Nuuk is sealed off after a second COVID-19 case is confirmed

Residents of Greenland's capital can leave to hunt and fish, but can't travel to other communities.

By Kevin McGwin - March 19, 2020
Greenlandic chief medical officer Henrik L Hansen addresses the press during a daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, March 19.

Greenland’s capital city has been sealed off from the rest of the country after the second case of COVID-19 was identified there yesterday.

The ban on leaving Nuuk in personally owned vehicles, along with a raft of social-distancing measures aimed at preventing the spread of the virus, came into effect without notice after health authorities were unable to determine whether the individual had been infected in Greenland or abroad.

“The problem is that it’s not clear where the individual was infected. That means we could now be seeing local infection,” said Henrik L Hansen, the chief medical officer. “We are doing all of this to stave off an epidemic. This isn’t an epidemic. We are doing this to prevent one.”

[As Greenland reports its first COVID-19 case, Nuuk hopes to leverage natural isolation to fight the disease]

The individual, according to Hansen “has ties to academia.” The person is “an adult,” but health authorities are concerned that the infection was the result of young people returning to Greenland in recent weeks ignoring guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Addressing the press today during a daily briefing, Hansen said health authorities had stepped up testing, particularly amongst people who had been out of Greenland recently.

“Everyone who has been outside Greenland within the past 14 days is potentially infected,” Hansen said. “Right now, we have no epidemic in Greenland, and it is possible for us to avoid widespread infection.”

One of the main concerns about a COVID-19 epidemic in Greenland is its lack of hospital beds. One way health authorities are seeking to address that is by asking people to return to Denmark, particularly those with greater ties there, or those who recently traveled from there.

“The more people we can ship out the better,” Hansen said.

[‘Stay at home’ Greenland authorities tell travellers]

Previously, Greenlandic authorities were only recommending that individuals take social-distancing measures. In addition to closing schools and stores and banning gatherings of more than 10 people, lawmakers have granted the police greater authority to require people to abide by measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We are serious about this now,” said Bjørn Tegner Bay, the head of Greenland’s police force.

The travel ban will not apply to people leaving the city to hunt or fish, Bay said, provided they return to Nuuk and do not enter other settlements.

The measures are due to be in place until April 3. A separate ban on travelling to and from Greenland that comes into force tomorrow could affect the date they are lifted though, according to Hansen.

“As long as Greenland is closed off and we don’t see any new cases, we will be able to relax some of these restrictions,” he said.