Comedian Ari Eldjárn Receives Icelandic Optimism Award

President of Iceland GUðni Th. Jóhannesson, Ari Eldjárn, ISAL Director Rannveig Rist

Comedian Ari Eldjárn received the Icelandic Optimism Award 2020 at the presidential residence Bessastaðir during the weekend. President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson presented him with the award, which has been awarded annually since 1981.

Ari Eldjárn studied scriptwriting at London Film School and since 2009, stand up comedy has been his main occupation. He has performed solo, with his comedy troupe Mið-Ísland, and accompanied by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. His latest cap feather is the Netflix Stand-up Special Pardon My Icelandic. The judging committee’s comment state that Ari has a remarkable sense of humour regarding himself, the nation, and human existence. He is a modern-day storyteller and a great representative of Icelandic culture.

The optimism award was founded by Danish businessman Peter Bröste in 1981 but in 2000, when Bröste called on Icelandic companies to take over the award, aluminium company ISAL took over. The award consists of a trophy of Icelandic aluminium and a million ISK ($7,840, € 6,375). Former award holders include Björk, artist Ragnar Kjartansson, Director of San Francisco Ballet Helgi Tómasson, Nordic Council Literature award-winning author Einar Már Guðmundsson, and last year’s winner, Emmy, Grammy, BAFTA, and Oscar-winning composer Hildur Guðnadóttir.

 

COVID-19 In Iceland: Restrictions To Be Relaxed “If Nothing Unexpected Happens”

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

At today’s information briefing, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, and Director of Health Alma Möller went over the COVID-19 situation in Iceland after the holidays. Þórólfur was optimistic, stating that there had been no surprises during the holidays but that it would remain to be seen if New Year’s celebrations had any effect on the pandemic’s spread. If nothing unexpected happens in the next few days, he expects to be able to relax restrictions January 12.

Following is a lightly edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live-tweets of the briefing: 

Rögnvaldur starts the meeting by wishing everyone a happy new year, before telling the public that their work is not over. “it’s clear that we need to continue to do a lot of things differently.”COVID-19 Numbers: Iceland reported 10 new domestic cases yesterday (6 in quarantine at the time). Total case numbers: 101. 23 are in hospital, none in intensive care.

Þórólfur takes over. He states that relatively few people have tested positive over the holidays, 35 in total, of which the majority were in quarantine. On the other hand, fewer samples have been taken. More cases have been caught at the border. That’s to be expected considering the pandemic’s progress in the countries around us and travel behaviour around Christmas.

According to Þórólfur, we’re doing pretty well after the advent and Christmas but we’ll have to wait and see if New Year’s Celebrations will affect the spread of the pandemic. With the first vaccinations, we’re starting a new chapter in the fight against COVID-19 and that’s his belief that it will be the last. Iceland has secured access to vaccine for all Icelanders. We’ve secured access to the Pfizer vaccine for 125,000 people and according to the current schedule, we’ll receive a vaccine for 25,000 people from now until March. The Moderna vaccine is expected to receive a market license in Europe today

We’ve been in talks with Pfizer to consider taking Iceland on as a research project, to answer questions regarding vaccinations of a whole nation and herd immunity but the ball is in their court and we’ve nothing new to report. A new infection prevention regulation is due before January 12. If nothing unexpected occurs, Þórólfur hopes to be able to relax restrictions somewhat. Alma takes over and starts by thanking healthcare professionals for their work in the past year. She also thanks Rögnvaldur and all the staff at the Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection. She reminds people to consider their own health and seek out information at the Directorate’s website and
She mentions the importance of sleeping well to maintain good health. (Covid.is) She reminds people that adults need a half-hour of exercise per day and children a full hour. A healthy and balanced diet is also important and that Icelanders should take vitamin D. She also reminds people to take care of their mental health and cautions against the excessive use of alcohol. Alma goes over the symptoms of COVID-19 and reminds people to stay at home if they’re experiencing symptoms and to get tested as soon as possible. The panel is now open for questions. The first reporter asks about the British strain of the virus and the one confirmed domestic case.

