COVID-19 in Iceland: Two Metres Reduced to One

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

Iceland will likely reduce its two-metre social distancing rule to one metre and double the national assembly limit to 200 people from September 10. Masks will still be required in situations where that distance cannot be maintained, for example in hair salons and massage parlours. The double testing and five-day quarantine required of arriving travellers will remain unchanged for the time being.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced the changes in a briefing in Reykjavík today. He will also propose further changes to COVID-19 regulations to the Minister of Health, who makes the final call on their implementation. The changes include allowing swimming pools and gyms to operate at 75% capacity and permitting theatre performances with up to 200 participants and one-metre distancing. The regulation requiring bars and clubs to close at 11.00pm will remain unchanged.

Active Cases at the Border Rising

Since August 19, all travellers entering Iceland have been required to undergo testing at the border, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Þórólfur says the number of active cases detected at the border has been rising despite a drop in the number of travellers. This means the percentage of active cases among arriving travellers is rising significantly, which Þórólfur says reflects the spread of the virus abroad.

Of 100 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the border, 84 did so in their first test and 16 in the second. The proportion of those who received a false negative in their first test is higher than expected, according to Þórólfur, and therefore shows the importance of testing those arriving from abroad twice. Around 60% of those who have tested positive at the border are Icelandic residents, who are considered more likely to spread the virus locally than tourists. Around a third have been tourists.

Border Screening Re-evaluated Next Week

Iceland’s current border regulations concerning COVID-19 are valid until September 15. Þórólfur will decide next week whether changes to the measures will be made, but stated he does not expect to recommend any fundamental changes. The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that it was more logical to loosen measures within the country before doing so at the borders.

A total of 220 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Iceland since June 15. A majority of recently diagnosed cases, or around 60%, were among people who were already in quarantine. Iceland currently has 96 active cases of COVID-19 and a domestic incidence rate of 17.7 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Icelandic Music Industry Calls For More COVID-19 Support

Iceland Airwaves 2018

Icelandic musicians and organisations within the local music industry are calling for more support of working musicians, many of whom have lost all their income due to COVID-19 regulations and are not eligible for unemployment benefits due to the independent nature of their work. Supporting technicians, booking agents, and others who work in the industry is also crucial in helping the industry survive the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Singer Sigríður Thorlacius told RÚV musicians have not been able to work due to gathering and social distancing regulations, which have made it near impossible to hold live performances for most of this year. While such regulations remain in place, she says, it’s important for workers in the music industry to be able to access financial support. “We are not demanding to hold concerts while the situation is what it is, because we are all in the middle of it,” Sigríður stated. “What we have maybe been pointing out is that many [of us] have for example not received unemployment benefits, that’s one thing. That it can be arranged so that we can apply for benefits.”

Freelance musicians’ ineligibility for unemployment benefits is one issue covered in a recent report exploring the effects of COVID-19 on Iceland’s music industry. The report also calls for the Icelandic government to review and adapt artists’ salaries and other grants to better support artists during the pandemic.

“One of the things we have emphasised a lot is for some sort of compensation fund to be established and for that we have been looking to Denmark,” explains María Rut Reynisdóttir, one of the report’s editors. Denmark’s has set up a specific fund to compensate musicians who have lost 30% or more of their income due to the pandemic. María added that many musicians work part-time jobs alongside their freelance work in music, and fall outside of many of the government’s response measures.

Hunter Stuck in Sand Rescued

Icelandic coast guard

The South Iceland police was called out around 10.00pm yesterday to aid a hunter in his twenties who had gotten his leg stuck in sand in Sandvatn lake on Haukadalsheiði south of Langjökull glacier, RÚV reports. The man was trapped in the sand for several hours, but Search and Rescue volunteers and medical professionals freed him from the sand around 3.00am and he was taken by helicopter to the National University Hospital of Iceland’s emergency room.

