As the world continues to struggle with containing the still quickly-spreading coronavirus, another staple of the spring expedition and exploration season seems likely to be cancelled. Normally at this time of the year, eager travelers and adventurous researchers are planning to head to the Arctic to embark on a number of different journeys. But, as is now an all too common news story, that seems unlikely to happen as more and more countries lock down their borders and an increasing number of people elect to stay in place.
Yesterday, ExWeb astutely pointed out that Norway has closed its borders and shutdown all travel in an effort to keep the virus from spreading further. That includes closing off Longyearbyen on the Norwegian island of Svalbard, which usually serves as the launching point for all flights heading to the Barneo Ice Camp each spring. Barneo is the floating base that is constructed on an iceberg every year and helps facilitate travel to and from the High Arctic. But with a travel ban now in place, foreigners won’t be able to reach Longyearbyen for the foreseeable future, likely ending the 2020 Arctic season before it even begins.
If you follow the adventure scene closely, you probably remember that the 2019 season was also cancelled when Russia and Ukraine got into a political dispute. Some of the flights to Barneo that included Ukrainian citizens had to pass over Russian airspace, which was at the center of the dispute. When Russia wouldn’t allow that to happen, the entire season unraveled quickly, leaving dozens of travelers stranded in Norway as a result. This year, it looks like those travelers won’t even get a chance to reach the starting point on Svalbard, which has seen tourism traffic drop off dramatically, including Arctic cruise ships docking there.
To be fair, the organizers of the Barneo Camp have yet to weigh in and there is still about a month to go before the base would open for operations. They may be holding out hope that they can get past the quarantines and border closures by then. Considering the slow response of many countries to this growing health threat, that doesn’t seem likely though. That said, Russia has had relatively few cases of the coronavirus so far, so it could be possible that arrangements are being made to route travelers through that country. For now, we’ll just have to wait to see how things unfold, but it seems like a very long shot for anyone skiing to the North Pole this year.
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