Seyðisfjörður Mudslides: Municipal Council Discusses Housing For Displaced Residents

Seyðisfjörður landslide almannavarnir

The municipal director of Múlaþing Björn Ingimarsson hopes that new housing can be built for the people who lost their homes in the recent Seyðisfjörður mudslides, Austurfrétt reports. While the municipal council is not authorising reconstruction on plots where buildings were destroyed, for insurance purposes, Múlaþing’s municipal council is working on securing housing quickly for the town’s displaced residents. Some

The council agreed yesterday that reconstruction would not be permitted in the ten plots of land where buildings were destroyed December 18, until a new risk assessment and satisfactory defences against mudslides are finished. Half of the plots in question are allotted for residential buildings and a half for industrial use. The decision means that the Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland will compensate the owners for their loss according to the assessed value for fire insurance.

Even if the damage is monetarily compensated, inhabitants of the destroyed houses are yet to find new homes in town. Also in search of shelter are people living in zones where evacuation orders are still in place and people who haven’t yet mustered up the courage to return home.

The municipal council was adamant at the meeting yesterday that solutions were to be found for this group as quickly as possible, in order to keep the displaced residents in town. “I haven’t heard of many planning to leave but it’s essential that projects like the one created in cooperation with Bríet be extended and constructed as quickly as possible so we can have new residences ready this spring or summer,” stated Hildur Þórisdóttir, municipal council member and former chairperson of the Seyðisfjörður municipal council. Bríet is a project operated by the Housing and Construction Authority, intended to invigorate the housing market outside of the capital area.

Before the mudslides fell, plans for new construction in Seyðisfjörður through the Bríet initiative were already in place. The municipal council director Björn Ingimarsson is hopeful that new construction will be speedy, stating: “I’m optimistic that we can see practical solutions to the housing problems that can be put in use in the first half, or before the middle of this year.” He added that all displaced residents of Seyðisfjörður had found temporary housing through the Múlaþing municipal council. Most had found housing in Seyðisjförður but not all. These temporary housing solutions would be in place through January but they were yet to find time to confirm them for a longer duration.

The Natural Catastrophe Insurance of Iceland will compensate the owners of houses destroyed in the mudslides, but there’s still some uncertainty regarding buildings still standing in risk areas. A government fund buys houses in areas where residence is unsafe and either tears them downs or moves to a safer location, but the price depends on the estimated real estate’s assessment value, which is often lower than its assessed value for fire insurance in this region.

Icelandic Ministers Condemn Attack on Democracy in United States

Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

Iceland’s foremost government officials took to Twitter last night to condemn the attack on the United States Capitol. The building was breached by hundreds of Trump supporters, many of them armed, as the ceremonial counting of electoral votes took place confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Attackers Egged On By Trump, Says Prime Minister

As reports of the attack were published last night, Prime Minister of Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir tweeted: “An attack on Capitol Hill is an attack on democracy. We are witnessing disturbing scenes of violence in Washington DC. Liberty, democracy and decency must be respected.”

The Prime Minister later shared her reactions to the event in an interview with RÚV. “We’re talking about an attack on the parliament building and an attack on democracy and I was of course incredibly stunned when I saw the first reports of it,” she stated. “There we are seeing this great institution that is simply about to confirm the results of a democratic election and it is attacked at the urging of the outgoing president.” Katrín added that it was important that representatives returned to work and finished confirming the election, standing their ground in that regard. She called the attackers’ actions “anti-democratic.”

Icelandic President, Ministers Address Attack

Katrín was not alone among Icelandic officials to condemn the attack. Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson tweeted last night: “Shocking scenes in #WashingtonDC. Any attacks on #democratic institutions and undermining of rule of law should be condemned. Outcome of democratic elections must be respected.” Around the same time, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir tweeted: “The events in USA unfolding now are an affront to democracy. @realdonaldtrump must condemn the mob and demand they cease the violent protests and leave the Capitol.” Minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir added her words to those of her colleagues, calling it “sad and surreal to watch this attack on democracy.”

Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson was more subtle in his discussion of the events. Guðni tweeted this morning: “As Congress confirms election of @JoeBiden, I reiterate my congratulations to the next President of the United States, legally elected by the people. 1000 year old wisdom from Althing, world’s oldest nationwide parliament, still true: If we tear the law apart we tear peace apart.”

 

COVID-19 in Iceland: Vaccination Priority Groups Reordered

By the end of March, Iceland is expected to have received enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 30,000 people. This is a smaller amount than initially expected, and the slow distribution has led Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist to reorder the vaccination priority groups. While all frontline healthcare workers will have received their first or second dose of the vaccine by the end of January, the next group in line for the shots will be individuals over 70 years of age.

Iceland received 10,000 doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on December 28 and nearly 5,000 healthcare workers and nursing home residents received their first dose before the new year began. No more than 50,000 additional doses are expected from Pfizer and Moderna in the first three months of the year. They will be used to complete vaccination among frontline healthcare workers and to begin vaccinating those over 70 and individuals with certain underlying diseases. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated it is unlikely other groups will be vaccinated before the end of March.

Moving seniors up on the list means those in other priority groups, such as police officers and firefighters, may wait longer to be vaccinated.

Read More: What’s the status of COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland?