The goose hunter managed to alert emergency services of his whereabouts by phone. Chief superintendent Sveinn Rúnar Kristjánsson of the South Iceland police force told Vísir that the hunter had gotten one of his legs stuck in sand out in the lake, about 20m (65f) from the bank. He had water up to his waist and was chilled to the bone. Around 30 search and rescue volunteers assisted with the rescue efforts and it was SAR-squad Ingunn from Laugarvatn that was first on the scene. According to the South Iceland Police, it took a while to locate the man and approaching him proved difficult, with SAR volunteers on boats and jet skis. It wasn’t until three hours after the distress call that he was freed from the sand. Precautions had to be taken during the rescue efforts due to problems with blood flow stemming from being stuck in the sand for so long.

State Support to Icelandair Should Be Limited, Says Competition Authority

Keflavík airport Icelandair

State support of Icelandair should be limited to the operation of scheduled flights to and from the country, according to a statement from the Competition Authority of Iceland. The government should also evaluate how financial support of Icelandair would affect the airline’s competitors as well as determine whether wider support within the industry could help achieve their objectives.

Icelandair is a subsidiary of Icelandair Group, a company based in Iceland. The airline is not state-owned, but it did receive government support earlier this year to keep flight routes open between Iceland and a handful of destinations. Like airlines around the world, it has faced massive operational challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Government to Guarantee 90% of Loan

In August, the Icelandic government decided to provide Icelandair a line of credit with a state guarantee. The line of credit would be provided by state-owned banks Íslandsbanki and Landsbankinn and amount to up to $120 million (about ISK 16.5 billion), and the state guarantee would apply to 90% of the amount loaned. The initiative is subject to the two parties reaching an agreement on the terms, the approval of Iceland’s Parliament, and the success of Icelandair’s planned refinancing initiative.

The initiative requires amendments to existing legislation on state guarantees and financial support and state spending. The government must also ensure it conforms to EU regulation on government support to corporations. The initative has already been approved by the European Transport Authority, whose President stated: “It is important for Iceland’s economy and to the free movement of citizens that air transport can continue to and from Iceland.”

The terms of the guarantee require the Icelandic government to determine the actual financial impact of COVID-19 on Icelandair next year. If the impact turned out to be less than the amount loaned, the airline would be required to pay back the difference.

Orange Weather Alerts Issued for Northeast and East Iceland

A map of Iceland showing orange alerts in Northeast and east Iceland as well as yellow alerts for northwest Iceland, the eastfjords, southeast Iceland and the central highlands

Icelandic Met Office has issued an orange weather alert for tonight for Northeast Iceland and East Iceland, warning of increasing northerly winds as well as rain or sleet in higher altitudes. A yellow alert is also in effect for Northwest Iceland, the Eastfjords, Southeast Iceland and the central highlands.

The orange alert is due to increasing northerly winds, 15-23 metres per second (33 -51 MPH). According to the remarks of the meteorologist on duty, rain is expected in the north and east parts of Iceland and sleet or snow in hilly terrain by evening. Mountain roads in these areas can become impassable in the evening.

The forecast also expects strong squally winds south of Vatnajökull-glacier and in Eastfjords-area in the evening which can be hazardous for vehicles.

The forecast for the next 24 hours is as follows: “Increasing northerly wind, 10-18 m/s today, but strong gales in the southeast part in the evening. Mostly dry in South- and West Iceland. Widely rain in other parts, but heavy rain in the northeast part in the evening with sleet or snow above 300-400 meters above sea level.

Temperature 4 to 13 deg. C today, warmest in the far south. Becoming colder in the evening.

Moderating in the westernmost part tomorrow afternoon and decreasing wind and precipitation elsewhere in Iceland tomorrow evening.”

The Meterological Office’s weather warnings are colour coded according to a combination of the probability of the forecast and the estimated societal impact of the weather. For more information go to en.vedur.is and consult www.safetravel.is before travelling.