Tipping point

UPDATE | Greenland’s legislature has been suspended and students have been quarantined in order to head off a corona outbreak

Aasiaat, Greenlandic for ground zero (📸: Vaido Otsar)

Kevin McGwin

After being a mostly a nervous on-looker during the first wave of Covid-19 this spring, thanks to early action to close its borders, Greenland is now facing a potential outbreak of the sort that officials fear could overwhelm its health service.

The discovery of a new case – the seventeenth overall – has quickly escalated into a situation in which nearly a hundred people have been ordered to self-quarantine after being exposed to an individual who later tested positive for Covid-19.

Initially, the news appeared mostly to affect the autumn sitting of Greenland’s national assembly: Vivian Motzfeldt, its chair, announced yesterday that it had been temporarily suspended amidst concerns that members of its finance committee had been exposed to the virus.

The decision came after an individual who had recently returned to Greenland tested positive, and it was later determined that the individual was closely related to a second person the seven committee members reportedly met with in Nuuk.

SEE RELATED: Geographically distancing

The members of the committee were ordered to self-quarantine as a precaution. The remaining 24 members of Inatsiartut were told not to go to their offices at the legislative building on Thursday.

At first, only yesterday’s session, during which finance issues were to be discussed, was postponed. Inatsisartut was expected to resume business today, but Ms Motzfeldt said the siting would be halted until all finance-committee members were no longer considered to be at risk of carrying Covid-19.

A decision about whether to prolong the current sitting or to carry over any unfinished business resulting from the suspension to the spring will be made at a later date, Ms Motzfeldt said.

This is the second sitting of Inatsisartut to be affected by Covid-19; the spring sitting was delayed by a month after the imposition of social-distancing measures banning large gatherings.

In addition to the finance committee, the regional mayor, who also attended the meeting, has been told to self-quarantine, as have an additional 10 people in Aasiaat, where the infected person lives. In addition, 80 students at a secondary school in the town of Sisimiut attended by a person who was in contact with the person who tested positive, have been sent home.

SEE RELATED: Greenland is taking a long-term approach to battling COVID-19

The student has not tested positive, but, according to Jokum Møller, the school’s headteacher, the students were sent home in order to eliminate any risk of spreading the virus. Speaking with Sermitsiaq.AG, a news outlet, he said the school had been prepared for such a situation, and that the students were being sent home as a precaution.

Students who cannot safely quarantine at home will be offered a room at the school where they can self-isolate, according to Mr Møller.

The current rules require anyone wishing to travel to Greenland to test negative for Covid-19 prior to departure. Upon arrival in Greenland, travellers must self-quarantine for 14 days, or until they deliver a second, negative, test taken at least five days after their arrival.

The rules were reinstated in September in connection with a sharp increase in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Denmark. At the time, there were no active cases of Covid-19 in Greenland, but the sole international route to Denmark originates in Copenhagen, and public-health officials feared that residents returning to Greenland would bring the virus with them.

In a statement that has now become a general reminder to travellers, Henrik L Hansen, the chief medical officer, said at the time: “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.”

Ten people were initially exposed to the virus while individual should have been in isolation, Mr Hansen said.

The current case is the only known active case of Covid-19 in Greenland. They will be lucky if it is the last.

The Rasmussen’s UPDATE articles take a closer look at recent news developments. 

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