Covid-19 in the Arctic: A briefing document for Senior Arctic Officials

16 July 2020
An insight to the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on Arctic communities.

In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease a pandemic, bringing drastic changes to people’s lives overnight. Since then, Covid-19 has reminded the world of how vulnerable societies can be in the face of infectious diseases. The pandemic not only represents great risk to human health, it creates challenges for social, economic and cultural systems, despite the rapidly advancing global effort to develop countermeasures.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to raise significant concern across the world, it has become evident that the pandemic and measures taken to prevent its spread would be poised to have significant effects on public health and societies. The Arctic region, especially rural and remote communities, faces unique risks and challenges as a result of both the pandemic and the actions taken to respond to it.


The Arctic Council’s role

The Arctic Council is well-positioned to play a leadership role in better understanding the impact of Covid-19 in the Arctic and spearheading activities to respond to the pandemic in the short-, medium- and longer-term.

To inform initial discussions regarding the coronavirus pandemic in the Arctic at the Senior Arctic Officials’ executive meeting (SAOX) on 24-25 June 2020, a briefing document was prepared. It draws together available information – to date (June 2020) – about the impact of Covid-19 and the actions taken to respond in the Arctic region. The document draws from a wide spectrum of sources, reflecting the complex and intricate nature of how Covid-19 affects Arctic peoples and communities, including national and subnational statistical databases and tools, peer-reviewed articles, policy statements, technical guidelines, field surveys, and local observations from Arctic communities.


A collaborative effort

The preparation of this briefing document relied on existing Arctic Council networks and was open and collaborative. It involved contributions and input from more than fifty researchers affiliated to the Council’s Working Groups, policy makers, Indigenous representatives and Indigenous knowledge holders from all Arctic States and Permanent Participants. This group provided source material and helped shape the themes and issues that would be covered. The document itself was authored by 17 experts that represent all Arctic States.

The released document is a working document that does not reflect the official position of the Arctic Council, nor does it necessarily represent the views and policies of the individual Arctic States or PPs.

Jennifer Spence, the executive secretary of the Council's Sustainable Development Working Group coordinated the efforts of developing the briefing document. In this brief presentation, she outlines key findings and indicates the role the Arctic Council could play in addressing the current and possible future pandemics.