First Vaccine Doses Scheduled To Arrive In Iceland Around New Year

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Icelandic healthcare authorities have signed a contract with Pfizer to purchase 170,000 doses of their COVID-19 vaccine, enough to vaccinate 85,000 people. It is assumed that the European Medicines Agency will give the Pfizer vaccine the green light December 29 at the latest. According to a release from the Ministry of Health, the first doses are scheduled to arrive around New Year, all in all just over 21,000 doses, enough to vaccinate 10,600 people.

The government has signed vaccine contracts with two vaccine producers, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, and the third is in the works. Altogether, the government will secure vaccines for over 280,000 people. Authorities have earlier stated that up to 250,000 people will have to be vaccinated in Iceland to reach herd immunity and that they plan to complete their vaccination goal in the first quarter of 2021.

Iceland’s healthcare authorities will likely use more than one type of vaccine. They might suit different groups in different ways, which can affect prioritisation. The Chief Epidemiologist is responsible for organising and coordinating vaccination efforts, including decisions on which groups should receive which vaccines. He has the prerogative to grant exemptions from the prioritisation regulations if necessary. The Chief Epidemiologist plans to publish a vaccination strategy next week, which will include vaccination prioritisation, vaccination locations depending on the number of doses arriving at a time, and registration. Covid.is already has some information on vaccinations, and once planning is complete, the vaccination efforts will be introduced there.

 

Iceland Revises Its Climate Goals: 55% Emissions Reduction By 2030

Katrín Jakobsdóttir

The Icelandic state will aim for a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, not 40% as was decided at the beginning of the current government’s term. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir will present three new climate goals toward this aim at the United Nations summit tomorrow. The revised policy means Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions are expected to be 55% lower in 2030 than they were in 1990.

Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir has called climate change the biggest challenge facing society today, adding that it’s important to limit its negative impact and ensure the future of humanity and the environment as a whole.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral By 2040

Iceland’s emission reduction goals tie into its participation in the Paris Climate Agreement. Countries that are a party to the agreement are expected to revise their goals every five years. It has become clear to officials that the current goals will not be sufficient to keep the climate’s warming within 2°C and climate actions must go further. Other countries that are party to the agreement, such as China, Japan, and the UK, have also revised their climate goals to cut emissions further within a shorter timeframe.

The Climate Ambition Summit will be live-streamed on Saturday afternoon at 2.00pm UTC.

Icelandic Government Presents First Comprehensive Food Policy

“Iceland holds unique opportunities in the field of food production but the challenges ahead are also big, not least in the areas of climate issues and public health. Therefore, it’s important to form a clear vision of the future,” stated Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who presented Iceland’s first comprehensive food policy yesterday alongside Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson.

The 10-year policy aims to address public health and food security, as well as competition and value creation within food production in Iceland. It also aims to support development in the industry through innovation and research. It took two years of committee work to create the policy, which also addresses climate goals and sustainability.

“The cornerstone of Iceland’s new food policy is the country’s unique position when it comes to food production,” the Minister of Fisheries stated. “It is undisputed and we should show it off in every respect. Opportunities in Icelandic food production are everywhere. The demand for pure and wholesome products is constantly increasing and we are well-placed to meet that demand. Our goal is to ensure continuous prosperity through increased value creation.”

Read More: Untapped Potential in Vegetable Farming in Iceland

While most of Iceland’s agriculture subsidies go toward sheep and cow farming, the government recently increased its investment in domestic vegetable and fruit cultivation. There has been growing innovation in many kinds of food production in the country in recent years.

Conflict Over Changes to Lumpfish Quotas

Glettingur

Minister of Fisheries Kristján Þór Júlíusson has presented a bill to Parliament suggesting that lumpfish fishing be subject to catch quotas. While a majority of lumpfish licence holders, 244 out of 450, presented the minister with a declaration of support, their organised interest group, the National Association of Small Boat Owners, contests the bill, with the majority of its regional associations objecting to the proposed fishing management changes.

