Controversy in Norway as Hurtigruten Works to Manage COVID-19 Outbreak

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Controversies are continuing to brew in Norway in the wake of the latest outbreak of COVID-19 that is being linked to a cruise ship. At the same time, the ship’s operator, Hurtigruten is working to manage the situation, asking passengers on one of its expedition cruise ships to stay in their cabins while organizing testing for the coronavirus on both ships.

News of the outbreak became public on July 31 and has quickly evolved into a question of who knew what when and how was the news discriminated. Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam apologized and said the company made mistakes, but at a press conference in Oslo on August 3, it emerged that Hurtigruten and Skjeldam had first become aware of the situation days earlier and both failed to take action and possibly tried to avoid association with the outbreak.

By July 29, doctors in Norway had diagnosed a person with COVID-19 who had recently been a passenger on an expedition cruise aboard the Roald Amundsen. Skjeldam confirmed that they were aware that the former passenger had been diagnosed days after leaving the ship, but the company did not tell passengers onboard the ship and may have delayed notifying passengers on the previous cruise. The line now admits making mistakes but said at the time they believed the passenger had become infected after leaving their cruise ship.

While the investigations into the situation are beginning, there appears to be little change with the outbreak. A total of 36 crew members and five passengers have reportedly tested positive and everyone is currently in quarantine or self-isolation. The efforts to reach out to all of the former passengers and the contract tracing are ongoing for the passengers of the Roald Amundsen.

Passengers aboard the sister ship, the Fridtjof Nansen, however, have now been asked as a precaution to remain in their cabins pending testing results. Four crew members on this ship were isolated with what Hurtigruten is reporting as mild cold symptoms and all tested negative for COVID-19.  

Aboard the Fridtjof Nansen all of the crew members were also tested and Hurtigruten offered and encouraged passengers on board to also test. They are currently awaiting the results. The ship was on a two-week cruise from Germany with 171 passengers and 162 crew members.  

Hurtigruten’s other expedition cruise ship, the Spitsbergen, is on its way to Tromsø from Svalbard, Norway where it is expected to arrive on August 6. Hurtigruten tried to fly test kits to the ship in port but due to bad weather was unable to get them to the location. While no one is reporting symptoms on the ship, the plan is to test the 64 passengers and 70 crew members when the ship reaches port and before anyone goes ashore.

Hurtigruten has announced that it will be canceling further expedition cruises while the investigations are proceeding. DNV GL was retained to do an external investigation of the situation. Norway, however, on Monday also said that it was imposing a two-week initial moratorium on cruise ships with more than 100 passengers while it also investigates this outbreak.

The controversy around the Hurtigruten cruises is likely to continue. Late in the day, the company’s board issued a brief statement in support of the embattled CEO. The company is seeking to keep the focus on the passengers and crew while apologizing for its mistakes.


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