COVID-19 in Iceland: Border Testing Will Be Free of Charge, But Remain Optional

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 testing at the border will be free of charge during December and January. The government made the decision based on the suggestion of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason but he suggested the testing would either be made free of charge or mandatory. Currently, travellers to Iceland have an option of a 14-day quarantine on arrival or undergoing double testing with a 5-day quarantine for the price of 11,000 ISK ($80, €68), 9,000($66, €55) if the register before arrival.

In Þórólfur’s memo to the Minister of Health, he disclosed his worry that the pandemic’s growth abroad might result in an increase of infections domestically if travellers opt for the 14-day quarantine but don’t heed the quarantine rules. He points to the fact that in several cases, suspicion arose that travellers wouldn’t stay in quarantine, e.g. travellers that were only intending to stay for a few days. He suggests either making testing mandatory unless there’s a sound medical reason not to, or making border testing free of charge. During Monday’s information briefing, Þórólfur revealed that in addition to the most common strain of the virus during this wave of the pandemic, two small group infections of a new viral strain had been detected, indicating that infections were slipping past the border testing programme.

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir had previously stated that she considered enforcing mandatory testing a difficult prospect.

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s decision that border testing is made free of charge will take effect from December 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021.

Electric Cars Over Half of New Vehicles in Iceland This Year

driving in reykjavík

The majority of newly-registered vehicles in Iceland this year are either electric or hybrid vehicles, mbl.is reports. It is the first time that conventional cars, powered by gasoline or diesel, have not been the majority of new cars purchased.

In 2014, conventional vehicles accounted for 97% of new registrations. So far this year, they account for just 45%, and there is no sign the trend will reverse. Hybrid vehicles and plug-in hybrids are popular in Iceland, but fully electric vehicles have gained the most ground on the market recently.

Read More: How is the Icelandic government promoting electric vehicles?

Electric or hybrid cars currently account for 11% of the nation’s fleet. Mbl.is estimates that electric cars will account for the majority of passenger vehicles within a decade or so. There are around 16,000 electric vehicles in Iceland, of a total of 357,000 motor vehicles, of which around 220,000 are passenger vehicles.

Author Gerður Kristný Receives Jónas Hallgrímsson Award

Gerður Kristný Icelandic writer

Writer Gerður Kristný received the 2020 Jónas Hallgrímsson Award yesterday at a ceremony streamed live from Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. The award is bestowed annually on November 16, Icelandic Language Day, to an individual for their contributions to the Icelandic language.

Gerður has published books in a variety of genres including poetry, novels, short stories, and children’s literature. She previously worked as a journalist and editor. In 2011, she was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize for her poetry book Blóðhófnir (Bloodhoof). The book and other works of hers have been translated into English, including her poetry collection Sálumessa (En. Reykjavík Requiem) and her fiction work Smartís (Smarties).

In her acceptance speech, Gerður described the Icelandic language as “a friend,” saying she wasn’t concerned about her survival. “I’m very close to her in my work and I am not worried about her, I know that she’s doing fine.” She added, however, that it was important to take care of Icelandic “like everything one cares about. This responsibility has always given me joy. I believe there’s a responsibility in being an Icelandic poet and writing in Icelandic and having written texts that foreigners want to translate into their own language. There are plenty of foreigners who want to translate our books into their languages. We must be doing something right.”

More Needs to Be Done to Prevent Corruption in Iceland

police car

Iceland has only dealt with four out of 18 recommendations from the Council of Europe to prevent corruption in the central government and law enforcement, according to a new report. The document was issued by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption institution GRECO, and states that Iceland needs to tighten regulations on public officials and lobbyism, as well as limit political interference in law enforcement agencies.

“While GRECO appreciates the holistic approach taken by the authorities addressing conflicts of interest of persons with top executive functions, there is a lack of guidance for public officials on their contacts with third parties and lobbyists, and the introduced rules on post-employment restrictions are rather weak, especially the scope and length of the cooling off period,” a press release from the Council of Europe reads.

“GRECO also regrets that no progress has been made in addressing discrepancies between the codes of conduct applicable to persons with top executive functions and on providing guidance and confidential counselling to them,” the press release continues, saying awareness-raising mechanisms on integrity for those in top positions have yet to be implemented.

Transparent Recruitment Lacking in Law Enforcement

In its report, GRECO welcomes the adoption of the new law on protection of whistleblowers, while saying that “specific measures for its implementation in practice will also be needed.” In law enforcement agencies, GRECA adds that Iceland “needs to limit political interference, and to introduce transparent and fair recruitment procedures,” including by “systematically advertising vacancies, putting in place career procedures and providing criteria for non-renewal of contracts.”

“GRECO appreciates the measures taken in raising awareness through regular training of the police staff on integrity-related matters but regrets the lack of progress with updating the Codes of Conduct of the Police and the Coast Guard. Moreover, GRECO calls the Icelandic authorities to establish an effective mechanism of confidential counselling and for the supervision of internal inquiries, as well as introduce a regulatory framework on gifts, hospitality and other benefits.”