Leery of Danish spike in COVID-19 cases, Greenland considers reinstating quarantine for travelers

With virus out of control in some parts of Denmark, screening passengers is no longer enough to keep the country coronavirus-free, health officials say.

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A view of the central business district of Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, where the majority of its confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been located. (Krestia DeGeorge)

A resurgence of COVID-19 in Denmark and other European countries has public health officials in Greenland calling on residents there to avoid all unnecessary travel abroad.

“COVID-19 will be brought to Greenland by incoming passengers, and outside of the high season, most incoming passengers are residents of Greenland who are typically returning from business travel or holiday,” Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s self-rule government, said in a statement released on Thursday.

The recommendation comes a week after public health authorities recommended that travelers from parts of Denmark with high rates of infection take a COVID-19 test five days after arrival and to avoid social gatherings until they could be deemed uninfected.

“We are already asking people to think really carefully about their plans. Is it necessary to travel to Denmark? We’re doing that because the virus isn’t under control,” Hans-Peder Barlach Christensen, the head of Greenland’s coronavirus-response team, told local media.

[Greenland is taking a long-term approach to battling COVID-19]

Some 7,000 people in Greenland have been tested for COVID-19 since the outbreak began. Fourteen have tested positive, but none required hospitalization and there have been no coronavirus-related deaths.

However, some 800 people travel to Greenland via Denmark each week. And, with that country now seeing some of its highest rates of new cases to date, public health authorities say the current requirement that anyone entering Greenland test negative for COVID-19 can no longer be considered sufficient.

Greenlandic chief medical officer Henrik Hansen addresses the press during a daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, March 19.

“Each time we screen and find two cases of infection, there will likely be one that slips through and into the country,” Henrik Hansen, the chief medical officer, said last week while addressing how the rising rate of infection in Denmark would affect Greenland.

At that time, Hansen urged travelers to exercise caution and follow public health guidelines when returning home. But infection rates in Denmark have continued to rise in the past week and now exceed that country’s own travel-advisory guideline of 20 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000. The situation has Greenlandic authorities considering whether to re-implement the mandatory testing and quarantine regime it had in place this spring.

A revised recommendation is expected to be presented to the national assembly for consideration next week.