First COVID-19 Death Since April

fatal accident Iceland

A woman in her eighties died from COVID-19 last night at the National University Hospital of Iceland. This is the first death from COVID-19 since the first wave of the pandemic last spring, and the eleventh death from the pandemic in total in Iceland.

The hospital released a statement this morning on the death, expressing sympathy to the patient’s family. The Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason confirmed to RÚV that the patient had been in her seventies and Már Kristjánsson, Head Physician of Infectious Diseases at the National Hospital told Vísir that the woman had not been in the ICU at the time of her death. Ten died in the first wave of the pandemic last spring but no one had died from COVID-19 in Iceland since April 20.

Þórólfur told RÚV there were indications in the past two days that the current wave of the pandemic, which started September 15, could be starting to recede. Most of the infections are occurring in the capital area, and harsher restrictions are in place in the city than in other regions. Other regions are seeing a slight increase in infections and Þórólfur has sent a memo to the Minister of Health suggesting that instead of a social distance of one metre outside the capital area, all regions of the country will be requested to keep a distance of two metres(six feet). Otherwise, he recommends continuing the current infection prevention restrictions for the next 2-3 weeks, with gyms, pools, bars, and clubs closed, a gathering ban for more than 20 people and masks wherever a distance of 2 metres is not possible.

“I think we need to ease restrictions very slowly,” Þórólfur told RÚV. “I think it will take longer to curb this wave of the pandemic than last spring and that’s why we need to do this slowly. It doesn’t take much for new infections to come up and the numbers to start rising again. So I think it will pay off to ease restrictions slowly and end in the right place, rather than do it too quickly and have to tighten restrictions again,” said Þórólfur.

26 patients are now hospitalised with COVID-19 in Iceland, four of which are in the ICU. Yesterday saw 67 new confirmed cases of domestic infections, 50 of which were in quarantine. Iceland currently has 1,206 infected people in isolation.


Mál og menning Bookstore Starts a New Chapter

Earlier this summer, Reykjavík’s Mál og menning bookstore closed its doors “indefinitely,” after some 80 years of operation at Laugavegur 18. It seems, however, that the cornerstone bookseller will soon be turning the page on its old life. DV reports that real estate developer Garðar Kjartansson has signed a ten-year lease with the building owners and intends to keep the Mál og menning (‘Language and Culture’) name but transform the space into a live music venue.

Garðar was quick to assure people that the new Mál og menning would honour its bookish roots. “There will probably be more books than ever before,” he said. The primary design focus will be books, he explained, which will fill the shelves along the walls and be available for purchase or just on-site browsing. “I’m not going to start spending money on decor—everything [we need] is already here.”

To further drive the book focus home, the new Mál og menning is bringing a venerable neighbour into its space: the iconic antiquarian bookstore Bókin (‘The Book’), which has been in operation since 1964. Bókin has been owned and run by Ari Bragason and his father since 1997, and they will now move it into the basement of Laugavegur 18.

Garðar envisions Mál og menning as a bustling live music venue, and then some. “We’ll have concerts here every night from around 8 – 10 pm,” he explained, and there will also be stand-up comedy nights. And chessboards. And two cafes—one on the ground floor and one on the second floor where the Súfistinn café used to be.

The idea is to have all different kinds of music, but Garðar says that jazz musicians have been particularly eager to stage a weekly jazz night. Whatever the genre, however, he says that Mál og menning is not going to be a part of Reykjavík’s late-night djamm circuit. “It’s going to have a laidback Helgi Björns atmosphere,” he said, referring to Helgi Björnsson, the Icelandic actor and singer whose “Ef ég nenni” (‘If I Bother’) is arguably the go-to Icelandic Christmas pop song. “It’s not going to be a nightspot at all. It’ll be open from noon to midnight, every day.”

Originally, Garður had planned to open Mál og menning in December, but obviously, the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed his plans. “We’re just going to have everything ready and then open when we open, as you say.”

Death in Donation Bin Presumed an Accident

fatal accident Iceland

A man in his thirties was found dead in a Red Cross collection bin in Kópavogur on Monday. Vísir reports that authorities believe the death was accidental, most likely a result of the deceased getting his hand stuck when he was trying to reach into the container.

The man was found around 8:00 in the morning after police were notified by a passerby. It is not known how long he had been stuck in the container.

