A Greenland health clinic closes amid COVID outbreak fears

Three people in Upernavik were hospitalized with COVID, prompting the clinic there to cease offering non-emergency services.

By Kevin McGwin - November 19, 2021
Though just three people in Upernavik (pictured) have tested positive for COVID-19, health officials fear the town may be on the verge of an outbreak. (Magnus Hansen)

A health clinic in the northern Greenland town of Upernavik is temporarily discontinuing non-emergency services after three people reportedly contracted COVID-19 while receiving care there.

Three people in the town of 1,000 have tested positive for COVID in recent days; all three have been hospitalized. Health authorities fear the town may be on the verge of an outbreak and are urging residents to get tested.

Elsewhere in Greenland, three hospital patients in Nuuk tested positive for COVID as an ongoing outbreak there continues unabated.

In the past week, the number of new cases has increased by half and now stands at 190. Nationally, there were 200 reported cases as of Thursday.

[A stringent isolation strategy has kept Greenland mostly safe from the COVID-19 pandemic]

The rising number of cases in Nuuk has led health officials to reimpose measures to control the spread of the illness, including a requirement that people looking to leave Nuuk present either proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Though most of the restrictions apply only to adults, health officials underscored that the outbreak was primarily driven by children.

According to the most recent update, seven of the 19 people testing positive for COVID on Thursday were under 18.

“There’s an epidemic among schoolchildren,” said Henrik L. Hansen, the chief medical officer. “They get infected and then they infect their parents and siblings and then they, in turn, spread it to others.”

[‘Epidemic of the unvaccinated’ continues in Nuuk]

Children under 12 are not offered vaccines in Greenland.

The number of people of all ages in Greenland who are not fully vaccinated is around 30 percent, yet they make up nearly 60 percent of all new cases, according to statistics from the Office of the Chief Medical Officer.

That, according to Hansen, is in line with a recent Danish study that found people who have not been vaccinated are three times as likely to be infected with COVID as those who are, and five times as likely to require hospitalization.

“If you aren’t vaccinated, you’ll get infected,” Hansen said. “And if you get infected, you have a greater risk of becoming seriously ill and dying.”