Four COVID cases in Greenland spur concerns of a Delta-variant outbreak

Low vaccination rates amongst young people undermine efforts to keep the strain at bay, said public health authorities.

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An Air Greenland plane prepares for take-off from Kangerlussuaq Airport in this 2014 file photo. (Kevin McGwin)

Public health authorities in Greenland are urging passengers aboard five domestic flights and one international flight to get tested for COVID-19 after four new cases were reported over the weekend. The call comes as they seek to stop a potential outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus that causes the illness.

Three of those testing positive arrived in Greenland on the same flight from Copenhagen on July 6 and travelled onward to Nuuk, Ilulissat and Qaqortoq. The fourth is believed to have been infected in Greenland by one of the arriving passengers.

“Some of the travellers might be infected and we need to track them down,” Nunatsinni Nakorsaaneqarfik, the office of the chief medical officer, said in statement on Sunday.

Although the number of passengers who had been exposed to COVID-19 has not been released, local news outlets estimated it to be in the hundreds. Prior to the four most recent cases, Greenland has seen 55 incidents of COVID-19, a number of which were in connection with an outbreak among fly-in-fly-out workers involved with construction at Nuuk’s airport.

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While none of the infected passengers appears to have broken any quarantine regulations, one passenger’s onward travel in Greenland was delayed due to bad weather, and public health authorities expect that the individual infected others during this period.

None of those testing positive has required medical assistance, but the outbreak comes at a time when public health authorities are seeking to vaccinate some 10,000 people in an effort to head off an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant. In Nuuk alone, 3,500 people have yet to be vaccinated, despite off the city’s residents being offered the jab.

The Delta variant is now the most common form of the virus in Denmark, the origin of all international flights arriving in Greenland.

The variant is suspected of having fuelled an outbreak in the Faroe Islands that saw 34 people testing positive in three days last week.

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

The variant is particularly contagious in a closed environment such as an aircraft, and Greenland’s chief medical officer, Henrik L. Hansen, reckoned the meant it would eventually wind up in Greenland as well.

Most of Greenland’s vulnerable residents have been vaccinated, but public health authorities are concerned about a low vaccination rate amongst people under 45, and in particular those between the ages of 18 and 24.

“The only way to prevent a serious outbreak is for young people to get vaccinated,” said Nunatsinni Nakorsaaneqarfik.