of good con­duct need (appro­ved) trans­la­ti­on and which docu­ments exact­ly are accep­ted or not. I have sent a ques­ti­on cata­lo­gue to the Sys­sel­man­nen and pro­vi­de updates here as more infor­ma­ti­on beco­mes avail­ab­le.

Bor­ro­wing ver­sus ren­ting

Com­mer­cial wea­pon ren­tal (Nor­we­gi­an: utleie) is for­bid­den for pri­va­te per­sons and most com­pa­nies. Only aut­ho­ri­sed wea­pon dea­lers may offer wea­pons for ren­tal on a com­mer­cial basis.

Deter­rents remain com­pul­so­ry

All this does not touch the legal requi­re­ment to car­ry an appro­pria­te deter­rent such as a signal pis­tol becau­se polar bears are strict­ly pro­tec­ted and may not just be shot. Ever­ything must be done to avoid dan­ge­rous encoun­ters or, if it hap­pens any­way, to avoid shoo­ting a polar bear as long as human life is safe. Pep­per spray is, howe­ver, not legal­ly avail­ab­le in Nor­way inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen. In cer­tain situa­tions, for examp­le from the rela­ti­ve safe­ty of a hut or even a tent, pep­per spray could be hel­pful to sca­re a polar bear away effi­ci­ent­ly and for good, thus poten­ti­al­ly avoiding a situa­ti­on whe­re a bear might be shot.

Nor­we­gi­an regu­la­ti­ons for inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­ling to chan­ge soon

A cou­p­le of inte­res­ting press relea­ses saw the light of day in Oslo last Fri­day (18 June), inclu­ding infor­ma­ti­on about tou­rism and ship-based tou­rism (crui­ses and coas­tal crui­ses) in Nor­way inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen.

News from Nor­way about inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­ling

The­re is ano­t­her press release con­cer­ning inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­ling. Non-Nor­we­gi­ans may initi­al­ly get the impres­si­on that the release is not too exci­ting, but the­re is some good stuff hid­den in the beau­ro­cra­tic wor­d­ing of the release, espe­cial­ly near the end. It starts on a lower level of exci­te­ment: the colours of the FHI chart, which is important infor­ma­ti­on for Euro­pean tra­vel­lers, are now matching Euro­pean colours again. Which is nice for ever­y­bo­dy who pre­fers green abo­ve yel­low, but it doesn’t chan­ge much. The latest FHI map, updated today (21 June), shows only two Euro­pean coun­tries out­side Scan­di­na­via in green, name­ly Poland and Roma­nia.

Nor­way will lift tra­vel warnings for Euro­pe (Schen­gen trea­ty coun­tries), the UK and and a ran­ge of other coun­tries from 05 July, sub­ject to future warnings that may be issued at any time as nee­ded. But this is rele­vant for Norw­gi­ans who want to tra­vel abroad rather than non-Nor­we­gi­ans who want to tra­vel to Nor­way. Also fami­ly visits will be easier: so far limi­ted to first-gra­de rela­ti­ves, the list of per­sons who may visit fami­ly in Nor­way is now get­ting lon­ger, inclu­ding for examp­le grand­par­ents. That is gre­at for ever­y­bo­dy con­cer­ned, but not a game chan­ger for peop­le wis­hing to tra­vel to Nor­way in gene­ral.

EU vaccination certificate, Spitsbergen under sail 2021 and corona

Nor­way joins the Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te sys­tem, which may make it signi­fi­cant­ly easier to get some fresh arc­tic wind around the nose this sum­mer for tho­se who have plans.

Coro­na infec­tion values will be “har­mo­nis­ed with Euro­pe”

Fur­ther down in the press release in ques­ti­on, a har­mo­ni­sa­ti­on of infec­tion thres­holds that coun­tries need to stay under in order to tra­vel to Nor­way without qua­ran­ti­ne is men­tio­ned. This may initi­al­ly not sound too exci­ting, but it means that the thres­hold will be lifted from 25 infec­tions per 100,000 peop­le wit­hin 14 days to 50, some­thing that may be an important chan­ge, as the old thres­hold of 25 is easy to miss even for coun­tries with a good deve­lo­p­ment, while 50 gives some more room for smal­ler out­breaks to not ruin ever­yo­dies tra­vel plans. This chan­ge will enter for­ce on 05 July.

