Forest Service Recommends Hugging Trees While You Can’t Hug Others

The Icelandic Forestry Service is encouraging people to hug trees while social distancing measures prevent them from hugging other people, RÚV reports. Forest rangers in the Hallormsstaður National Forest in East Iceland have been diligently clearing snow-covered paths to ensure that locals can enjoy the great outdoors without coming in too close a contact with other guests, but can also get up close and personal with their forest friends.

“When you hug [a tree], you feel it first in your toes and then up your legs and into your chest and then up into your head,” enthuses forest ranger Þór Þorfinnsson. “It’s such a wonderful feeling of relaxation and then you’re ready for a new day and new challenges.”

“Viktor and a poplar” via skogur.is

In a time when close contact and embracing is discouraged for risk of COVID-19 infection, trees can offer a sense of comfort, says Þór, although he urges visitors to the national forest to take precautions not to all hug the same tree. He recommends that people walk deeper into the forest, rather than stopping at the first tree they encounter. “There are plenty of trees…it doesn’t have to be big and stout, it can be any size.”

People should take their time, Þór says, to reap the full benefits of their tree-hugging. “Five minutes is really good, if you can give yourself five minutes of your day to hug [a tree], that’s definitely enough,” he says. “You can also do it many times a day – that wouldn’t hurt. But once a day will definitely do the trick, even for just a few days.”

via skogur.is

Rangers have marked out intervals of two metres within the forest so that visitors are able to enjoy nature without fear of getting too close to one another. “It’s recommended that people get outdoors during this horrible time,” says Bergrún Anna Þórsteinsdóttir, an assistant forest ranger at Hallormsstaður. “Why not enjoy the forest and hug a tree and get some energy from this place?”

When you find the right tree, Þór has further recommendations for getting the most out of your embrace. “It’s also really nice to close your eyes while you’re hugging a tree,” he says. “I lean my cheek up against the trunk and feel the warmth and the currents flowing from the tree and into me. You can really feel it.”

City of Reykjavík to Offer Emergency Housing to Those Displaced by COVID-19

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The City of Reykjavík will offer short-term, emergency accommodations to people who have lost their housing due to the COVID-19 crisis, Vísir reports. The service will be open 24 hours a day and will be in operation for four months.

The initiative received funding from the Ministry of Social Affairs and is expected to cost approximately ISK 85 million ($596,000/€546,000). The Ministry says that the number of people seeking social and housing assistance has been increasing.

“These are people who were living abroad, with relatives or friends, or were in other short-term housing and are now in financial and housing difficulty due to COVID-19, for instance, because of risk of infection in their current residence or people who need to go into quarantine and then lose their housing… These situations can come up quickly and require immediate remedies.”

The emergency housing will be available to people regardless of their legal domicile. “The service will connect the person in question with a social worker in the municipality where they are legally domiciled,” reads the Ministry’s announcement, “but they will be allowed to stay in the short-term housing until their case has been channelled to the municipality in which they live.”

Similar measures have been discussed in Akureyri, but as of yet, have not been put into action.

Unemployment Relief Needed for Tour Guides, Self-Employed

The COVID-19 pandemic has created economic hardships for workers throughout Iceland, but current relief measures are not going far enough for individuals outside of the traditional wage system, particularly those who are self-employed or contract workers, RÚV reports. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson says that new measures are being considered to support these workers.

“We aren’t asking such parties to enrol in the unemployment register,” Bjarni remarked, explaining that it is often more complicated for freelancers and contract workers to seek out financial assistance. Bjarni said that self- and contract employment in Iceland is quite important and varied, however, “and we want to support [these people] during this time.”

See Also: Icelandic Government Presents Economic Response Package to COVID-19 Crisis

Tourist guides are among those who have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 crisis; according to Pétur Gauti Valgeirsson, chair of the Icelandic Tourist Guide Association, nearly all of the tour guides in Iceland are currently unemployed but most fall between the cracks of the government’s current unemployment relief measures. Nearly 1,000 people pay union dues to the Guide Association and an even larger number of people work full-time in this profession.

“It’s a grave situation for many people,” said Pétur Gauti, explaining that tour guides generally have temporary contracts with tour companies, rather than ongoing employment. But they pay taxes like wage workers, he says, and so have had the expectation that they would benefit from unemployment measures just like everyone else during this time. Because guide contracts are short term, however, tour companies are not obligated to provide them with termination notices, nor are they entitled to reduced employment or unemployment benefits.

Guides don’t fit into the system

Guides often do short-term stints for multiple tour companies at a time, says Pétur Gauti, and unemployment is based on wages and hours worked during the previous six months. This leaves guides in a very bad position right now, he says, because there is generally little work in this sector during the Christmas season. January was previously a big month for tour guides because Iceland received many Chinese tourists during that month. That was not the case this January, however, and February and March were likewise very quiet. All told, this means that many guides are only entitled to ISK 10-20,000 ($70-140/€64-128) per month in unemployment benefits. Pétur Gauti asserted that it would be better to base unemployment benefits on guides’ hours and wages from the previous year.

Pétur Gauti says that tour guides’ precarious financial position has been brought to the attention of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, the Directorate of Labour, and the government, but does not know how or if the situation will be rectified. There’s only so much that can be done within the current legal framework.

“The system is difficult and unwieldy, and we don’t fit in it,” Pétur Gauti concluded. “If this is supposed to be a safety net, it hasn’t been woven tight enough to catch tour guides.”