Ischgl Authorities Ignored Warning from Iceland

Ischgl

According to correspondence and meeting minutes that news agency AFP has in their possession, the regional government of Tyrol in Austria ignored early warnings from Icelandic health authorities about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the Austrian ski resort village Ischgl. The area later became a COVID-19 hotspot. Sixteen Icelanders are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus in the town. Mbl.is reported first.

More than 6,000 tourists reportedly contracted SARS-CoV-2 in Ischgl, many of them spreading the infection further in their home countries. Tyrol authorities have repeatedly stated that their response to the spread of the virus was adequate and sufficient based on the information available at the time. The documents in AFP’s possessions show, however, that they knew of likely infections at certain bars and downplayed this knowledge in messages to the public.

When Icelanders who had been in Ischgl tested positive upon returning to Iceland in early March, Icelandic authorities contacted Austrian officials to warn them of the possible spread of the virus in the resort town. Rather than heeding Icelandic authorities’ warning, Austrian officials decided to focus on the comments of two of these Icelanders, who stated they may have been infected on the plane ride home. These comments later headlined a press release from authorities.

Four Austrian officials are now under investigation for possibly endangering the public with their response to the virus. Several lawsuits have also been fined in connection with COVID-19 cases that have been traced to Ischgl.

Minister of Justice to Present Bill on Abolishing Naming Committee

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir is introducing a bill tomorrow that would abolish Iceland’s controversial naming committee, which controls what names can be given in Iceland. If passed, the bill would give locals “freedom to bear the name you choose, to adopt a new family name and no maximum to the number of names” would be prescribed to individuals, Áslaug wrote in a Twitter post. She encouraged Twitter users to contact her with stories about how they have been negatively impacted by Iceland’s strict naming laws.

The Icelandic Naming Committee maintains a register of approved Icelandic given names and governs the introduction of new names into Icelandic culture. Its existence has been a topic of debate in recent years. Parents who want to give a child a name that is not included on the register must apply to the committee for an exception. Given names must conform to Icelandic grammar rules and it is forbidden to take on a new family name (most Icelanders have patronymics).

Legal and language experts have argued that Iceland’s naming regulations are unconstitutional and discriminatory. Dissolving the naming committee has been proposed by various parties in Parliament on several occasions in recent years. The most significant amendment that has been made to naming legislation recently occurred last year, when they were changed in line with the Gender Autonomy Act passed by Parliament.

The topic resurfaced last year when the legislation restricted two sisters from adopting a new family name. They grew up in extreme poverty and neglect at the hands of their father and had not been in touch with him for over a decade, yet naming law meant they could not drop their patronymic and replace it with a new last name. Áslaug stated that she has often used the sisters’ example to point out the injustice of Iceland’s naming laws.

Áslaug’s bill would, however, take steps to ensure that children are not given names that could cause them harm (one of the duties of the existing Naming Committee it proposes to abolish). According to the bill’s provisions, the National Registry would be notified in such cases and would seek the expertise of the Ombudsman for Children.

“I believe that people’s right to choose their own name is richer than the state’s right to restrict. This is an important step toward increasing people’s freedom,” Áslaug told Vísir.

More Funding Needed to Teach Foreigners Icelandic

Icelandic language education course

Lack of government funding is preventing foreigners who want to learn Icelandic from accessing courses, Vísir reports. Many foreigners find themselves currently unemployed and have the time and desire to improve their Icelandic language skills, and one Icelandic language program manager wonders why the government is not doing more to support this group.

Steinunn Ósk Kolbeinsdóttir manages the Icelandic language program at Fræðslunet Suðurlands, an adult education centre in South Iceland. Thanks to government funding, the school has offered Icelandic language courses to foreigners for years, and Steinunn says demand for the courses is very high.

“We can only take the same number as usual as we are not receiving more funding from the state to hold Icelandic language courses. We could teach many more [people] than we do and I see that there are many foreigners who are a bit surprised and astounded that they cannot continue to study for example when they’ve finished one course and then they want to take another course. Then we’ve used up the government grant and then we have to stop until the following year,” says Steinunn.

Read More: Why Many Foreigners Struggle to Learn Icelandic

The government need to have more awareness of the issue, says Steinunn, and develop policies for teaching Icelandic as a second language. “I just want us to appreciate these hardworking people, who have taken it upon themselves to move to Iceland and work all sort of jobs here that Icelanders haven’t necessarily been enthusiastic about filling, and this manpower that has come here is incredibly important for us and I find it remarkable that this group has the interest and the will to learn a language that 300,000 people in the world speak.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Continued Border Testing Key to Christmas Celebrations

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Icelanders can tentatively look forward to Christmas with fewer restrictions if border testing measures are maintained, stated Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason in a COVID-19 briefing this morning. Authorities stated that it was too early to celebrate over dropping daily case numbers, and the coming days will determine whether harsher restrictions that took effect last week have been effective in containing Iceland’s third wave of COVID-19 infection.

Iceland reported 50 new domestic COVID-19 cases yesterday, 66% of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Active COVID-19 infections in the country number 1,022, close to the record of 1,096 reached on April 5. There are currently 23 COVID-19 patients in hospital and 2 on ventilators. At the briefing, Director of Health Alma Möller stated that the National University Hospital was managing the load well for the time being, but could expect increased strain in the coming weeks as COVID-19 symptoms worsen among those newly diagnosed.

Antibody Parties are Not a Good Idea

When questioned about a young man who proposed throwing a party for all Icelanders who had antibodies to the virus, the Chief Epidemiologist stated that he did not recommend such events. “I think it would maybe provoke people to try to get the virus so they could then go party and that could turn out badly.” Alma added: “Also people [with antibodies] can still have the virus on their hands and transmit it between people, though they themselves are immune. So we encourage everyone who has had COVID-19 to exercise caution regarding preventative measures.”

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson also added that the regulations in place apply equally to everyone, regardless of whether they’ve had the virus or not. “We are in a country where the same laws apply to everyone and the same rules to everyone, so there will be no change regarding how many people can congregate based on whether they have antibodies or not.”

Christmas Celebrations Tied to Border Testing

Reporters asked the panel whether Icelandic residents could expect regulations to be relaxed by Christmastime. Þórólfur stated that he hoped the current measures would be successful in containing the virus, but relaxing restrictions would also depend on maintaining current border testing measures. Since Iceland implemented double testing and five-day quarantine at the border in August, Þórólfur says, no new strains of the virus have been detected in the country. Those measures will be in place until at least December 1.

Iceland Review live-tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings. The next briefing is scheduled for Thursday, October 15.