Gathering Ban Extended

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has approved an extension to the gathering ban and restrictions on school operations until May 4. The decision was made following a proposal put forth by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

The gathering ban first went into effect on March 16 and was initially supposed to end on April 13. “Although controlling the spread of infection has gone well, there are concerns about how quickly the number of severely ill patients in need intensive care has increased,” read the announcement on the Ministry of Health’s website. “It’s crucial that we continue to stand together as one, follow the instructions of our best professionals, and thus prevent the burden on the health care system from crossing the bearable limit.”

As Þórólfur stated in his memo to the Minister of Health, the many different actions already taken, including the gathering ban, have resulted in restricted growth of COVID-19 infections. Until now, the infection increase has been in accordance with the most optimistic forecasts. However, the number of seriously ill patients has risen quickly, resulting in strain on the National Hospital’s ICU. It is clear that a further increase in infection, with an added number of seriously ill patients, could create issues within the healthcare system and make it harder for it to fulfil its essential purpose.

When deemed safe to do so, these restrictions will be lifted in stages, concludes the announcement. The Ministry of Health hopes to announce a plan for rolling back restrictions by the end of April.

Life Thriving at Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

A recent field trip to the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve to assess the status of the Arctic foxes living there brings with it a bit of positive news–not only is wildlife thriving in the reserve, there’s also every reason to expect that there will be a fair number of mated Arctic fox pairs and, therefore, fox cubs, this spring. The happy tidings come via a post on the Icelandic Institute of Natural History’s (IINH) Facebook page.

Scientists visited the reserve from March 15 – 25. Their recap paints a picture of a mercifully human-free and wild environment on the cusp of spring. “It was the picture of winter and stormy in Hornvík for the first two days,” reads the post, “and the surf was high. In the following days, the beach filled with newly dead wolf fish, both big and small. This was the favourite catch of foxes that walked the shores, collecting fresh fish, which they carried up to the shore ridge and buried here and there in the snow. One vixen drug a 40cm [16 in] wolf fish up a cliff; she could be seen all the way at the top…sleeping atop her catch. After a good nap, she woke, shook off the snow, and took a nice bite of the fish before she continued upwards, close to the cliff’s edge.”

Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands

“It snowed most days, deep enough to submerge the short-legged creatures as they waded through the powder,” the post continues. “Foxes are hardy animals, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly for most of them. Several of them were courting and if all goes well, we can expect that there will be a number of pairs with litters this spring, unlike what happened last summer when there were only cubs in 25% of the [foxes’] territory in Hornbjarg.”

Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands

Other than fulmar, birds have not started nesting en mass on the Hornbjarg cliffs, reported scientists, although a group of kittiwakes were briefly observed, as were guillemots, though not nearly in the numbers that are typically found at Hælavíkurbjarg: “…there are often hundreds, even a thousand birds by this time.” Ravens were spotted, busy “at the same occupation as the foxes, that is, collecting fresh fish that had washed ashore. A few purple sandpipers were also on the beach and didn’t let the waves bother them. Almost a hundred eider ducks were seen here and there on the ocean, three king eider among them, dozens of long-tailed ducks, a few black guillemots, and red-breasted mergansers. A few glaucous gulls pecked at starfish that washed ashore in the surf and a few great black-backed gulls were also seen. Almost 20 snow buntings took up residence near the house at Horn, and on falcon was seen on the wing.” Gray and speckled seals also made their appearances on the vibrant shoreline.

Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands

“You could say that it’s business as usual in terms of the flora and fauna of the area,” concluded the post, “despite the global pandemic and gathering bans nearly everywhere.”