Three towns in Greenland that have been hard hit by the most recent outbreak of COVID-19 have seen measures to check the spread of the illness that were first imposed at the end of July extended until October 31.
The measures require Sisimiut, Upernavik and Aasiaat residents to continue to wear face masks in indoor public places, while vaccinations will remain necessary for anyone seeking to use public transit, travel aboard an aircraft or use the coastal ferry service, or to work out at gyms or visit bars.
In addition, unvaccinated residents of the three towns who travel to other parts of Greenland must quarantine for five days upon arrival at their destination.
Most of the cases in the three towns, according to Henrik L. Hansen, the chief medical officer, were among young people, but the concern is that COVID-19 could spread to groups that are at risk of developing complications.
“We still need to be focusing closely on this,” he said.
The measures were announced on Monday and come as the current outbreak appears to be ebbing in other parts of Greenland. Public health authorities warned though that similar measures would be imposed elsewhere in the event of an increase in the number of cases with an unknown transmission source.
Public health officials are keeping an eye on the capital Nuuk, where the number of cases has risen in recent days. According to Hansen, however, all of the new the sources of all the new infections could be traced.
“The new cases are all individuals who had been in contact with people we already knew had been infected,” he said.
Currently, 54 percent of Greenland’s population has been vaccinated. Increasing that number significantly will require getting people under the age of 30 vaccinated. Hansen expected that with efforts to vaccinate 12-17-year-olds would only just getting underway, the rate would rise in the coming weeks. Vaccination rates amongst 18-30-year olds remains lower than hoped.
Because there is a relatively high number of children under the age of 12 in Greenland, the highest vaccination rate the country could achieve would likely be in the neighborhood of 80 percent.
There are currently no hospitalizations in Greenland due to COVID-19, and there are no fatalities amongst the 300 people who are known to have had the illness. Nevertheless, Hansen warned people not to assume vaccinations were unnecessary.
“At some point we will need to let the virus run its course. At that point it will be an individual choice between not being amongst those who will get infected, or running the risks associated with exposure to infection,” he said.
It was also announced on Monday that flights between eastern Greenland and Iceland will be permitted to resume after being shut down in November. Passengers will face the same strict entry restrictions — requiring non-residents to be fully vaccinated and non-vaccinated residents to quarantine on arrival — that have been imposed on passengers travelling on the other international route to Greenland, between Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen.
“The most important thing for us right now is to keep infection from abroad out to the extent possible so we can stop people from coming and starting a new outbreak,” Premier Muté B. Egede said.