COVID-19 in Iceland: National Hospital Capacity Key to Third Wave Response

National University Hospital Páll Matthíasson

The National University Hospital can handle the projected strain of the current wave of infections, though some reorganisation will be necessary, according to its Director Páll Matthíasson. Páll discussed the hospital’s strengths and weaknesses in tackling the current uptick in COVID-19 hospitalisations at a briefing in Reykjavík this afternoon. Iceland’s current wave of infection will rise slower, fall slower, and last longer than its first wave last spring, says Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Spread of Infection Likely Slowing

Þórólfur stated that the number of daily infections in Iceland and the number of those diagnosed outside of quarantine both appear to be dropping, though slower than expected. Exponential growth of the local pandemic had been successfully avoided, and thus he believes it is unnecessary to impose harsher restrictions, though the situation is being re-evaluated on a regular basis. On the other hand, he stated it was likely that restrictions would be maintained over the coming months as “this virus is not going anywhere.”

Hospital Needs to Free Up Resources

The Chief Epidemiologist’s Office and the National University Hospital have been in communication regarding the challenges the hospital faces in tackling the current wave of COVID-19 infection. Páll stated that while the hospital has many strengths, including well-trained staff and new knowledge and experience in treating COVID patients, it needs to decrease pressure in other wards of the hospital in order to free up resources to deal with the pandemic. The hospital also needs to ensure it is flexible in its organisation and its reserve force of healthcare staff are ready to respond to emergencies. Space and staffing are the biggest challenges currently facing the institution.

Nursing Homes in Good Shape

Most nursing homes and disabled care homes in Iceland are in good shape, according to Þórólfur, and measures implemented to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have been largely successful. He added that there have been few severe COVID-19 cases among the elderly and at-risk in this wave of infection.

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson ended the briefing by reminding the public of their personal responsibility in tackling the pandemic. “It is normal to be tired and bored of COVID and want our normal lives back. But we need to stick together to protect those most vulnerable.”

Iceland Review live-tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings.

Living Art Museum Aims to Reflect Iceland’s Diversity

Nýlistasafnið/The Living Art Museum

The Living Art Museum in Reykjavík, Iceland, has sent out an open call for its autumn exhibition for the year 2021. The call is particularly directed at individuals and groups who have traditionally been excluded from fine art institutions in Iceland, such as the LGBT+ community, Icelanders of foreign origin, mixed Icelanders, immigrants, and “people who find themselves voiceless within the socio-political structure.”

“With this open application process, we want to counteract any kind of discrimination that takes place in our society today, such as racial inequality, and the suppression of marginalized groups and cultures,” a press release from the Museum reads.

The idea to direct the open call to marginalised groups and individuals came from the Museum’s staff and board earlier this year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the world. “This struggle […] led to a great deal of introspection by the board of the Living Art Museum. As a result, it has become clear to the museum’s management that we have not been able to fully reflect the diverse growth that characterizes art and human life in Iceland.”

“It is important that all cultural institutions in the country undergo a substantial self-examination. What kind of space are these institutions creating? And for whom?” the Museum states, and the project representatives say they hope the initiative serves as a guiding light for other institutions in Iceland

To go over the open call submissions, the Museum’s board is putting together a special selection committee “in order to ensure diversity and counteract hidden bias.” The deadline for submissions is October 4. All the application details, including translation of the text to Arabic, Polish, and Icelandic can be found here.

Investment, Not Cuts, in 2021 Budget Bill

Bjarni Benediktsson kynning fjármálafrumvarp 2021

The main goal of the government’s new five-year budget plan is to stop accumulating debt by the end of 2025. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson presented the government’s 2021 budget bill and its financial plan until 2025 at a press conference this morning. Parliament opens its fall session this afternoon.

Deficit Could Reach ISK 900 billion by 2025

Bjarni stated in the press conference that the ideology behind the bill was to use the state’s strong financial position to tackle the current recession using investment rather that cuts. Iceland’s treasury has been improving its debt ratio in recent years, which puts it in a good position for taking loans in order to invest in the short term. Borrowing money and operating at a deficit over the coming years, says Bjarni, is expected to leave Iceland’s economy in a better position after the recession in terms of GDP and employment. Tackling the crisis by making drastic cuts, he stated, is “really not an option.”

The treasury’s deficit is expected to amount to ISK 265 billion ($1.9 billion/€1.6 billion) next year and could amount to as much as ISK 900 billion ($6.5 billion/€5.5 billion) by the end of 2025. Annual deficit is expected to decrease year on year, and the main goal of the budget plan is that the treasury’s debt ratio stops worsening by the end of 2025.

Local COVID-19 Restrictions Influence Spending

Bjarni showed statistics on how Icelanders’ spending habits correlated with the rise and fall of domestic infections. Icelanders’ domestic consumption rose by as much as 20% this summer, when COVID-19 restrictions were eased and infection rates were low, but fell significantly during the height of outbreaks this year and under the tightest restrictions. These numbers demonstrate the economic importance of containing the SARS-CoV-2 virus locally, according to Bjarni.

Iceland’s GDP is expected to drop 7.6% this year, according to Statistics Iceland’s newest forecast. The projections for 2021 are less dire, expecting a recovery and 3.9% growth.