Around 45,000 Icelanders Have Spent Domestic Travel Voucher

Whale Watching Hvalaskoðun á Faxaflóa

Around 100,000 Icelanders have downloaded the ISK 5,000 ($36/€33) travel voucher given to all adult residents to encourage domestic travel this summer, RÚV reports. The initiative will cost Iceland’s government around ISK 1.5 billion ($10.8 million/€9.8 million), and although she has called it “first and foremost symbolic,” Minister of Tourism Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir has stated it would make a difference to smaller companies.

The vouchers became available on June 19 and since then around 100,000 Icelanders have downloaded one and just under half, or 45,000, have already spent it. Around 25,000 of those spent their voucher within the last ten days.

Read More: All Icelanders to Receive Gift Certificate for Domestic Tourism

The vouchers can be redeemed at a variety of businesses within Iceland’s tourism industry, including hotels, tour companies, restaurants, and transportation companies. Of those who have spent their voucher, one third spent it on accommodation. Just under 30% spent the voucher on activities and 25.6% on dining. A further 11.1% spent theirs on transportation.

The vouchers are valid until the end of this year.

Three-Day Westman Islands Ferry Strike Called Off

Heimaey, Westman Islands

A three-day workers’ strike that would have suspended ferry service to the Westman Islands has been called off, RÚV reports. It was the third scheduled strike action among workers in the Seamen’s Union of Iceland (Sjómannafélag Íslands), who are in wage negotiations with Herjólfur ohf., which operates the national route. The ferry is main transport route between Iceland’s mainland and the archipelago, home to around 4,300 inhabitants.

Representatives of the two parties have agreed on a negotiation schedule and expect to sign a contract by August 17. Jónas Garðarsson, chairman of the Seamen’s Union stated he would have wished for more progress in the matter, but the Union did not want to bear responsibility for the impact a strike would have on tourism in the islands.

Westman Islands Mayor Íris Róbertsdóttir celebrated the development. “Of course it’s very good news for the whole community and for us islanders that the strike has been called off,” Íris stated. “A three-day strike has a huge impact on the entire community here and at this time of year, as has been stated, it has a huge impact on every aspect of life here in the Islands, tourism and people’s employment opportunities and everything.”

Virology Department Takes Over Iceland’s COVID-19 Border Screening Program

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

The National University Hospital’s Virology Department has fully taken over Iceland’s COVID-19 border testing program, RÚV reports. Private biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics, which had been assisting with the administration and processing of COVID-19 tests conducted on travellers arriving from abroad has now fully withdrawn from the initiative. The Virology Department’s head doctor says testing is going well and the department will be able to continue its efforts as long as necessary.

“It’s gone incredibly well until now and if it continues like this then we don’t have many concerns,” stated Karl Gústaf Kristinsson, head doctor of the Virology Department. The department had to scramble to increase its testing capacity when deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson announced on July 6 his company would pull out of the border testing program. Besides the Virology Department, deCODE was the only facility in Iceland with the capacity to process COVID-19 samples and had a capacity more than three times that of the National University Hospital’s Virology Department.

Facilities Renovated, New Staff Hired

The Virology Department has expanded its facilities and hired 18 new staff members to accommodate the increase in COVID-19 samples. “And we also needed to change the working method as now we’re combining five samples in each test. Instead of having one sample in each dish we have five,” Karl explained. If the combined samples test positive, then they are each tested individually to determine which is (or are) infected. This method has been a key factor in allowing the department to increase its testing capacity from around 500 samples per day to 2,000.

Another factor that has helped decrease pressure on the department is Iceland’s decision to exempt travellers from four additional countries from both testing and quarantine upon arrival. Germany, Norway, Finland, and Denmark were added to the list of “safe countries,” which includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

The department expects to receive new equipment in August and in the fall that will further increase its testing capacity. “We should be able to continue this as long as needed,” Karl stated.