More Extreme Weather On Saturday

Tourists walk carefully during extreme weather in Reykjavík

Iceland is bracing itself for more difficult weather this weekend, Visír reports. The Icelandic Met Office has issued yellow warnings for most of the country and orange alerts for South and Southeast Iceland where conditions are expected to be the worst.

Windspeeds of 23 – 30 m/s are expected in South Iceland, with the worst gales around the Eyjafjöll mountains, where they could reach up to 50 m/s.

Snowfall and poor visibility are also expected, as well as rain or sleet in the lowlands in the afternoon.

Winds in Southeast Iceland are likely to reach 23 – 28 m/s and that region can also expect considerable precipitation. The windiest part of the Southeast will be around Öræfi, particularly around the mountains, where wind speeds may also exceed 50 m/s.

The weather is supposed to clear considerably in most parts of the country on Sunday but travelling on Saturday is strongly discouraged. Check for current advisories and road conditions.

First Cases of Community Transmitted COVID-19 Infections Confirmed

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

The National Police Commissioner has raised Iceland’s Civil Protection Emergency level from alert to Emergency/Distress in consultation with the Chief Epidemiologist due to COVID-19 after the first community transmitted infections of the virus were confirmed. Two cases of infections have been confirmed, and the total number of infections confirmed in Iceland is now 43.

In a press conference today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Manager of the Police Commissioner’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management Division Víðir Reynisson gave the latest information about the virus in Iceland. Four hundred individuals have been tested for the virus after coming into contact with infected individuals, and so far, there have been 43 confirmed cases of infection. Two people contracted the virus in Iceland, a man and a woman in their fifties and sixties living in the capital area. The individuals are not severely ill and had both been in contact with people returning from the ski resorts in Italy and Austria previously declared unsafe.

The Civil Protection Emergency Level was previously raised from Uncertainty to Alert February 28. The current change of the emergency alert will not have a significant effect on the community beyond the health alert issued February 28, mostly affecting healthcare institutions. The government and healthcare officials have already been operating according to emergency level plans of operations, and some actions have already been put into effect, such as by monitoring and analysing infected individuals and increasing co-operation.

People are encouraged to pay close attention to personal hygiene, with frequent hand washing and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitisers being the most effective. Public gatherings are not yet banned, although it’s now only a matter of time, according to Víðir. At-risk individuals are, however, encouraged to avoid public gatherings. According to Víðir, banning public gatherings is the most potent tool authorities have to fight the spread of infection. Still, it won’t be put into effect until more locally-contracted infections have been confirmed as it will have an enormous impact on the community.

Director of Health Alma Möller stated that the situation in Italy is serious and shows that the risk must be taken seriously. According to her, “The healthcare system is ready. The healthcare clinics are our frontline and have been performing their duties admirably.”

For the most up to date information on COVID-19 in Iceland, visit the website of the Directorate of Health.

New Bill Proposes Abolishment of Naming Committee

A current parliamentary bill under consideration would abolish Iceland’s Naming Committee, a move that not only has the public support of some Icelandic linguists, but also the former chairman of the Naming Committee itself. Visír reports that former Naming Committee chairman Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson is among the bill’s supporters, stating that in its current form, the bill represents “a welcome and significant step forward.”

The bill, which was introduced to parliament just before the end of February, “is intended to significantly increase freedom in naming and to abolish as much as possible the current restrictions on the registration of names, both given and surnames, and to increase permissions for name changes. In so doing, [the bill] seeks to align with prevailing public opinion about names.” Laws on naming, the bill continues, should “first and foremost have minimal requirements for the registration of names. Thus will it safeguard the people’s right to decide on their names and their children’s names and at the same time, minimize the interference of public authorities with consideration for the sanctity of private life.”

Current law constitutes a ‘human rights violation’

The bill was open to public comment until the end of the day on Thursday, and received feedback, both for and against, from some prominent public figures. Interestingly, former committee chairman Halldór Ármann, who wrote in support of the new bill, was also among those who authored the current naming bill, which went into effect in 1996. “It’s long since time that the law be completely overhauled, as is now proposed,” he wrote in his comment. “Those of us who were on the [naming] bill committee from 1994 – 1996 were opposed to family surnames; we thought they were a threat to the Icelandic naming tradition. But this was a mistake.”

Family surnames (i.e. ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ or ‘Lilliendahl’ or ‘Ísberg’) have been banned in Iceland since 1925, except under rare circumstances where the individual’s family has borne the family name since before the law went into effect. Foreign nationals are also exempt from this provision.

