Chief Epidemiologist Out Of Quarantine, Tests Negative For COVID-19

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is out of quarantine after he tested negative for COVID-19 today, RÚV reports.

Þórólfur went into quarantine last Thursday when a staff member with the Directorate of Health tested positive for the virus. He was tested on his first day of quarantine and again today. Both tests were negative.

Chief Superintendent with the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response Víðir Reynisson, another face of Iceland’s Coronavirus pandemic response, recently returned to work after a bout of COVID-19. Víðir’s illness was severe and although he is back to work, he is yet to recover his full strength.

Sea-sons Greetings Shipped from Ísafjörður

A Search and Rescue vessel in Iceland’s Westfjords sent out tidings of joy yesterday with a unique seasonal greeting “shipped” from Ísafjarðardjúp fjord. When Coast Guard wardens reviewed the ship’s route on their equipment, they found it was particularly festive: the crew had “drawn” the shape of a Christmas tree in the fjord.

“When the wardens at the Coast Guard’s control centre looked at the path of rescue ship Gísli Jón from Ísafjörður, this highly amusing picture came to light,” a Facebook post from the Icelandic Coast Guard reads. “Gísli’s crew wanted to send Christmas greetings to everyone in the Coast Guard’s control centre with thanks for their collaboration over the past year. This fun initiative shows well the excellent collaboration that exists between the Icelandic Coast Guard and the Icelandic Search and Rescue Association.”

While this may be a blue Christmas for many due to the ongoing pandemic, the crew of Gísli Jóns managed to give that term a new meaning. The gesture certainly led the Christmas spirit to wash over many social media users, who shared the post widely.

Aim to Sell 25% of State-Owned Íslandsbanki at First

Bjarni Benediktsson kynning fjármálafrumvarp 2021

The Icelandic government plans to sell 25% of shares in Íslandsbanki bank, which is currently fully state-owned, according to a report published by the Ministry of Finance yesterday. Within a longer timeframe, however, the government aims to sell most or all of its shares in the bank. Reducing state ownership of financial institutions has been an aim of Iceland’s financial policy in recent years and is part of the current coalition’s government agreement.

Iceland Review reported yesterday that Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson had approved a proposal from the state holding company ISFI to sell Íslandsbanki. At the time it was not known what percentage of state’s shares would be put up for sale, but the Ministry’s new report states it will be 25%, to begin with. The shares will be sold in a public offering, after which all shares in the bank will be listed on a regulated securities market in Iceland.

The sale of Íslandsbanki has been in discussion for some time. The sale is intended to reduce government risk as well as help mitigate the treasury deficit expected next year as a result of the pandemic.

Read More: Sale of State-Owned Banks in Iceland

The Icelandic government owns a bigger proportion of its country’s banks than any other government in Europe. Two of the country’s three largest banks are in state ownership: Íslandsbanki (100%) and Landsbankinn (98.2%). There are no plans to sell Landsbankinn at this point.

Iceland’s three largest banks – Íslandsbanki, Landsbankinn, and Arion Bank, were established as state-owned institutions on the ruins of other banks that became insolvent during the 2008 crash. Arion Bank has since passed into private ownership while the other two are state-owned.

The Minister of Finance has stated that Íslandsbanki’s value is between ISK 130-140 billion ($1.0-1.1 billion/€834-898 million). The sale income will be used to pay down treasury debt and increase the state’s scope for social investment, according to the Ministry’s report.

Borgarvogur Inlet To Become Nature Reserve

Borgarvogur inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland

The Environment Agency of Iceland, along with landowners and the Borgarbyggð municipality has introduced plans to make Borgarvogur, a narrow inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland, a nature reserve.

Borgarvogur is one of West Iceland’s most important birdlife areas. The inlet and the surrounding wetlands and mudflats are essential for the surrounding area due to its plant and animal life. Over 20 bird species are found in the surrounding wetlands, mudflats, and bayland.

