Western business has withdrawn from Murmansk in recent years. A few years ago, some 60 Norwegian companies were represented in Murmansk city, today most of them have left.
Murmansk oblast is also hard hit by Covid-19. The oblast is home to some 750,000 people, and last summer there were more cases of Covid-19 there than in all of Norway. Today, infection figures are on the rise again.
High North News has spoken with Eivind Dalvang, Director of Park Inn Radisson Hotel in Murmansk city in order to find out how business in Murmansk is affected by Covid-19 and shut borders.
Dalvang is one out of very few westerners who remain in the city, and he says 2020 has been a very challenging year for the hotel.
“Soon there will be just one Norwegian left in Murmansk, and that is the person you are talking with now! I must admit that living here during these times is somewhat demanding. The opportunities for moving around are limited, and I do not want to expose myself to infection risk more than I have to, as I would rather not be ill with Covid-19 in Russia.”
Arctic oil workers
“2020 started out very hard. In February, March and April we had to furlough some of the staff due to the pandemic. Then we started receiving oil workers who are going to various oil platforms around the Russian Arctic. In the months of June through October, we have been jam packed.”
“However, the oil industry goes on a break in November due to the Arctic winter and sadly, the hotel will be empty again soon. What will happen during the next six months is very unpredictable”, he says.
In the months of June through October, we have been jam packed.
Which countries do the oil workers come from?
“Most of them are Russian and Chinese. They come on chartered planes directly to Murmansk. They look like space cadets when they arrive, go straight to their rooms, and have to wait there for 14 days before being permitted to travel to the oil installations. The authorities are very afraid of spreading infection on these platforms. Fortunately, we have not had any cases of infection at the hotel yet.”
“Economically, this has been good for us in the midst of all this misery. It helped us a lot, in particular now that we will miss the main season with Asian northern lights tourists. We were fully booked from now through November, but all that is gone now.”
How has the shut border to Norway affected you?
“It has not really affected us much. The restrictions and sanctions that were introduced following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 led to a shutting down of almost all activity from the Norwegian side. So there has not been much traffic from Norway for the past six years.
How do Russian authorities manage the Corona situation?
“The authorities here are not as transparent as in Norway. Initially, they did not take this too seriously; however, with time they realized the gravity of the situation and shut down restaurants, bars and night clubs. Now, wearing face masks is mandatory and they recommend social distancing. So, they have introduced a similar regime to that in Norway.
What are your thoughts for 2021; are you an optimist or a pessimist?
“I am afraid this will take time. Now, Russia says it has a vaccine, however, I am afraid we will have to live with it here too, like in Norway, for yet another while. But it is hard for a lay person to say anything about it.”
“The biggest challenge is that we cannot meet like we used to”
High North News also spoke with Astrid Nærum, recently appointed General Consul at the Norwegian Consulate-General in Murmansk.
She says the diplomatic work with Russian authorities goes well, despite Covid-19.
“At present, infection rates are high both in Murmansk city and in Murmansk oblast. This affects our work, given that the border to Norway is shut. There aren’t any delegations crossing the border now. Usually we receive cultural visitors, business visitors and political visitors. All this has now transitioned into digital platforms.
What is the biggest challenge for you at the consulate?
“The biggest challenge is that we cannot meet like we used to. Having digital meetings with people you know works fairly well. But digitally establishing new contacts and new acquaintances is a bit trickier. Other than that, diplomatic cooperation here up north goes well. If it weren’t for Covid-19, we would not have that many challenges up here.”
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.