The pandemic may yet strike hard – dangerously hard – in Greenland with its scattered population of some 57,000 and a limited health care system.
A grim history of deadly epidemics brought to Greenland in the 18th and 19th century by European colonists has fuelled fears that the coronavirus, if not checked, will fast reach the many small outlying villages, thereby creating urgent and impossible demands for emergency air transport and intensive care in Greenland’s small hospitals.
As the death toll in Europe mushrooms, Greenland outside of Nuuk is still completely corona-free, but crucial questions now beg for answers: How long can you keep an entire nation sealed of from the rest of the world? How long will people cope with isolation? How long should the government let the economy bleed – and how quickly will the virus spread when the the lock-down is loosened?
No flights, ship or other means of travel to Greenland is available unless one travels with special permission, and no ordinary people are allowed to leave the island.
In 1992, Ove Rosing Olsen became Greenland’s first minister of health as the home rule government in Greenland took over responsibility for the health system from Denmark, the former colonial power, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland.
Ers Koch, who is a medical epidemiologist in Copenhagen, as well as a university professor in Greenland and past president of the International Union for Circumpolar Health also looks to the near future with some concern.
Should the number of patients demanding intensive care eventually outgrow Greenland’s own capacity, patients may be flown the 3,500km to hospitals in Denmark, as Greenlanders are still Danish citizens.