Read more on Iceland’s lumpfish fishermen

Lumpfish fishing

Lumpfish are caught using small boats and nets for a short period every spring and are mainly caught for their roe. The majority of lumpfish fishers are independent fishermen living outside the capital area, so their economic prospects are important for small towns. About 450 boats are licenced to catch lumpfish, but only about half of those are in active use at any given time. Currently, fishing management for lumpfish is based on effort quotas meaning that fishing is limited to a certain period of time, during which the sailors can catch as much lumpfish as they can carry. The time restraints are intended to make sure that the catch stays within the recommended lumpfish catch limits.

Proposed changes would benefit active lumpfish fishers

The new bill proposes that the lumpfish catch be limited by the amount of catch instead, with each boat getting an allotted quota. Proponents of the bill argue that this would allow fishers to better organise their fishing by eliminating competition between fishermen. Instead of rushing out in every weather to get their share of the catch, they would know in advance how much they can catch, allowing them to plan to fish during suitable times for getting the product to market. In past years, lumpfish catch has fluctuated between under and overfishing and catch quotas would regulate that more efficiently. The amount of lumpfish licences means that if prices on lumpfish roe were to rise dramatically, the inactive licence holders might join the season, leading to more competition for the limited catch.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The opposing argument is that the quota would be allotted to boats in active fishing, not those who have a lumpfish licence not currently in use. Catch quotas are  more valuable than a lumpfish licence so active lumpfish fishers stand to gain from the bill, while inactive licence holders will lose their licence and likely have to shell out high prices for quotas if they want to resume lumpfish fishing in the future. The argument against changing the system is that the current system mostly works fine, and despite fluctuations in the catch, on average it is at par with the catch limits. Increased regulation would therefore not improve the situation but be cumbersome for inactive fishers. The exception is this year, when the Minister cut the lumpfish season short, upsetting the balance between lumpfish fishers in different regions.

Internal differences in interest group

Comprised of fifteen regional associations, the National Association of Small Boat Owners advocates for lumpfish fishermen but it also represents other small boat owners who don’t fish for lumpfish as well as inactive lumpfish licence holders. Nine out of its 15 regional associations have objected to the proposed catch quotas in preparation for the association’s annual meeting, scheduled for today. Four support the bill and two have not declared an official stance. It should be noted that in past years, even though an association objects to the quota, its representatives might have voted in favour of catch quotas, against their association’s stance, if it benefits them personally and votes have fallen with a narrow margin. The National Associations annual General Meeting is today and the discord between lumpfish fishers and association’s stance will likely be a hot button issue.

Why is this important?

The future of lumpfish fishing is uncertain at the moment. The nets used for fishing lumpfish lead to unwanted bycatch, including seals and whales, making the fishing undesirable in terms of environmental protection. The amount of bycatch doesn’t comply with the United States’ Marine Mammal Protection Act, and this might threatens lucrative cod export to the US market. While lumpfish fishing recently regained its MSC certification for sustainable fishing after taking steps to minimise bycatch, the success of the actions taken is yet to be sufficiently investigated, due to pandemic-related interruptions. Banning lumpfish fishing would be a hard blow that would disproportionately affect independent fishermen in small towns but if the lumpfish fishing is subject to catch quotas, they consider it more likely that they would be compensated for their damages if the government finds it necessary to eliminate the fishing to protect cod export to the US.

Cluster Infection in Directorate of Immigration Housing

COVID-19 test tubes

Eight new domestic infections diagnosed over the past two days are traced to a cluster infection in Directorate of Immigration housing in the capital area, RÚV reports. Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, assistant to the Director of the Civil Protection Department confirmed the information. Iceland reported a total of 12 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 11 of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis.

Rögnvaldur stated that to his knowledge the individuals infected with COVID-19 were asylum seekers. The housing where the infection has occurred is for families, and is located in Hafnarfjörður, in the Reykjavík capital area.

Six of the eight infections were diagnosed yesterday and the other two the previous day. The six diagnosed yesterday had already been placed in quarantine. At least some of those who have tested positive have been moved to the publicly-operated quarantine hotel in Reykjavík.

Rögnvaldur stated that a number of others were in quarantine due to the outbreak but could not confirm how many. Contact tracing is still underway.

Iceland currently has 188 active cases of COVID-19. Thirty-three are in hospital and three in intensive care due to COVID-19, though most of these individuals are no longer actively infectious.