“There’s nothing to say that this was anything other than an accident,” said Detective Chief Superintendent Karl Steinar Valsson, however, the final results of the man’s autopsy were not available at the time of writing. Karl Steinar said these could be delayed due to the unusually high number of post mortems that the medical examiner, Pétur Guðmann Guðmannsson, has had to conduct of late. For instance, just last Friday, said Karl Steinar, Pétur Guðmann had to conduct an autopsy on another man in his thirties died in an RV fire with his three dogs.

Pétur Guðmann is the only medical examiner in Iceland and conducts all the county’s autopsies.

Unusually high number of autopsies this year

As point of unfortunate fact, there has been an unusually high number of autopsies conducted in Iceland this year. So many, that earlier this month, another medical examiner—Snjólag Níelsdóttir, who lives and works in Denmark—had to be hired on a temporary, part-time basis to assist Pétur Guðmann at the National University Hospital four days a month. As many as 200 autopsies have been performed already in 2020, which is the same number as were performed during the whole of 2019. Pétur Guðmann says this is particularly unusual, as the number of annual autopsies in Iceland has remained basically unchanged for years.

Pétur Guðmann says that authorities have yet to fully analyze whether there have actually been more deaths of a violent or sudden nature this year or whether the increase in autopsies has more to do with police or doctors at the scene of death deciding more often that the cause of death calls for further investigation. Generally speaking, autopsies are performed at the request of police, most often in connection with suicides or unexplained deaths—those that occur suddenly, whether that be in the case of a cerebral haemorrhage, an accident, or an incident of violence. The medical examiner also performs examinations on the living, usually in connection with incidents of domestic violence. The medical examiner usually conducts around fifty such examinations each year.

Pétur Guðmann thinks it could well be possible that COVID-19 has had an effect on how much authorities depend on autopsies. A post mortem examination could, for instance, determine whether someone died from complications related to COVID-19. “Society is in a much different place in recent months,” said Pétur Guðmann, “and maybe this has had an effect on people’s threshold for requesting an examination.”

Ten COVID Vaccines in Final Trial Stages

Ten COVID-19 vaccines are now in their final trial stages, RÚV reports. All of the vaccinations have performed well in trials, but furthest along in its testing is the vaccine that is being developed by Swedish-British pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca. Iceland is among the countries that have already made arrangements to buy vaccines from Astra Zeneca when it is ready for use and distribution.

See Also: Iceland to Buy 550,000 COVID-19 Vaccinations

Per international agreements that have been put in place regarding COVID-19 vaccination distribution, all nations that are part of COVAX, an international collaboration to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination, will promptly receive enough shots to vaccinate 20% of their populations.

“They’ll need to prioritize who they’ll start with,” explained Ingileif Jónsdóttir, a professor specializing in allergies at the University of Iceland who also works at deCODE Genetics. The rest of the countries’ populations will be vaccinated in a later phase. “One of the conditions of being a member of COVAX is accepting that it won’t be one or two countries that get everything first…[T]here are 74 countries that have been determined to be poor or of average wealth. This is being done in order to ensure that as far as it’s possible, people can’t pay to push to the front of the queue. That won’t serve anyone,” said Ingileif.

See Also: Iceland Contributes ISK 500 Million to International Vaccine Development Initiative

Ensuring that less wealthy countries receive proportional amounts of the vaccine at an affordable price is indeed a priority. “There is also a requirement that each dose costs no more than $3, which is really low,” continued Ingileif. “If we have a lot of countries where there is no protection [against the virus], then the other countries will be just as exposed as before.”

Asked about possible side effects or complications that could arise from being vaccinated against COVID-19, Ingileif pointed to other vaccines against viruses that have been safely used by millions of people for decades. Side effects from vaccination are extremely rare, she said, and not serious.

“It’s maybe one in 500,000 or one in a million people [who have serious side effects from vaccination], while the diseases that these vaccinations prevent were perhaps causing 10% of deaths and having other serious consequences. So if you compare the results of vaccination and are preventing mass deaths…the risk is infinitesimal,” Ingileif concluded.

Rio Tinto Strike Postponed One Week

Friday’s planned strike of 400 employees at the Rio Tinto aluminium smelter at Straumavík in the capital area has been postponed for a week.

A very concise announcement on the website of the Hlíf labour union confirmed this on Thursday evening, saying, “This is being done to give the contract committee more time to put together a new wage agreement.”

“If the contract isn’t obtained within that time period, strike actions will begin on October 23, in accordance with previous announcements.”