Borgarvogur inlet by Borgarnes in West Iceland
Guðrún Jónsdóttir

Borgarvogur consists of a wide expanse of mudflats, categorized as yellow algae mudflats, and is the largest known such area in Iceland. Yellow algae mudflats contain high densities of algae and other small living organisms but mudflats are also helpful in containing greenhouse gasses. The area’s research and educational value is high and the area is ideal for birdwatching.

By conserving the area, the Environmental Agency is looking to permanently protect the natural state of Borgarvogur and the biological diversity of the area so that it can develop naturally of its own accord. Also to ensure research and monitoring of the areas biosphere and so that the public can use the area to study nature. The suggested conservation area limits are shown on the map below.

Proposed Borgarvogur Nature Reserve Limits
Environmental Agency of Iceland.

The Environmental Agency’s notification is the first step in the conservation process and after the introductory period, representatives from the Environmental Agency, landowners, municipality and Ministry for the Environment and natural resources will draft conservation terms and present to parties of interest. the conservation will then be advertised and the public will be able to comment on the proposal.

Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: 14 Houses Destroyed

mud and water after Seyðisfjörður mudslide

Thirteen houses in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland have collapsed or been completely destroyed by the recent mudslides in the town, Vísir reports. Experts say the damage is massive and could take months to assess. In addition to family homes, many cultural artifacts were damaged by the mudslides. Some areas of the town remain evacuated and several families will not be able to return to their homes before the new year.

Partial Evacuation Remains in Effect

Extreme rainfall over the past two weeks is the reason the mudslides occurred. Though weather conditions have improved, some areas of the town remain evacuated. A notice from the Civil Protection Department from this morning states that an alert phase remains in effect in Seyðisfjörður, along with a partial evacuation due to ongoing risk of mudslides. An “uncertainty phase” remains in effect for East Iceland due to the same risk.

//English below//
//Polski poniżej//

Announcement from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management and…

Posted by Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra on Tuesday, December 22, 2020

 

Not Just Property, but Cultural Loss

A working group has been appointed by the government to evaluate the damage in the town, and it will likely take months to complete the assessment. “It is too early to say how great the damage is but it’s clear that it is massive,” stated Director of the Civil Protection Department Víðir Reynisson. “My experience of such events is that it will take many months or years to fully assess the damage. The long-term rebuilding of such events generally takes five years.”

While many of the homes swept away by the mudslide were historic buildings, the disastrous event also destroyed or damaged many cultural artifacts housed in the town. The town’s historic shipyard and lathe workshop, which housed many artifacts significant to Iceland’s history, were also destroyed by the catastrophe. Experts will do their best to recover as much of the artifacts as possible.

COVID-19 In Iceland: Janssen Vaccine contract Signed, Moderna Deal In Sight

Secretary of the MInistry of Health Ásta Valdimarsdóttir and lawyer Áslaug Einarsdóttir

Iceland has signed a deal securing vaccine from pharmaceutical producer Janssen for Icelanders. This is Icelandic authorities’ third deal on vaccine acquisition and will secure vaccine for 235,000 people. Before, Iceland had signed contracts with Pfizer for 85,000 people and AstraZeneca for 115,000 people. Iceland’s participation in European cooperation on vaccine acquisition secures Iceland proportionally the same amount of the vaccine as all other participating nations.

The Ministry of Health is working on the final draft of a deal with vaccine producer Moderna and expects that the deal will be signed December 31.

According to the government’s vaccine projections, distribution of the Janssen vaccine is expected to start in the third quarter of 2021, while the Moderna vaccine will be discussed by the European Medicines Agency in early January and distribution is expected to start in the first quarter of 2021.

The first shipment of 10,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive shortly after Christmas and vaccinations are scheduled to begin December 29. The first priority groups will be frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents. Assistant to the Director of Health Kjartan Hreinn Njálsson told Fréttablaðið that it is likely that the first person vaccinated in Iceland will be a staff member at the National Hospital but the plan is yet to be finalized.

People won’t have to book a time for vaccination but will be called in through the online national healthcare system heilsuvera.is and receive a text message informing them of the scheduled vaccination. Afterwards, a vaccination certificate will be available through heilsuvera.is.