Greenland resumes international commercial flights

Up to 600 people may now travel from abroad each week.

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Health minister Kirsten L. Fencker announces the relaxation last week.

The first of three scheduled flights to Greenland this week arrived at Kangerlussuaq Airport, the country’s main international gateway, Tuesday, marking the resumption of commercial service after it was suspended in January in order to prevent COVID-19 from gaining a toehold.

Since January, only travelers with approved business have been permitted to fly to Greenland aboard official flights. A rule change that took effect on Monday now permits three weekly commercial departures carrying a maximum of 200 passengers each to fly from Denmark to Greenland.

Air travel from Iceland has not resumed, although that country is also in the midst of relaxing its COVID-19 restrictions, and on Sunday saw the arrival of a flight from the U.S. carrying vaccinated passengers.

[Greenlanders abroad to be flown home ‘as soon as possible’ as UK coronavirus variant spreads]

The strict entry restrictions have been credited with helping to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Greenland this winter and allowing life to continue mostly as normal, with no requirements that people wear face masks and children being allowed to remain in school.

All told, 31 people in Greenland are known to have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, and no deaths on account of it have been recorded.

Now, though, with steady progress in Greenland’s vaccination program that has now seen about one in 10 residents fully vaccinated, and a decline in the rates of infection in Denmark, where many restrictions imposed at the end of the year to contain a second wave of infections are currently being rolled back, decision makers believe entry restrictions are no longer necessary.

“Things are going in the right direction in Greenland, and we have decided to begin relaxing restrictions,” Kirsten L. Fencker, the health minister, told the press last week.

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

The current guidelines are due to remain in place until at least May 31. At that time they can either be eased further or rolled back, depending on the status of the outbreak nationally and abroad.

The relaxation is likely to lead to more cases of COVID-19 in Greenland, according to Premier Múte B. Egede. Even so, the likelihood of an outbreak remains low, due to a continued requirement that travelers remain in quarantine for a minimum of five days upon arrival, as well as the increasing number of people being vaccinated.

Egede suggested that COVID-19-related restrictions could be eliminated entirely in August or September, but that any date would be determined by vaccination rates. Likewise, he cautioned against expecting a complete return to a pre-COVID society.

“The life we lived before corona doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to return to the way things were.”