Greenland ends a ban on travel from Nuuk ahead of schedule

No new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the capital for more than two weeks, while the rest of the country continues to be free of the illness.

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Traffic makes its way up a hill on one of the main throughways in Nuuk, Greenland in a March 13, 2016 file photo. (Kevin McGwin)

Greenland officials on Tuesday took a first step towards returning their country to normal by announcing that residents of Nuuk were now permitted to travel to other settlements in Greenland.

Nuuk and its 17,000 residents were sealed off from the rest of the country on March 18, after two people there tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. The measure was meant as way to prevent the spread of the virus to other parts of Greenland, which lack the intensive care beds and ventilators necessary for treating serious cases of COVID-19.

Since then, 11 people in Greenland have tested positive for the virus, all of them in Nuuk. All 11 recovered, and no new cases have reported in the past 17 days, despite increased testing. That’s prompted public health authorities to lift the travel ban, effective at midnight on Wednesday — eight days ahead of schedule.

[A tough strategy of isolation has protected Greenland from coronavirus — so far]

While the move will be something of a morale boost as the country begins discussions about how to deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19-related shutdowns at home and abroad, its practical effects will be limited: A ban on all non-official domestic and international flights remains in effect until April 30. That leaves travel by boat or overland through roadless terrain as the only means of travel between Nuuk and other settlements.

Despite lifting the restriction, public health authorities reiterated their recommendation against unnecessary travel.

The relaxed measures come as Greenland’s health service completed work setting up a facility in Nuuk that can analyze COVID-19 tests. Previously, tests had been been flown to Copenhagen on board one of five weekly transport flights. Being able to test for COVID-19 in Greenland means test results can now be returned within 24 hours.

With the immediate threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 now appearing unlikely, health officials also said on Tuesday they were prepared to resume providing services to people suffering from non-acute illnesses.