Norway's Government announced that expedition cruises will be allowed again in Svalbard with rigorous conditions due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The decision is based on thorough work on providing infection control guidelines for the cruise shipping industry which has been carried out by local stakeholders and governmental institutions in collaboration with the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators (AECO).
The infection control guidelines for expedition cruises in the Svalbard Archipelago builds on comparable general tourism industry guidelines for Svalbard, prepared earlier by the authorities in close collaboration with the local tourist office in Longyearbyen (on Spitsbergen Island), Visit Svalbard.
The reopening will take place within existing national rules for entry and quarantine obligations which stipulate that during phased approach residents in Norway (from June 15, 2020 residents from Baltic countries with some exemptions) can travel to Svalbard.
Both the cruise industry and the authorities take proper contamination protection measures seriously and therefore strict criteria will have to be met by expedition cruise ship operators during the reopening.
AECO’s executive director, Frigg Jorgensen, said that included, "for example, a requirement of only carrying half of a vessel’s maximum passenger capacity, increased numbers of medical staff onboard, and guest health certificates, among other requirements. Each cruise operator will need to develop and apply individual plans based on the infection control industry guidelines, which then will be considered by the Governor of Svalbard.”
The comprehensive work, resulting in a 100-page infection control guideline document was carried out in close collaboration between the Ministry of Justice’s Department for Polar Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Care, while the Governor of Svalbard as chair of Svalbard Preparedness Council coordinated the work locally.
With the involvement of the University Hospital in Northern Norway, the Longyearbyen Hospital, Longyearbyen Business Association, Visit Svalbard, and Longyearbyen Local Government, AECO put the infection control guidelines to paper.