MP Apologises for Remarks Belittling Prime Minister

Bjarni Benediktsson Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Social-Democratic Alliance MP Ágúst Ólafur Ágústsson has apologised for remarks he made in an radio interview yesterday implying that Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson is the true leader of Iceland’s government, not Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir. The remarks have been criticised as misogynistic by Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir.

Ágúst Ólafur apologised for the remarks in a Facebook post this morning, saying they were “poorly worded” and regrets “belittling Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s leadership role.”

“I did not intend to criticise or question Katrín’s leadership, for which I have great respect, rather the intention was to criticise the politics of the Independence Party, which I believe dominates the government’s priorities, particularly in the budget and financial plan as the Independence Party handles that field,” Ágúst Ólafur stated.

Iceland’s current coalition government consists of three parties: Prime Minister Katrín Jakobdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party, and the Progressive Party. Katrín’s decision to form a government coalition with the right-leaning Independence Party was widely criticised, even by members of her own party. “The government is on a broad spectrum and people have had to agree to put some issues on hold for now to be able to work on more important matters,” Katrín stated in an interview with Iceland Review in 2018.

Independence Party MPs hold five of the 11 seats in the cabinet of Iceland. Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson is the party’s chairman. He has served as Minister of Finance since 2013, excepting a brief period when he served as Prime Minister in 2017.

Mask Use Mandatory on Reykjavík Buses

straeto covid-19

All passengers and drivers on Reykjavík’s public bus system Strætó are required to wear face masks as of today. Mask use remains mandatory on Strætó’s long-distance bus service throughout the countryside. Children born in 2005 or later are exempted from this rule.

The mask requirement is in line with tightened COVID-19 restrictions which took effect across the country today. “Customers in the capital area and in the countryside who do not wear face masks will therefore not be allowed to use public transport,” a notice on Strætó’s website reads.

Buses are exempt from the newly-imposed gathering limit of 20, perhaps one reason why mandatory mask use has been implemented inside the vehicles. Customers are responsible for providing their own face masks and are reminded to avoid travelling by bus if they have flu symptoms.

Shopping Malls Emphasise Mask Use

Both Kringlan and Smáralind shopping malls are placing additional emphasis on mask use in their operations, Vísir reports. Kringlan administration has suggested all stores in the shopping mall institute a mandatory mask policy for staff. Smáralind authorities have also recommended the use of masks wherever possible.

Mask use is mandatory in Iceland for all services where one-metre distancing cannot be maintained, such as at hair salons and massage parlours. As of today, it is also mandatory for audience members in theatres.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Address Pandemic Fatigue

COVID-19 Iceland

Pandemic fatigue is setting in among Icelanders, Director of Health Alma Möller stated during authorities’ COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Tightened social restrictions took effect in Iceland today, limiting gatherings to 20 people (down from 200) and closing bars, clubs, and gyms. At the briefing, authorities addressed criticism of the restrictions and emphasised the importance of working together to tackle the current wave of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which continues to rise.

Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection declared a national state of emergency yesterday due to the current spread of SARS-CoV-2. The country has reported 689 new domestic cases of COVID-19 between September 15 and October 5. The number of active cases continues to rise, though Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated growth is mostly linear (not exponential).

Authorities Respond to Criticism of Restrictions

At the briefing, Þórólfur addressed criticism of the newly-imposed restrictions. Some have dismissed them as too harsh while others have stated they don’t go far enough. The Chief Epidemiologist stated that discussion and disagreement were normal, but stressed that at some point decisions had to be made using the information at hand.

One particular criticism of the restrictions is that they have been imposed across the entire country, while most active COVID-19 cases are in the capital area. (Just over 79% of current active cases are in or near Reykjavík.) Þórólfur argued that if restrictions were not imposed unilaterally, we could end up chasing outbreaks from region to region and it could take longer to contain the virus.

Pandemic Fatigue Sets In

Director of Health Alma Möller stated that “pandemic fatigue” was setting in among the Icelandic population. She stressed that it was normal to be tired of restrictions and for some people to disagree with authorities’ decisions. However, it is important for the nation to stick together and remember how solidarity helped tackle Iceland’s first wave.

Alma underlined the importance of washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer before entering stores to protect others, as well as after to protect ourselves. She urged the public to avoid crowds, stick to their nearest and dearest for companionship, and stay home if experiencing symptoms. She thanked all those who were following regulations.

Police Did Not Store Bar Patrons’ Data

Reporters questioned authorities on group outbreaks that had occurred in several Reykjavík bars and restaurants. Following the outbreaks, card companies provided the Office of the Chief Epidemiologist with information on patrons from several venues where outbreaks had occurred. The companies came to the conclusion that providing this information was in compliance with their data protection policy. The information was used to contact those who had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 at the venues and request they come in for testing. The police did not receive the data and are not storing it.

Víðir closed the briefing by reminding the public of the small actions they can take to prevent the spread of infection, such as sanitising commonly-used surfaces. He encouraged the public to contact those who live alone as well as those in nursing homes and organise fun events to help them cope. “Endurance and perseverance will get us through this,” he stated. “Small victories lead to success. Let’s take this one day at a time.”

COVID-19 briefings will take place at 11.00am UTC on Mondays and Thursdays from now on. Iceland Review live-tweets all briefings in English on our Twitter page.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Tightened Restrictions Have Taken Effect

sundhöll

Gatherings must be limited to 20 people in Iceland and gyms, bars, and clubs are closed as of midnight last night. Tightened restrictions took effect in the country today and will remain in effect until at least October 19. The Department of Civil Protection declared a national state of emergency yesterday due to the current spread of SARS-CoV-2. Iceland has reported 630 new domestic cases of COVID-19 between September 15 and October 4.

Bars, clubs, slot machine parlours, and gyms have been closed under the new regulations. Pools will be allowed to remain open but must operate at half capacity.

Only 20 people are allowed to assemble at once, down from the previous 200. Nevertheless, the updated regulations outline several exceptions to this limit. Secondary schools and colleges may have up to 30 students together in each classroom. Funerals are permitted to have 50 guests in attendance, and larger stores are allowed to admit 100 customers at once. Parliament, courts, and emergency response teams (police, firefighters, search and rescue, and healthcare workers), are also exempt from the 20-person limit.

Regarding cultural events, theatre performances will be allowed to continue in spaces with a maximum of 100 audience members and mandatory mask usage. Spectators will be allowed at outdoor (but not indoor) athletic events as well. In both cases, seats must be numbered. Up to 50 can take part in competitive sports, subject to guidelines.

The general distancing guideline remains at 1 metre. Masks are required whenever it isn’t possible to maintain that distance between people who do not share a household, including on public transport.

Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from distancing and assembly limits. There will be no restrictions placed on preschool or primary school operations.