COVID-19 in Iceland: Current Restrictions Extended Until December 9

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Iceland’s Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to extend the current COVID-19 restrictions until December 9. Authorities had suggested the possibility of slightly relaxing restrictions from December 2, but a new uptick in cases in recent days led them to reconsider the plan. The minister’s decision to maintain current restrictions is in line with Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations.

Iceland has reported an uptick in new domestic cases in recent days, following several weeks of declining numbers. Current restrictions, which include a gathering limit of 10 people and closure of bars, swimming pools, and gyms, were originally valid until today, December 1, and set to be replaced with new regulations tomorrow, December 2.

In his recommendations submitted to the Health Minister last week, the Chief Epidemiologist suggested a minimal loosening of restrictions from December 2. He later rescinded those recommendations after case numbers began to rise again.

Read More: Icelanders Advised to Form Christmas Bubble

Þórólfur’s memorandums to the Health Minister always include a clause that his suggestions may change if the situation takes a turn for the worse. He stated that the current rise in numbers was due to small gatherings. “What we’re seeing now is the effect of what happened a week ago, because it takes about a week before the numbers reflect the changes. This is the result of gatherings, not necessarily huge parties. Any gatherings, within families or outside them, are a clear risk factor. This is a time when people get together, especially families. We want to ask people to be very careful and stay away from such gatherings so we won’t be hit hard in the coming weeks.”

Authorities issued specific recommendations for holiday gatherings yesterday.

Government to Increase Support for Independent Media

A bill on amendments to the Media Act proposes still greater financial support for private media companies than the media act bill introduced nearly one year ago. While the previous bill suggested eligible companies could receive a grant for up to 18% of their operating costs, the new bill suggests the grants could amount to up to 25% of those costs.

The bill defines a private media company as one “that is neither wholly, nor in part, owned by the state, municipalities, institutions, or companies in their ownership.” The financial help is intended to support news collection and dissemination and coverage of social issues. To be eligible for government support, a private media company must have at least three employees working full-time on creating and disseminating material. Local media companies (covering a specific region or neighbourhood, for example) must have at least one full-time staff member doing such work.

There are other requirements for a media company to be eligible for support through the initiative. The company must have submitted annual reports to the Media Committee and have paid its public fees in full. Its employees’ salaries and working conditions must be in accordance with collective agreements and laws.

Read More: Icelandic Government Launches Fund to Support Private Media Companies

The grants may be used toward direct wage costs of journalists, editors, assistant editors, cameramen, photographers, and proofreaders, as well as contractors in such positions.

As elsewhere in the world, Icelandic media companies are facing a challenging operational environment. One of the country’s largest papers, Morgunblaðiðlaid off 15 employees late last year, following exponentially growing losses over the past three years. Icelandic journalists organised worker strikes last year when wage negotiations came to a standstill.