Þórólfur replies that the case in question was closely related to one caught at the border. It does not seem to have spread. Þórólfur is asked about the possibility of administering the vaccine in half doses to hasten vaccination. Þórólfur replies that they will only be using the vaccine according to the producer’s directions. When asked about the British strain and the possibility of tightening restrictions on passengers arriving from the UK, Þórólfur replies that they will continue to monitor the situation closely. When asked if any extra doses of the vaccine were in the Pfizer vials, Þórólfur replies that in some cases a sixth dose could be extracted and that he trusted the staff to do their best. He also mentioned that the extra doses could cause complications during the second injections

Asked if they should rely on the limited protection of the first injection and give more people the first injection, Þórólfur replies that the protection after the first injection is not clear. While the pandemic is not widespread here, it’s better to vaccinate in the safest way. Þórólfur is asked about the vaccine’s side effects. Alma states that Iceland’s Medicines Agency received 7 notifications of side effects, of which one might be considered serious, but it’s impossible to know for sure due to an underlying disease. When asked about emergency marketing licenses for vaccines, Þórólfur refers the question to the Medicine Agency, they handle marketing licenses for vaccines. When asked about the next vaccine shipment, scheduled for January 21st, Þórólfur replied that at first we’d get weekly portions but they should increase in February and March. The next doses will be administered to priority groups, ages 70+ and people with preexisting conditions. People with underlying conditions are unhappy with being prioritised after senior citizens. Þórólfur replies that it is based on data indicating that people over 70 do worse with COVID-19 and that people with preexisting conditions are still prioritised. That concludes the questions. Rögnvaldur ends the meeting by asking people to continue doing the same things they’re already doing.

COVID-19 In Iceland: Police Investigate Gathering Ban Infractions at Reykjavík Catholic Church

Landakotskirkja, Reykjavík Catholic Church

The police had an extensive presence at a six pm mass at Landakotskirkja Catholic church, following the 1 pm Mass, which was attended by more than 50 people, RÚV reports. That goes against infection prevention regulations in place, which state that a maximum of ten people is allowed to gather. The police are currently investigating alleged infection prevention regulation infractions at the church.

The police were called to Landakotskirkja church when a Polish Language mass started at 1 pm. At that point, two services had already taken place over the day. Another Polish-language mass was scheduled for three pm, a Rosary Prayer session at 5. 30 pm, an English-language mass at 6 pm and yet another mass at 7 pm.

This is the second time in a short period that brings news of alleged infection prevention regulation infractions in the church. Around 50 people were allegedly there on Christmas Eve. According to gathering bans currently in place, no more than 10 people can gather. That also applies to religious services, excluding funerals, where up to 50 people are allowed to gather.

No funeral was scheduled at 1 pm at Landakotskirkja. According to RÚV’s count from recordings on location, you could see at least 70 people over the age of fifteen.

The Catholic Bishop David Tencer had previously posted a notice on the church’s website stating that “A new regulation of the authorities on meeting restrictions will apply until January 12, 2021. The church life and catechism in each parish depend on the situation in the parishes and is, of course, carried out in accordance with all disease control rules.” It is not known if he was in attendance during the Polish-language mass yesterday.

A police officer counted the guests in the church. He also counted the ones exiting through the main doors, stating that they were 51. He also said some remained inside and that some church guests exited through a side door. “I myself was not at mass but a police officer told me that he counted 51 in the church”, Landakotskirkja parish priest Patrick Breen stated to a reporter after speaking to the police. “He told me that 10 is the limit. But I think that if we respect the two-metre-rule and people wear a mask, it’s ok to be up to 50 people because our church is so big.” When asked if he would consider allowing ten people to attend the next mass before shuttering the door, Patrick stated: “Ten, no. We would rather close the church. We’re not forbidding people to come to church. We won’t have a mass and only allow ten people inside, I just don’t think that’s an option.”

Just before the scheduled mass at 6 pm, several police officers were at the church. According to the Capital area police force, they will look into this alleged infraction this week along with other cases where they suspect infection prevention regulations were broken. A church representative will likely be asked to give a report on the incidents, following which they will decide if they will be charged.

Infection prevention regulation infractions were a hot topic over the festive period following reports of Iceland’s Minister of Finance Bjarni Ben attending a party over the gathering ban limits on December 23d.

When asked about the incident, Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson stated the first and foremost, the news made him sad. He told RÚV “everyone knows why we have these rules and what we’re doing. We’re trying to dispel a global pandemic. That’s why we have these regulations. If people don’t like and feel like they don’t apply to them, they can apply to the Ministry of Health for an exemption. That’s the correct procedure. Otherwise, everyone should be following the rules and in all but a very few cases, people do.”