‘Stay at home’ Greenland authorities tell travellers

The country's largest hospital, in Nuuk, has room for just four patients in its Intensive Care Unit.

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To date, Greenland is free of COVID-19  but opposition lawmakers fear the situation could change rapidly. (Kevin McGwin)

Greenlandic lawmakers are calling for that country to be closed off to all incoming air traffic and to limit domestic travel in order to prevent COVID-19 from taking hold.

“A plane from Denmark arrives every day, and there are often planes from Iceland. In recent days, we’ve seen planes land with passengers who were under suspicion of being infected,” an announcement issued by opposition parties IA, Partii Naleraq, Samarbejdspartiet and Atassut stated.

To date, there have been no reported cases of coronavirus infection in Greenland. Three people who were under suspicion of being infected with the virus had been in quarantine since Tuesday, as had 25 other people they had been in contact with, but public health authorities announced today that their tests had come back negative.

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Even so, the parties say implementing preventative measures of the sort seen elsewhere in Europe — including closing schools and requiring bars and other gathering places to shut down — is still necessary.

“The situation can change very rapidly. This is our opportunity to contain the virus.”

A similar initiative had been put forward last week by a Greenlander living in Denmark. Public safety officials, however, say they have no legal grounds to prevent people from entering Greenland. Nevertheless, during a daily briefing yesterday, they repeated their recommendation that people limit their travel in order to prevent its possible spread.

“The smaller the town, the more limited their health facilities are, and the more at-risk they are. To the extent possible, we need to limit domestic travel,” Børn Tegner Bay, the head of Greenland’s police force, said during a press conference.

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He said Greenlandic authorities had been in contact with Air Greenland, which operates the daily flight from Copenhagen and all domestic flights, reduce the number of tickets available,

“We would also like to tell our guests: stay home if you are considering travelling to Greenland right now.”

Despite the recent negative tests, it is likely only a matter of time before Greenland sees its first case of COVID-19, warned Kim Kielsen, the premier. Instead preventing it from arriving, the focus should be on preventing its spread.

“We need to remember what the recommendations are, and that it is important to follow them. The virus is going to come to Greenland at some point,” he said.

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As in other countries, the concern in Greenland is that if there is sudden increase in the number of people with coronavirus infections, the healthcare system will be overwhelmed.

Nuuk’s Dronning Ingrids Hospital, at 130 beds the country’s largest health facility, has room for four patients in its intensive care unit. Additional respirators are available, but the biggest concern, said Henrik L. Hansen, Greenland’s chief medical officer, is a lack of healthcare workers.

“We have had no guarantee from the Danish health authorities, but our expectation is that people in Greenland and the Faroe Islands would have as much right to care as people in Denmark, in the event we see people seriously affected by the coronavirus,” Hansen said.