Icelandic Minks Are COVID-Free

The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority has tested for the coronavirus in every mink farm in Iceland and all tests were negative. Increased infection prevention regulations have been issued for mink farms.

Minks in all nine mink farms in Iceland were tested at the Keldur Institute for Experimental Pathology, University of Iceland, as well as DeCode Genetics. Samples were taken from dead minks following the annual fur harvest. All tests were negative for COVID-19. Following the harvest, the country’s stock of farm minks has decreased to 15,000 animals who will wait for spring to mate again.

The Food and Veterinary Authority has made plans for regular testing at every farm this winter. In addition, mink farm staff will be tested according to Chief Epidemiologist’s directions.

The Ministry of Industry and Innovation has issued increased infection prevention regulations for mink farms, according to The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority’s suggestion. The aim is to prevent COVID-19 infection in Icelandic farmed minks. The regulation dictates increased demand for staff’s personal infection preventions, a ban on live mink transport and unnecessary mink dwelling visits. Live mink displays will not be allowed and as a result, the minks at the Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo will not be on display.

There has been no suspicion of COVID-19 infections in minks in Iceland but The Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority embarked on the testing as a precaution following news of COVID-19 infection in Danish mink farms and viral transmissions between minks and humans. The Danish government’s attempt to respond to the news by having all minks in Denmark put down has caused political uproar and led to the resignation of the Danish Minister of Food, Fisheries and Equal Opportunities.



COVID-19 in Iceland: Christmas Parties Pose Danger to Progress

Icelandic authorities caution the public to tread carefully when it comes to social gatherings leading up to Christmas. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that while Icelanders can rejoice that domestic infections are on the decline, the public must maintain preventative measures and restrictions throughout the normally social holiday season to avoid a new uptick in cases.

The Advent season leading up to Christmas is normally a very social time for Icelandic locals. Extended families gather to make laufabrauð, friends meet over drinks in each other’s homes, and workplaces host large Christmas parties for their staff. Attending at least one Christmas concert is a tradition among many families as well.

Despite Iceland’s relative success in managing the current wave of infection, Þórólfur stressed the importance of continued distancing, handwashing, and other preventative actions to avoid a resurgence of cases before Christmas. Director of Health Alma Möller also stated at the briefing that authorities were considering issuing guidelines for private parties during the holidays.

Wave on the Wane

Iceland reported 4 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 2 of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. The country now has the lowest incidence rate in all of Europe, at 50.7. The number of active cases is at 233 and has been declining since mid-October. Strain on the healthcare system is also decreasing, though 52 are currently hospitalised due to COVID-19 and 3 in intensive care.

Þórólfur praised Icelanders for their actions and solidarity, which had helped contain the current wave of infections. He stated he would suggest an easing of restrictions after December 1, but expressed concern about holiday gatherings. If you deem it safe to meet with older relatives or others, he stated, make sure you continue practising distancing and other preventative measures.

Vaccinations and Priority Groups

While news of vaccine development is promising, Þórólfur pointed out that no COVID vaccine is ready at this point. A plan outlining how vaccinations will be administered once they are available should be completed by the end of the year, stated Þórólfur. Neighbourhood health centres will administer the majority of vaccinations, but how they will be distributed depends on many factors, including how many doses Iceland receives at first.

The Ministry of Health is still working to determine which groups would be prioritised in vaccination, but the Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that healthcare staff should be one of those groups. Authorities stressed the importance of continued social distancing and restrictions until a vaccine has been administered.

Iceland’s Central Bank Lowers Interest Rates Once More

Central Bank Ásgeir Jónsson seðlabankastjóri

The Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank of Iceland (CBI) has decided to lower the Bank’s interest rates by 0.25 percentage points. The Bank’s key interest rate will therefore be a historically low 0.75%. The CBI has been steadily lowering interest rates throughout the year. A press release from the bank states that the economic outlook has deteriorated, in part due to increased COVID-19 restrictions put in place this fall.

“The autumn surge in COVID-19 cases and the tightened public health measures have weakened the economic rebound that began in Q3, following a historically large contraction in Q2,” the press release states. “The economic outlook has therefore deteriorated, and according to the forecast in the November Monetary Bulletin, GDP growth is set to contract by 8.5% this year, a full 1 percentage point more than was forecast in August. GDP growth is projected to be weaker in 2021 as well.”

Economic Outlook “Highly Uncertain”

While the króna depreciated during Iceland’s first wave of the pandemic last spring, it has been relatively stable in the recent term and long-term inflation projections are largely unchanged. Inflation is expected to average around 3.7% until early 2021 and then begin to ease.

The press release describes the economic outlook as “highly uncertain,” saying “economic developments will depend to a considerable degree on the path the pandemic takes.”