Nurses Prepare to Strike

Nurses Hospital Landsspítalinn við Hringbraut

The overwhelming majority of Icelandic nurses have voted in favor of a strike, RÚV reports. Per a recent vote of the Icelandic Nursing Association, 85.5% approved a strike; 13.3% opposed it. A total of 2,143 nurses participated in voting, a participation rate of 82.2%.

As a result of the vote, the union has decided that nurses will go on an indefinite strike starting at 8.00am on Monday, June 22. The strike will continue until the union has reached a contract agreement with the Icelandic government.

The strike will extend to nurses working throughout Iceland. “We’re talking about the whole country,” remarked Nursing Association chair Guðbjörg Pálsdóttir. “All healthcare centres and those workplaces that employ nurses working under this contract.”

See Also: Pay Cut Goes Into Effect for Hospital Nurses

Negotiations between the nursing union and the government resumed after nurses rejected the collective bargaining agreement that was presented at the end of April. A key issue is base salaries; nurses demand that starting wages within the profession be raised.

Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for almost 15 months.

Iceland Contributes ISK 500 Million to International Vaccine Development Initiative

As part of an international coalition of nations, corporations, and institutions, Iceland is contributing ISK 500 million ($3.8 million/€3.36 million) to global efforts to develop a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. This announcement was made during a virtual conference held by the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, according to a press release on the Icelandic Government’s website.

The coalition, which was founded a month ago, aims to accelerate the development, production, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. It also intends to support the taking of samples and broadly applicable treatment solutions for all people, regardless of residence and economic status. The World Health Organization is part of the coalition, which has been promised millions (in USD) in support from Norway, and hundreds of millions (in USD) in support from the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany.

Iceland will be dividing its contribution: half will go to the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, and half will go to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation (CEPI).

The virtual conference was also tele-attended by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Microsoft founder Bill Gates was one of the speakers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $250 million (ISK 32.8 billion/€220.6 million) to fight COVID-19.

When announcing Iceland’s contribution, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir emphasised the importance of equal access to health care and safe vaccines, irrespective of gender, economic status, or place of residence. “Equal access to health care is one of the most important public health issues and guarantees the most basic human right – the right to life. Vaccines provide all generations the opportunity for a healthy and fulfilling life.”

The Gavi conference aimed to raise $7.4 billion (ISK 972 billion/€6.53 billion) for its efforts, but it did even better, raising $8.8 billion (ISK 1.1 trillion/€7.77 billion).

University Receives Record Number of Medical and Physiotherapy Applicants

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

A record number of students – 433, to be exact – have registered to take the admissions test to enter the University of Iceland’s programs in medicine and physiotherapy, RÚV reports. There has never before been such a large group of applicants to these programs.

Three hundred and forty-four students have registered to take the medical program entrance exam, which is an increase of 21 students over last year. The physiotherapy program has 99 applicants, which is only one more than last year. All of the applicants take the same test.

The medical program will admit 60 students; 35 students will be admitted to physiotherapy. How many students are admitted to each program depends on how many residency spots are open in hospitals.

Two-Week Quarantine or Testing Fee of ISK 15,000 for Tourists

tourists on perlan

Travellers arriving in Iceland will have to pay ISK 15,000 ($113/€100) to be tested for COVID-19 if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine upon entering the country, RÚV reports. There are some caveats: the testing fee will not go into effect immediately and children who were born in 2005 and after are not required to be tested.

Some within the tourism industry argue that the testing fee is too high. Jóhannes Þór Skúlason, managing director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), says that the fee will discourage tourism to Iceland. He suggested that a fee of ISK 3,000-4,000 ($23-30/€20-27) would be more appropriate.

“We think the fee is far too high and will clearly have a negative impact on trips to Iceland this summer,” Jóhannes remarked, noting that travel companies and Icelandair have already had a very high number of cancellations. He also said that a number of SAF’s member companies have seconded this assessment, saying that their customers are not willing to pay such a high fee. And with fewer tourists coming to Iceland, Jóhannes says, companies will be able to hire fewer employees.

As it stands, however, travellers arriving in Iceland will have a two-week grace period after the Icelandic borders open on June 15 during which no fee will be assessed for a COVID-19 test. Therefore, adults arriving between June 15 and June 29 will be tested for free. Those who do not want to pay for a test have the option of going into quarantine for two weeks.

US Embassy Thanks Police for Upholding ‘Basic Human Rights’

The death of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States were addressed by the US Embassy in Reykjavík in statement posted on Facebook this week. The post refers to Floyd’s death at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin as a “grave tragedy,” even while thanking police, “both in the United States and Iceland, who uphold and defend…basic human rights.”

“As a country governed by the rule of law, the United States’ justice system is taking action to seek accountability and justice in response to Mr. Floyd’s tragic death,” reads the post. “Four officers have been charged in connection to the case, which remains under investigation by state and federal officials.”

See Also: Over Three Thousand Attend Black Lives Matter Meeting in Iceland

It continues: “Though we face difficult challenges, the United States and free societies are strengthened through the debates produced through our citizens exercising their right to free speech. Governments that take human rights seriously are transparent and we welcome conversations about making our societies better.”

The post then ended with its thank you to police, a response which earned quick rebuke from many commenters, both Icelandic and American among them, as “tone-deaf,”  “propaganda,” and “disrespectful,” treating the death of George Floyd as “an isolated incident instead of a cultural and social issue of violence, division, and racism.”