Greenland approves revised COVID-19 strategy

A view of the town of Ilulissat, Greenland in July 2019. Municipal events are allowed in Greenland provided public health directives are followed, and that no one from outside municipalities are present. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Greenland has approved its revised COVID-19 strategy to prevent infections from arriving in the region.

While Greenland never adopted a herd immunity strategy, and had mobilized to prevent infections as much as possible from arriving in the Arctic territory, the infection increase in neighbouring jurisdictions like the Faroe Islands and Iceland has hit home the need to eliminate infection coduits from arriving in Greenland in the first place.

 “International experience shows that at present, there are no societal benefits to spreading the infection to survive the pandemic,” the government said in a news release on Friday. “Therefore, the strategy has been changed to, as far as possible, avoid infection with COVID-19.”

The government stressed several factors when going through their revised strategy on Friday, saying the main focus would be preventing infections from entering the territory even though the measures necessary to ensure that “…will have many secondary consequences with significant societal consequences”.

“At Naalakkersuisut [Greenland’s Home Rule government], we are closely following the development of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’re having a special focus on the new infection increase we’re seeing in the countries around us,” said Greenland’s Health Minister Anna Wangenheim (pictured on the right) on Friday. “We sometimes have scarce resources in Greenland – we can be few people in the field – therefore it is important that we all work in the same direction and the Naalakkersuisut’s revised COVID-19 strategy ensures this.” (Government of Greenland)
Since Greenland began opening up in June, travellers must prove they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within the last five days before being granted entry into Greenland.  Iceland and the Faroe Islands had for a time been exempt from this as it appeared their infection rate was under control. But on August 11, Greenland reinstated the testing requirement for travellers from those jurisdictions as well

There are no plans to tighten up the testing requirements further in the short term, but Greenland says it’s not excluding the possibility should circumstances change.

The three objectives of Greenland's revised COVID-19 strategy:
  • Prevent infected people from entering Greenland
  • If an infection occurs – avoid major outbreaks
  • Avoid having infections in several places around Greenland at the same time
Preventing epidemic

Greenland says it’s implementing several strategies to keep infection out of the territory: stringent testing requirements to be allowed entry to Greenland; maintaining assembly restrictions to prevent mass conduits to infection; maintain ongoing public health education around hand washing and social distancing; ongoing monitoring and testing; making sure resources are available for quarantine and contract tracing if an outbreak occurs.

“The first to be infected will typically be travelers or contacts to travelers,” the government said. “These groups are often younger, healthy people and therefore will rarely become seriously ill or die. If infection is not contained, it will be able to spread throughout society and thereby quickly reach risk groups.”

Like many jurisdictions in Arctic Canada, Greenland has limited medical infrastructure outside of the capital city of Nuuk, something the government said required a robust approach when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.

“Greenland’s resources for infection control are limited,” the government said.  “At the same time, the geography of the country makes any effort difficult and time consuming. In the event of an outbreak in several places, the real opportunities for control will be small, and there could be a nationwide epidemic with far-reaching consequences.”

The new strategy was approved as of August 21.

Greenland has had a total of 14 confirmed reported COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began. All people have since recovered and there’s been no new confirmed cases reported since June.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit gov. in Labrador, Canada tells out-of-province travellers to stay away despite ‘Atlantic bubble’, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland joins other Nordic countries in virtual tourism due to pandemic, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland changes COVID-19 rules for travellers from Iceland, Faroe Islands, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland intensifies COVID-19 border testing after case increase, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: All Russia’s North Pole cruises rescheduled to 2021, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden seen as major source of COVID-19 in Western Finland region, Yle News

United States: Airline shutdown creates new challenges for rural Alaska, The Associated Press

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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