Halldór also seconded Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus in Icelandic Language and Linguistics, who commented that the current restrictions on the use of family names violates article 65 of the Icelandic constitution, which states that everyone should be equal before the law and enjoy the same human rights without regards to their ancestry, among other things. The proposed bill would then “abolish the discrimination in the current law,” Eiríkur wrote, “which is, in fact, a human rights violation.”

Increase in foreign names could have “unforeseen consequences” for the Icelandic language

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is in total agreement with the full scope of the bill. Professor of Icelandic and chairman of the Icelandic Language Committee Ármann Jakobsson also issued a public comment on its provisions, in which he stated that it is “an inarguable improvement over previous bills” on naming laws, for one by “allowing for more advice about names” and making provisions to maintain Icelandic spelling conventions.

“On the other hand,” Ármann wrote, “the bill reduces legal protection for Icelandic, which is the vernacular and official language of the country, in accordance with the law on the status of the Icelandic language.”

“Presumably,” Ármann continued, the new law would make it “permissible to register various foreign names as Icelandic and there is nothing that would prevent, for instance, English names from becoming commonplace here with unforeseen consequences for the [Icelandic] language itself.”

Ármann suggested therefore that the naming committee or another governmental agency be allowed to continue to provide naming “advice,” even in the event that the naming laws are changed. “Thus we’d be operating from the assumption that parents would prefer to choose good Icelandic names,” he wrote, and therefore would be able to do so with the assistance of the government and/or numerous experts who could provide linguistic guidance.

Two Cross-Country Skiers Rescued in North Iceland

The Dalbjörg Search and Rescue squad in Eyjafjörður in North Iceland came to the aid of two skiers who got stranded while trying to cross the highlands. RÚV reports that the skiers had registered a detailed travel plan at which greatly aided rescuers in locating them and bringing them to safety.

The skiers intended to cross the highlands from north to south. However, on Thursday, one of them got wet and very cold during the expedition, which prevented the pair from either going back the way they came or continuing on their journey. They sent word to a contact in Canada, who in turn, got in touch with Icelandic authorities to request assistance on their behalf. The information that ICE-SAR received from this third party was unclear, but happily, the skiers had registered a detailed itinerary on that made it possible for rescuers to pinpoint their location without difficulty.

Two ICE-SAR volunteers on snowmobiles left from Eyjafjörður on Thursday afternoon to find the skiers, who were taking shelter in a tent east of Urðarvatn lake. At the time of writing, a rescue vehicle was on the way to transport the skiers back to Akureyri.


Sympathy Strike Declared Illegal

Strike efling hotel workers union

Iceland’s Labour Court has deemed the Efling labour union’s proposed sympathy strike of workers in the Federation of Independent Schools in Iceland illegal, RÚV reports. The proposed strike was scheduled to start at noon on Monday, March 9 and was appealed by SA, the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise.

The sympathy strike was proposed in the wake of stalled negotiations between Efling and the City of Reykjavík. Some 1,850 city employees—including workers in preschools, primary schools, welfare services, and sanitation—have been involved in the ongoing strike actions. Garbage collection did resume this week, however, amid concerns connected to COVID-19. The proposed sympathy strike would include some 500 additional employees who work for the municipalities of Kópavogsbær, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus, as well as those who work in private schools.

“Negotiations on the demands put forward by Efling in relation to the renewal of the Union’s collective agreement with the City of Reykjavík, which expired on 31 March 2019, on behalf of Efling’s members, have proved unfruitful despite the State Conciliation and Mediation Officer’s efforts,” reads an announcement on the Efling website. “On 10 January, this year, Efling’s negotiating committee to the City of Reykjavík agreed to propose a work stoppage for members of Efling working for the City of Reykjavík, under the collective agreement between the City of Reykjavík and Efling. On 17 February, a strike was commenced for an indefinite period, and it is this strike which the sympathy strike now being called is intended to support.”

The City of Reykjavík made an offer to Efling during negotiations in late February, which would include an increase in the average monthly wage of general staff in preschools to ISK 460,000 ($3,620/€3,300) by the year 2022; cutting four hours from the work week, and increasing the number of vacation days to 30 for all employees of the City of Reykjavík.

In its decision, the Labour Court stated that it is impermissible to enter a sympathy strike in order to compel improved conditions in the workplaces that are taking part in a sympathy strike; sympathy strikes can only legally be undertaken to support the union that initiated the strike. According to the Labour Court, this sympathy strike would intend to improve the terms of the Federation of Independent Schools’ contracts as well, and is therefore considered illegal.

Not all of the judges who heard the case were in agreement. Justice Guðni Á. Haraldsson issued a dissenting opinion, stating that he believes the proposed sympathy strike to be legal.