Nor­way joins Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te sys­tem

And the­re is yet ano­t­her important update: from 24 June, Euro­pean tra­vel­lers can use the Euro­pean digi­tal vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te to docu­ment their vac­ci­na­ti­ons or pre­vious infec­tions, and ful­ly immu­nis­ed tra­vel­lers will be able to enter Nor­way regard­less of the sta­tus of the coun­try whe­re they have stay­ed befo­re ent­e­ring Nor­way. This may inde­ed chan­ge things for many peop­le.

Sta­ge 3 of Nor­we­gi­an ope­ning plan comes on Sunday, inclu­ding rele­vant updates for Spits­ber­gen tou­rism

Sta­ge 3 of the Nor­we­gi­an plan to lead the coun­try back to nor­mal life will come on Sunday, as the Nor­we­gi­an government has announ­ced in a press release. This first press release inclu­des steps for the coun­try back towards nor­mal life and eco­no­my.

Two Oslo press relea­ses

The­re is a second offi­cial press release, which is important for Spits­ber­gen tou­rism, inclu­ding ship-based tra­vel­ling. So far, a ban is in for­ce that makes crui­sing over several days lar­ge­ly impos­si­ble. This will chan­ge on Sunday (20 June), but this comes with qui­te a bit of small print and the gene­ral deve­lo­p­ment of the coro­na pan­de­mic will con­ti­nue to govern life in gene­ral and tou­rism in par­ti­cu­lar. This lea­ves a num­ber of ques­ti­on­marks, but the pos­si­bi­li­ty of some Spits­ber­gen trips later this sea­son is, at least, not com­ple­te­ly unrea­listic.

Spitsbergen under sail in 2021 and corona

Nor­way makes steps to nor­mal life and re-opens the pos­si­bi­li­ty for crui­ses. It remains to be seen if “Spits­ber­gen under sail” will be pos­si­ble in 2021.

Gene­ral restric­tions on inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­ling remain in for­ce

For inter­na­tio­nal tou­rists, it is important to noti­ce that the strict ent­ry restric­tions remain in for­ce until fur­ther noti­ce. Non-Nor­we­gi­an tou­rists may enter the coun­try only if they come from “yel­low coun­tries” on the FHI-map. Cur­r­ent­ly, most of Euro­pe is red, and who can tell what the sum­mer will bring con­si­de­ring the del­ta mutant of the coro­na virus that is con­nec­ted to incre­a­sing infec­tion figu­res in the UK? It is uncer­tain when Nor­way will per­mit at least ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted tou­rists from “red coun­tries” to enter Nor­way again.

Cur­r­ent­ly, Nor­way only accepts vac­ci­na­ti­ons regis­tered in Nor­way. This inclu­des obvious­ly vac­ci­na­ti­ons given in Nor­way; vac­ci­na­ti­ons given in other coun­tries can, as of now, only be regis­tered in Nor­way by per­sons who are regis­tered in the coun­try with a per­so­nal num­ber (“fød­sels­num­mer” or “D-num­mer”). The digi­tal Euro­pean vac­ci­na­ti­on cer­ti­fi­ca­te may (or may not) faci­li­ta­te this also for others, but that remains to be seen – as so much the­se days.

It is, howe­ver, clear that Nor­way will only accept vac­ci­na­ti­ons that are licen­sed by EMA (Euro­pean Medi­ci­nes Agen­cy) for use in Euro­pe. Other vac­ci­na­ti­ons such as Sput­nik-V or Sino­vac will cur­r­ent­ly not give tra­vel­lers any advan­ta­ges (other than the actu­al pro­tec­tion against infec­tion and dise­a­se, of cour­se!).

