Nuuk’s latest COVID outbreak is manageable, health authorities say

Several new infections are linked to fly-in, fly-out workers who attended social gatherings over the weekend.

By Kevin McGwin - June 17, 2021
A person looks on outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test center in the center of Nuuk, Greenland on March 31, 2021. (Emil Helms / Ritzau Scanpix file photo via Reuters)

For the second time in three weeks, Greenland public health authorities are trying to keep an outbreak of COVID-19 among fly-in, fly-out workers at a construction site in the capital city from spreading to the rest of the population.

Employees of Munck Gruppen, which is working to extend the runway at Nuuk’s airport, have been quarantined and ordered to remain on the worksite since the first cases were reported on May 26.

However, after three cases of COVID-19 were reported in Nuuk residents this week, it emerged that all of those had tested positive had attended social events this past weekend that were also attended by two of the Munck Gruppen employees who later tested positive for COVID-19.

As many as 200 people were present at the two social events. Henrik L. Hansen, the chief medical officer, described the number of potential cases as “relatively large,” but he believed that quick detection of who had become infected and where the infection had taken place made it likely that an outbreak could be kept in check.

“We know who might have been infected, so we expect we can manage the situation,” he said.

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Testing began on Tuesday for anyone who attended the social events in question. Additional cases of infection have yet to turn up, but anyone who attended the events is required to remain in quarantine for a least a week.

“We’re in the very early stages of this outbreak” Hansen said, “so we have a good chance of keeping this under control, but everyone involved needs to do as we recommend and follow the guidelines, and we need to test the right people.”

Despite the company-wide quarantine, Munck employees are permitted to leave the worksite if they are due to leave Greenland in the near future.

Hansen said there was no reason to believe any of the workers had broken quarantine to attend the events.

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One of the infected Munck employees tested positive for COVID-19 after travelling to the town of Ilulissat, where the firm is working on a second runway extension.

In order to prevent further spread of the virus in Greenland, public health authorities have banned residents from leaving Nuuk. A similar measure was imposed during the outbreak three weeks ago but quickly lifted. The current ban will be in place for at least a week, but will be extended if necessary.

Unlike during that ban, Nuuk residents will be permitted to leave the city in connection with travel abroad. Similarly, there are no restrictions on other activities in the city, and there is no requirement to wear masks in public. New measures could be imposed at a later date if the situation worsens, according to Asii Chemnitz Narup, the interior minister.

“We don’t know everything yet, but what we do know is so serious that we need to let people what the situation is,” she said.