New strategy activated to manage COVID-19 outbreak in Upernavik, Greenland

A file photo of Upernavik in western Greenland. (Linda Kastrup/Ritzau Scanpix/ via Reuters)

Health authorities in Greenland have launched a new strategy to combat the current COVID-19 outbreak in Upernavik after 200 people tested positive.

“Given widespread transmission, the aim of the strategy is to protect the population against the serious consequences of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the government said in a news release.

The town of Upernavik, which is located on Greenland’s western coast, has a population of approximately 1,115 people, and has been coping with ballooning COVID-19 cases since November.

On Wednesday, health authorities estimated that at least half the population has been, or is infected, and includes a large portion of the child population as well.

“The outbreak is so extensive that it’s no longer possible to follow the strategy that’s otherwise been used in Greenland for the last two years, namely, to find the individual infected and their contacts and recommend isolation and quarantine,” the government said. 

Strategy for settlements

Instead, health authorities will focus on delivering quick treatment for those who become severely ill because of  COVID-19, ensuring that resources remain available for things like cancer and tuberculosis screening, and expanding testing capacity as well as establishing a system that can react quickly if the virus spreads to Upernavik’s surrounding settlements.

“No infection has been documented in the settlements around Upernavik yet, but vaccination coverage in the settlements is significantly lower than in Upernavik so the risk of it spreading to one or more settlements is considered high,” health authorities said.

Therefore, all citizens are encouraged to follow the recommendations in order to limit the spread of infection as much as possible.”

Greenland vaccination numbers as of Dec. 10
Greenland’s vaccination statistics as of December 10, 2021. In the municipality of Avannaata, where Upernavik is located, 61 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. (Government of Greenland)
All residents considered ‘close  contacts’

Given the prevalence of COVID in Upernavik, the government says all residents must now be considered “close contacts.” Those who are fully vaccinated are still permitted to go to work, but are being asked to limit all other social contact as much as possible.

Schools are allowed to stay open as long as public health directives are respected.

Health authorities say vaccinations are not being offered in Upernavik at this time but that booster shots will be organized in early 2022 for those over 18, starting with the elderly.

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

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Another Nunavik community moved to yellow COVID-19 alert level in northern Quebec, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Strong signs of tourism revival in Finland’s north, Yle News

Iceland: Iceland extends COVID-19 measures for at least two weeks, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: Greenland’s new domestic and international COVID-19 rules in effect until March 6, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden to introduce new Covid-19 measures on Dec. 8, 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 a 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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