Svalbard Prepares for Corona Outbreak, Builds Up Food Storage for a Crisis

Longyearbyen, Svalbard
Longyearbyen, Svalbard in September 2018. Photo: Brett Davis

Between one and five persons are currently quarantined on Svalbard, according to Section Chief Bente Brataas at Longyearbyen hospital.

Svalbardposten reported this on Wednesday.

“We have not tested many people, but those who we have tested, are in home quarantine. It may take up to three days before we receive answers to the tests”, Brataas says to Svalbardposten.

Preparing for an outbreak

Ronny Strømnes is manager of the island’s only convenience shop, Svalbardbutikken [the Svalbard Shop]. They are well underway in building up a crisis storage of food with long shelf life. They do this to prepare it there were to be problems with shipping goods to the islands.

“We are piling up storage of dried meats and canned milk, and nor will we run out of goods like coffee and toilet paper”, Strømnes says to the E24 news site.

He also says to E24 that he worries about the tourist season. Stopping travels to Svalbard to prevent spreading of infection is not an issue, however, they are preparing for a worst-case scenario regardless of that: the event of the archipelago becoming isolated.

Ronny Strømnes, Visit Svalbard
Ronny Strømnes og resten av Svalbardsamfunnet forbereder seg på mulig coronautbrudd. (Foto: Hilde Kristin Røsvik/Svalbardposten)
Ronny Strømnes and the rest of the Svalbard society prepares for a potential corona outbreak. Photo: Hilde Kristin Røsvik/Svalbardposten

“It is no longer a question about whether or not the corona virus will spread to Svalbard, but rather a question about when. We take that seriously, and we take every precaution”, he says.

“We are a small and vulnerable community with 2,300 residents. We have made plans for how to run society here if the virus gets here, such as how to ensure continual supply of energy and goods. We are obviously not equipped for 30-40 people to be hospitalized”, Strømnes says. He says they are also making plans for how to prevent infection to get to the island via boats and planes.

May be layoffs

At the same time, John-Einar Lockert of Svalbard Adventures, a tourism company, prepares his staff that there may be layoffs. They have sent out notices to their staff that this may occur. Even though the whole company has received the same notice, it will most likely be those working with accommodation, food and guided tours who will be the first to notice the effects.

“So far, we notice not effect of the corona virus. It appears that there are some minor bookings before the summer, but it is too soon to tell about any clear effect yet”, Manager John-Einar Lockert of Svalbard Adventures says to E24.

“It never feels good for staff to receive a notice like that. We are about to enter the most important part of the year for us now, so of course we are extra vulnerable. However, operations go according to plans so far, and all looks normal”, Lockert says.


This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.