With the goal of preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus, Norwegian soldiers are now supporting local police with turning away foreign nationals if they don’t have a legal reason to enter the country.
Locals have to adjust to a surreal new regime at the remote, narrow and snowy road between Finnish Lapland and Norway’s Finnmark region. Normally, you hardly notice that there is a sign telling you are crossing a border between two countries.
Here at Neiden, the easternmost of six cross-border roads to Finland, there is a whole new regime unseen before at internal Schengen borders in Europe’s vast areas inside the Arctic Circle.
Home Guard soldiers waved to the side all vehicles approaching. Those were few.
“We have had a few trucks bringing food and goods into Norway. The customs deal with them,” says second lieutenant Ketil Kristensen.
He and fellow Home Guard soldiers were called out to the border at noon on Wednesday. “We are here to assist the police,” Kristensen tells.
The Norwegian Home Guard is a rapid mobilization force in the Norwegian military.
Today, the ‘enemy’ is unlike what soldiers are trained to meet. As the coronavirus spreads in Norway, the government on Sunday decided that the police should institute temporary entry and exit controls at both the inner and outer Schengen border.
For Finnmark Police District, controlling all traffic around the clock on the different roads far away from nearest towns and settlements demands extra personnel resources.
Lise Flø with Finnmark Police District says the assistance from the Home Guard is based on a national agreement. “The Home Guard has responded quickly and will be trained adequately,” Flø says.
Only people with a working or living permit in Norway, their family members, and others with a valid reason will be allowed to enter the country.
“We stopped a car with a woman from Finland, but we had to tell her that she was most welcome,” Kristensen smiles. The woman was working at the hospital in Kirkenes on the Norwegian side and had a resident permit.
The health sector, including most hospitals in northern Norway, very much depends on the foreign workforce, especially from Finland and Sweden.
In times of the coronavirus, health workers are all looked upon as heroes.
Norwegians could on Wednesday still drive into Finland but were thoroughly explained by the police at the checkpoint in Neiden that returning back to Norway will automatically require a two-week quarantine period.
Finland ends all non-essential entries on Thursday
From 12 am on Thursday, however, Norwegians will also be turned around by Finnish border guards.
All non-essential travel will be stopped as Finland will bring about severe restrictions to cross-border traffic. The Finnish government declared the state of emergency on Monday as an effort to combat the coronavirus.
The Foreign Ministry in Helsinki informs that cargo and return traffic will be allowed on the six cross-border roads to Norway in the north, including Neiden (Näätämö). The five others are Kilpisjärvi, Karigasniemi, Kivilompolo, Nuorgam, and Utsjoki.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Arctic cruise operators brace for coronavirus uncertainty, CBC News
Finland: Finland’s first coronavirus case confirmed in Lapland, Yle News
Iceland: Iceland talks Arctic, Trump’s ditching of climate accord, with U.S. Secretary of State, Eye on the Arctic
Norway: Norway cancels NATO Arctic military exercise due to coronavirus outbreak, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Coronavirus: Russia hints it might close its border with Norway, Finland, The Independent Barents Observer
Sweden: Concern over coronavirus outbreak impacts tourism in northern Europe and Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: U.S. experts call for ‘vigilance’ on Russian military buildup in Arctic, Alaska Public Media