No tes­ting requi­re­ment befo­re flight to Lon­gye­ar­by­en for vac­ci­na­ted tra­vel­lers

Ful­ly vac­ci­na­ted / reco­ve­r­ed tra­vel­lers (“ful­ly pro­tec­ted”) tra­vel­lers do not need to test any­mo­re befo­re fly­ing from main­land Nor­way to Lon­gye­ar­by­en. That is good news for the local tou­rism indus­try, whe­re many hope that Nor­we­gi­ans will spend their sum­mer holi­days in Spits­ber­gen, whe­re 83,5 % of the adult popu­la­ti­on (18 and older) are now vac­ci­na­ted. But tes­ting requi­re­ments for inter­na­tio­nal tra­vel­lers upon ent­e­ring the coun­try is ano­t­her thing.

New rules for Spits­ber­gen-tou­rism

The fol­lowing rules will app­ly from Sunday for tou­rism and crui­sing in Spits­ber­gen:

  • Tour ope­ra­tors will need to ope­ra­te accord­ing to safe hygie­ne stan­dards accord­ing to the same rules as on the main­land (no spe­cial rules any­mo­re).
  • Hotels may use up to 90 % of their capa­ci­ty and keep the remai­ning 10 % to accom­mo­da­te tra­vel­lers who need to qua­ran­ti­ne.
  • Char­ter flights from Nor­way to Lon­gye­ar­by­en are allo­wed again, but not from other coun­tries.
  • Ships that ope­ra­te in Spits­ber­gen need to pro­vi­de a dise­a­se pro­tec­tion plan that is accep­ted by the Sys­sel­mann. Ships will not be able to use their full capa­ci­ty, but 90 % or less depen­ding on the pro­tec­tion sta­tus of all peop­le on board.
  • If the­re are peop­le on board who are not ful­ly immu­nis­ed, then the num­ber of peop­le on board is limi­ted to 200 and the­re is a requi­re­ment to do tests befo­re depar­tu­re. This is valid for Nor­way and for Spits­ber­gen.
  • If ever­y­bo­dy on board is ful­ly immu­nis­ed, then the­re may be up to 2000 peop­le on board (yes, two thousand!). But in any case, only up to 90 % of the capa­ci­ty may be used, or less, depen­ding on the indi­vi­du­al case.
  • In case of a coro­na infec­tion or a sus­pi­ci­on, ships need to return to the main­land or their home port, rather than to Lon­gye­ar­by­en whe­re health ser­vice capa­ci­ties are very limi­ted.
  • In case of a coro­na infec­tion or a sus­pi­ci­on, ever­y­bo­dy needs to stay on board until per­mis­si­on to lea­ve the ship is given by rele­vant aut­ho­ri­ties.
  • Crui­se ships with an inter­na­tio­nal iti­nera­ry need to com­ply to the requi­re­ments to qua­ran­ti­ne accord­ing to the FHI-map as soon as the­re is anyo­ne on board who needs to qua­ran­ti­ne.

Com­ment

So the­re is now final­ly infor­ma­ti­on for tou­rism and ship-based tra­vel­ling in Spits­ber­gen, some­thing we have been wai­t­ing for for qui­te a while now as the sea­son would nor­mal­ly have star­ted weeks ago alrea­dy. Many ship owners and tour ope­ra­tors have can­cel­led their arc­tic sum­mer sea­son alrea­dy a while ago. For tho­se who still have trips in their sche­du­les, it remains to be seen what will actual­ly be pos­si­ble.

A lot will obvious­ly depend on the deve­lo­p­ment of the pan­de­mic. If you want to tra­vel to Nor­way inclu­ding Spits­ber­gen, then you’d bet­ter come from a “yel­low” coun­try and make sure it remains yel­low until you have left.

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News-Listing live generated at 2021/September/18 at 01:52:52 Uhr (GMT+1)
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