Greenland health authorities urge calm after six new COVID-19 cases are reported

But the infections discovered in three unrelated groups travelling to Ilulissat illustrate health authorities’ concerns.

By Kevin McGwin - December 21, 2020
Ilulissat, Greenland, the country’s third-largest settlement, has registered six new coronavirus infections. (Patano)

Health authorities in Greenland say there is little cause for concern after six people in the country’s third-largest settlement tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday. All six abided by guidelines imposed on travellers to Greenland after their arrival in Ilulissat on December 15 and 16, a statement from the office of the chief medical officer, issued on Sunday, said.

“They have all reportedly been in quarantine. We believe all of their close relations have been identified. The chief medical officer believes that the risk of transmission in Ilulissat is highly limited,” the statement said.

As a precaution, onward travel northward from Ilulissat was grounded until Monday morning, however, and residents were urged to redouble their efforts to abide by guidelines to prevent the spread of the illness.

In a sign of their concern about their limited capacity to manage a COVID-19 outbreak, health authorities also told travellers who had tested negative to distance themselves from others, keep their hands clean and observe other measures to prevent the spread of the illness for 14 days after arriving in Greenland.

[Stay at home for the holidays, Greenland warns would-be travelers]

In the statement, Henrik Hansen, the chief medical officer, also urged residents of Ilulissat to seek information about the situation from official channels, not from social media, after rumours had been spread online last week about outbreaks in Greenland.

All six cases were identified in follow-up tests that can be taken by travellers at least five days after arriving in Greenland in order to avoid the full 14-day quarantine imposed on travellers. The tests are used to confirm the results of a negative test that allows people to travel to the country, which, prior to Sunday’s announcement, had registered 19 cases of COVID-19.

The individuals travelled to Greenland in three unrelated groups, confirming what health authorities have fretted about since early December, when they announced there would be no flights to or from the country in the days leading up to Christmas, and asked people to reconsider travel plans.

[Read more coverage of COVID-19 and the Arctic]

Currently, the only destination for flights from Greenland is Copenhagen, which has the highest rates of infection in Denmark, and Hansen has reiterated on multiple occasions that the only way COVID-19 can come to Greenland is if it brought there by passengers arriving from Denmark.

Although the rate of infection in Denmark appears to be slowing after setting consecutive daily records last week, travelers to Greenland, as well as travelers to Denmark from Greenland returning home after the holidays, remain a major concern for health authorities.

“The high number of infections clearly illustrates the risk Greenland faces right now,” Hansen said.