'We live in a bubble': What life has been like on the European island with zero COVID cases

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read

Watch: What life has been like on the European island with zero COVID cases

Is this the only place in Europe set to have a “normal” Christmas?

While Britons have been reeling after Boris Johnson was forced to cancel Christmas, people in Svalbard, a cluster of islands between Norway and the North Pole, have endured no such turmoil.

It’s because Svalbard is one of the few places on earth not to have had a single coronavirus case.

While life has changed dramatically – and traumatically – for people elsewhere in Europe over the past nine months, the 2,300 people who live in Svalbard have been able to live in relative normality.

As it is governed by Norway, Svalbard follows the mainland’s COVID-19 rules. It means, for example, indoor gatherings are limited to six people and overseas visitors have to quarantine for 10 days.

Otherwise, people still go to work and businesses such as shops, gyms and cafes have remained open – although with the familiar requirements of signing in with contact details and hand sanitising.

Cecilia Blomdahl said people in Svalbard have been able to 'live relatively normally' with it being one of the few places in the world without a COVID case. (Zoom/Reuters/TikTok: @sejsejlija)
Cecilia Blomdahl said people in Svalbard have been able to 'live relatively normally' with it being one of the few places in the world without a COVID case. (Zoom/Reuters/TikTok: @sejsejlija)

One islander, Cecilia Blomdahl, told Yahoo News UK: “It’s actually difficult talking about COVID because we don’t know what it is about. We live in a bubble.

“We do follow those rules, but we live relatively normally. We go to work, we meet people, we go to cafes.

“We are testing people as well but we still haven’t had a single case. I think we are surprised because we do have some people travelling from Norway and they have cases in Norway.

“I think we are kind of waiting for it to someday happen, but we are living normal lives right now.”

So, the pandemic has been kind to Svalbard when viewed through the prism of health.

However, while no one has been infected, the people of Svalbard have still suffered economically – just like the rest of Europe.

Like many remote islands, Svalbard makes most of its money through tourism, an industry badly impacted by COVID.

Blomdahl said that when the pandemic began to take hold during the March high season, “people were scared more in the sense of what it was going to do to our community, but not necessarily about the virus”.

“It was completely empty here. For us that’s just crazy. We rely on tourists and the pulse of the village is tourism. We were sitting there in March with nobody here. I have never experienced that.”

A sign warns residents of the arctic Svalbard islands in Norway of the danger from roaming polar bears, May 26, 2013. Svalbard in Norway's high Arctic, is home to 2,500 people and about 3,000 polar bears. Picture taken May 26, 2013. To match NORWAY-ARCTIC/NYAALESUND.  REUTERS/Balazs Koranyi (NORWAY - Tags: ENVIRONMENT ANIMALS)
Svalbard, a cluster of islands between Norway and the North Pole with a population of about 2,300 people, has not had a single COVID case. (Reuters)
A residential house is seen in front of snow capped mountains in the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay      SEARCH "SVALBARD CLIMATE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Svalbard is governed by Norway. (Reuters)

She added a number of people are on temporary leave from their jobs, with businesses and hotels closing. Some people have been forced to move to mainland Norway due to Svalbard’s high living costs.

It means people are trying not to talk about coronavirus, “because I think it is taking over people’s day-to-day lives” despite there not being a single case.

“But at the same time,” Blomdahl pointed out, “so many people in the world are struggling and we are not having to deal with that, so I feel very privileged to be in this kind of place.

“I think we are pretty lucky to be where we are.”

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