Westfjords Tunnel Opens to Locals’ Joy

Dýrafjarðargöng

The Dýrafjarðargöng tunnel was formally opened yesterday following a three-year construction period. The tunnel is 5.6km (3.4mi) long and shortens the route connecting the northern and southern Westfjords by 27.4 kilometres. Dýrafjarðargöng replaces a mountain pass over Hrafnseyrarheiði that impassable for much of the year due to snow and weather conditions.

Residents of the area have been waiting for the tunnel expectantly for years. In 2010, schoolchildren from the nearby town of Þingeyri “broke ground” for the project, though its official construction did not begin until 2017.

RÚV reports that it was students from the Þingeyri primary school that were the first to traverse the tunnel when it opened yesterday, as well as Gunnar Gísli Sigurðsson, who has ploughed the Hrafseyrarheiði road that it is replacing since 1974. Gunnar celebrated the tunnel’s opening and said he wouldn’t miss his winter job. “It’s a good feeling. It was high time.”

The tunnel is a big step toward ensuring safe, year-round routes between towns of the Westfjords.

“No one knew about this COVID thing,” says CEO of Company that Kept Sick Fishermen at Sea

Júlíus Geirmundsson

The CEO of a seafood company that kept COVID-infected fishermen at sea for three weeks has responded to public criticism with a statement and interview that leaves more questions than answers. Twenty-two of 25 crew members on one of the company’s ships contracted COVID-19 shortly after setting out to sea. The company has been under fire for not bringing the ship to harbour even after the crew began to exhibit symptoms and contrary to advice from doctors.

One crew member that was on the ship described the conditions in an interview with press. After the crew was informed about the first illness on board, he stated, a few sick crew members were isolated in cabins. Others were asked to continue working, even with severe symptoms. When the ship finally returned to harbour three weeks later, it was not for the purpose of testing crew members, rather principally due to bad weather.

Read More: Fishing Company Under Fire for Keeping COVID-Infected Crew at Sea

Hraðfrystihúsið Gunnvör released a statement yesterday regarding the COVID outbreak on their ship Júlíus Geirmundsson. The statement, sent to Icelandic media outlets in Word document format, had many puzzling aspects to it: though it was sent out in the name of the company’s CEO Einar Valur Kristjánsson, Microsoft Word metadata cited the author as Fisheries Iceland Director Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir.

Einar Valur’s statements in an interview with Vísir also seemed contradictory. Though he admitted the company “underestimated the conditions on board,” he also stated that “This is new. No one knew about this COVID thing. We didn’t know what it was. And this is, just as I say, the first COVID that comes into our company.” When the reporter pointed out that the incident occurred recently, many months after the SARS-CoV-2 virus arrived in Iceland, Einar’s response was that he had “listened to many episodes with the Chief Epidemiologist and this is of course unprecedented. We didn’t know [COVID] before and we are struggling with it. We are not looking for any culprits, rather apologising for not reacting differently.”

Einar was also questioned about the ship captain, who reportedly isolated crew members together in cabins for up to three days. He responded that it was “not possible to explain that. It would have been correct to return to harbour but this is just what happened.” Einar stated that the company was reviewing its regulations and what went wrong in the decision-making process. He denied that crew members were forbidden from contacting the press, saying there were internet and phone service onboard the ship.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Group Outbreak in National Hospital Strains Healthcare System

COVID-19 ward Iceland National University Hospital Tómas Guðbjartsson

A group outbreak of COVID-19 at the National University Hospital is straining the Icelandic healthcare system. In a briefing today, Director of Health Alma Möller recommended all optional surgeries be postponed to minimise the risk of further hospitalisation. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that authorities would be monitoring to see whether the hospital outbreak leads to community infections, and if so, whether COVID-19 restrictions need to be tightened further.

Iceland’s National University Hospital is currently treating 51 patients with COVID-related illnesses, the highest number of COVID patients it has ever had. There are 15 patients in the ICU, three of which have COVID-19. The hospital is currently operating according to a state of emergency, in part due to a group outbreak of COVID-19 among elderly patients at its Landakot location. The outbreak has infected 79 individuals: 27 (largely elderly) patients and 52 staff members. The outbreak heavily impacts operations at Landakot.

Landakot Outbreak Could Lead to Rise in Community Infection

Though previous COVID-19 outbreaks in hospital had not led to a rise in community infection, the Chief Epidemiologist stated that he would not be surprised in the Landakot outbreak spread to the community. Case numbers over the next few days would show whether this was the case, and whether he would recommend further restrictions would depend on those numbers.

Patients Spread COVID to Other Institutions

At the briefing, the hospital’s director Páll Matthíasson commended hospital staff, which he stated were shouldering an “inhuman” workload. He stated that the hospital currently had three priorities: ensuring it can treat COVID patients, making sure hospital services remain accessible to those who need them, and containing the Landakot outbreak.

Before the outbreak was discovered, some patients were moved to Reykjalundur and Eyrarbakki, resulting in infections in those institutions. Þórólfur stated that the patients were not tested before being moved as the outbreak had not been discovered at that point, but added that authorities would be more careful in the future when transporting patients between healthcare institutions. It was necessary to transport the patients to ease strain on the hospital.

Authorities Consider Mandatory Border Testing

The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his concern that individuals may not be following rules on quarantine upon arriving to the country. While travellers arriving from abroad can currently choose between 14-day quarantine or double testing with five-day quarantine, Þórolfur stated that authorities were considering making the latter option mandatory.

As usual, Þórólfur responded to news of an impending vaccine with cautious optimism, reminding the public that we still have a long way to go in this pandemic and personal preventative measures such as handwashing remain crucial in bringing down case numbers. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson underlined the importance of staying home if you have symptoms and asked employers to make this policy clear to their staff.

Reykjavík Jail Cells Empty Last Weekend

police car

The closure of bars and clubs due to COVID-19 seems to have lightened the workload for police in the Reykjavík capital area last weekend. The region’s jail cells were all empty last Saturday night, a rare occurrence when the town’s watering holes are open for business.

A press release from capital area police sent at 5.00am on Sunday morning reported that jail cells were empty in the region and had been so since Saturday. On-duty officer Hallgrímur Hallgrímsson who sent out the notice stated that he could not remember another occasion when all the city’s jail cells were empty on a Saturday night.

Bars and clubs in the capital area have been closed for several weeks in an attempt to tackle the third wave of COVID-19. Measures appear to be having an effect, as active case numbers have been dropping since October 17.