In Focus: Where is Iceland’s Updated Constitution?

Between 2010 and 2012, Iceland “crowdsourced” a new constitution which was handed over to Parliament. A national referendum followed, where a majority voted for the document to be used as a foundation for constitutional reform. Yet it was never adopted. Fast forward nearly a decade: a group of activists is fighting for the “new constitution” […]

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Circumvented European Law to Dispose of Ships in India

Eimskip goðafoss laxafoss

Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, one of the largest businesses in the country, used a notorious middleman to dispose of two huge container vessels in India. In doing so, it circumvented European regulation meant to ensure that ships are recycled with the least possible damage to the environment. At least 137 people have died breaking down old ships on the coast where Eimskip sent its old container vessels due to dangerous working conditions. Icelandic news program Kveikur investigated the case.

Once their life on the sea is over, ships are immediately classified as hazardous waste due to the materials they contain, such as asbestos, radioactive materials, heavy metals, and hydraulic oil. European ship recycling facilities have measures in place to ensure such materials are recycled or disposed of safely, with as little damage as possible to the environment and to workers. Such is far from the case in shipbreaking yards in Southeast Asia, where dangerous working conditions and environmental damage are par for the course. This is where Eimskip sent two huge container vessels, Goðafoss and Laxafoss.

The full program is available on Kveikur’s website with English subtitles.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Community Transmission Dropping

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be dropping in Iceland, according to the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. At today’s COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík, Þórólfur stated that social distancing and gathering restrictions would not be tightened for the time being, though the situation was being re-evaluated regularly.

Iceland is currently in its third wave of the local pandemic. The country reported 39 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 14 of which were from a group infection on a fishing boat. Of the new cases, 87% were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis, up from around 50% over the last few days. Þórólfur says this indicates that community transmission of the virus is on the wane, meaning it was safe to go ahead with re-opening bars and clubs, which have been closed for two weeks. Þórólfur added, however, that we may not relax when it comes to personal preventative measures such as distancing and handwashing.

Hopes Serious Cases Have Peaked

The average age of active cases in Iceland is around 40. Five individuals are currently in hospital for COVID-19. The five cases range in age from their 20s to their 60s. Þórólfur expressed his hope that the number of serious cases has reached a peak.

COVID-19 infection among hospital staff has already caused disruptions to healthcare services. Nearly 300 staff members of the National University Hospital were currently in quarantine or isolation due to SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure, Director of Health Alma Möller reported at the briefing. Authorities have compiled a reserve force of medical workers which currently numbers 211. Of those volunteers, 55 are willing to work anywhere in the country where healthcare staff may be needed.

Travellers Violating Quarantine

Víðir was asked whether quarantine violations that occurred over the weekend warranted more police surveillance of those in quarantine. Víðir responded that the question was really a question about what kind of society we want to live in. “I’m not particularly excited to have police in Iceland knocking on people’s doors and investigating whether or not they’re in quarantine, he stated. “That’s not a reality I find appealing.”

In addition to trusting that travellers will follow the quarantine rules that are in place, Víðir says authorities contact travellers who do not show up for their second test and find out why. If border police suspect that a traveller arriving to the country is likely to break quarantine rules, they explain the regulations and consequences thoroughly and follow up on the case.

Current Border Regulations are Safest Option

Iceland’s current border regulations require all arriving passengers to undergo a SARS-CoV-2 test upon arrival, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. (Those who do not want to be tested can opt for a 14-day quarantine.) Those regulations are valid until October 6. In a memo to the government, Þórólfur has outlined a series of options regarding border regulations from that date. He stated, however, that in light of the spread of the pandemic abroad, he considered extending the current border regulations to be the safest option.

Iceland Review will live-tweet the next COVID-19 briefing, scheduled for Thursday, October 1 at 2.00pm UTC.

Beluga Sisters Take First Swim in Open-Sea Sanctuary

Beluga whales Little White & Little Grey take their first swim in their Beluga Whale Sanctuary home in Iceland

Two former captive beluga whales, Little Grey and Little White, have taken their first swim in their new open water sanctuary home in the Westman Islands of Iceland. The whales explored Klettsvík Bay for the first time under the watchful eye of their care team as part of their gradual release into the bay called the ‘Little Steps’ programme.

The two whales, who are sisters, were raised in captivity and thus cannot be fully released into the wild. Before arriving in Iceland in June 2019, the whales were housed in concrete tanks in a Shanghai amusement park. Their journey to Iceland involved a flight, truck, and ferry trips, and will be the subject of a documentary to air on ITV this October.

“We’re delighted that Little Grey and Little White are now exploring the wider bay and adapting well to their new, natural, stimulating environment,” stated Cathy Williamson of Whale and Dolphin Conservation, one of several organisations behind the creation of the sanctuary. “As well as providing an exciting home for Little Grey and Little White, we look forward to welcoming other belugas here and encouraging the development of sanctuaries in other parts of the world. We hope this will mean that many of the more than 3,500 whales and dolphins held in captivity for shows and swim with attractions can be brought to sanctuaries to live more natural lives or be rehabilitated for a return to the wild.”

Little Grey and Little White’s journey involved many challenges: before the transport, the whales underwent a strict exercise regime to help them adjust to the conditions of their home-to-be. Since their arrival in Iceland, they have been housed in pools at the sanctuary as they adjust to the new conditions. The whales moved to bayside care pools in August and have now taken their first swim out in the wider bay, the next step toward introducing them gradually into their sanctuary home.

Iceland: Boat Crew of 14 Tests Positive for COVID-19

Valdimar GK Ship

All 14 crew members of longline fishing boat Valdimar GK from Grindavík, Southwest Iceland, have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. The crew members began experiencing symptoms while fishing near Southeast Iceland and had to sail for nearly 24 hours through stormy weather in order to reach the Njarðvík harbour in Southwest Iceland, where all were tested and proved to be infected with the novel coronavirus. Viljinn reported first.

“We got word late on Thursday night that some of the crew had flu symptoms,” Björn Halldórsson, safety manager of seafood company Þorbjörn told RÚV reporters. The company contacted the Civil Protection Department, activated COVID-19 procedure it had put in place in spring, and continued to followed developments. “Unfortunately, more people joined the group [with symptoms] so it was decided they would sail to shore immediately.”

The ship decided to sail to Njarðvík as it had a slot booked in the shipyard there. “But they still had a 24-hour trip in shit weather ahead of them,” explains Björn. The ship had been close to Höfn, Southeast Iceland when the decision to sail for Njarðvík was made.

All 14 crew members are now in isolation, with symptoms of varying severity. Björn says it is not known how the virus got on board the ship, but the company feels that looking for a scapegoat is besides the point. He thanked the Directorate of Health and Civil Protection Department for their involvement.

The 14 cases will be included in yesterday’s tally of new domestic COVID-19 cases, and the figure is therefore expected to be higher than in recent days.