Following is a lightly edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live tweets of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, and Icelandic Medicines Agency Director Rúna Hauksdóttir Hvannberg.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 11 new domestic cases (7 in quarantine at the time), 10 from border testing. Total active cases: 126. 20 in hospital, none in ICU.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur starts by complimenting the staff of the country’s quarantine hotels. He also gives praise to the border patrol at Keflavík Airport, calling them an important link in securing the country’s infection prevention.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the numbers. He says there were 6 in quarantine among yesterday’s 11 new cases, not 7 as reported on covid.is. This is a little higher than in the past few days but not by much, says Þórólfur. Until now 22 individuals have been diagnosed with the British strain of the virus, three of these were domestic infections but all were closely related to an infection diagnosed at the border. If we look at the new domestic cases we’ve seen in the past few days, they’ve been relatively few although they increased a little yesterday. There are more infections now at the border than domestically, which reflects the growth of the pandemic abroad.

Three individuals have contracted the British strain of the virus domestically and there are signs indicating now that this strain is more infectious but there are no indications it causes more serious illness. We don’t know if the strain reacts to medication and vaccines in the same way. Hopefully that information will be available soon.

Before the end of March, we stand to receive vaccines for 30,000 people. We have already distributed 10,000 doses. Since we’re receiving less of the vaccine than hoped in the first three months of the year, Þórólfur says he has been forced to reconsider the priority groups for vaccinations. When the next shipment of vaccine arrives, we’ll complete vaccinations of frontline healthcare workers and continue vaccinating individuals over 70. According to the information we have now, we do not anticipate that we will start vaccinating people under the age of 70 until after March.

Þórólfur is preparing his recommendations for updated restrictions from January 12, but is not yet ready to release the details. He reminds people that restrictions have been eased considerably for schools, which are now open for in-person teaching, and asks students and teachers to be careful and continue to practice infection prevention. It’s important for us to do everything we can to prevent another spike in infections, says Þórólfur. We’re seeing the British strain wreak havoc in the countries around us and I trust we’ll do our very best to keep up our success.

Rúna takes over to discuss vaccinations. She says COVID-19 vaccines are the way out of this pandemic. Two vaccines have received a conditional market authorisation in Iceland, the BioNTech Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The AstraZeneca vaccine is currently under review. Rúna discusses the reports of side effects the Iceland Medicines Agency has received following the first wave of vaccinations.

Four deaths were reported among elderly individuals with underlying illnesses who had received vaccines. No link has been found between the vaccinations and the deaths, but they will be investigated nonetheless. It should be noted that in the first wave of vaccinations, the oldest and most frail members of society were first in line. On average, 18-20 people die in nursing homes in Iceland per week, says Rúna. She uses the opportunity to send her condolences to the people’s families. There are no indications that the vaccines are unsafe, says Rúna. Mild side effects are to be expected and subside in a few days. Serious side effects from vaccines are rare but the Icelandic Medicines Agency received five notices of possible serious side effects – the 4 deaths mentioned and one hospitalisation – but there is no evidence they are linked to the vaccines. The Iceland Medicines Agency has received 41 reports of vaccine side effects in total, of which 36 were considered mild.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur hopes the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine will arrive next week but the exact date is yet to be set. When asked if border restrictions will be tightened in light of the new British strain, Þórólfur mentions that he has suggested before that testing at the border be mandatory and he has now recommended that once more. (Currently, arriving travellers can opt between double testing with 5-day quarantine and 14-day quarantine without testing.) Þórólfur says, however, there are very few who choose not to be tested at the airport. Authorities are monitoring people in quarantine. They’re doing everything they can to stop the British strain from entering the country and spreading domestically.

When asked if the previously-stated goal of vaccinating most of the nation in the first half of the year is now unrealistic, Þórólfur declines to comment in detail. Vaccine manufacturers are working to increase production and speed up distribution but nothing has been confirmed. On the other hand, says Þórólfur, I have previously stated that we will need to maintain some form of restrictions until we achieve herd immunity. We can be happy about the fact that the pandemic is at a low here, unlike in other countries. The healthcare system is not struggling. We have to hold out until we receive the vaccine doses we require.

The panel is asked about surveillance of arriving travellers. Rögnvaldur goes over quarantine surveillance. Authorities trust that people are following the rules but verify that by monitoring.

When asked about when gyms will reopen, Þórólfur states that he will give the same answer he has given so many times before: it depends on the state of the pandemic. Pressed to discuss what his recommendations for updated restrictions will be, Þórólfur declines to discuss them in more detail. He adds that we should remember that current restrictions in Iceland are much more relaxed than in most of the countries around us.

When asked about the informal negotiations with Pfizer about a potential vaccination research project in Iceland, Þóróflur states that the ball is still in their court and he doesn’t really have more to say on that until they give their answer. Þórólfur agrees that deCODE genetics has been very helpful in COVID-19 testing in Iceland and their help has been instrumental, especially in the first wave of the pandemic.

Þórólfur is asked about sports activities. He states the conversation between authorities and sports organisations is ongoing and they’re doing their best to keep the pandemic down and not impose tighter restrictions than necessary. He says the situation is difficult and won’t get easier.

Þórólfur is asked about conspiracy theories surrounding vaccines and whether authorities will aim to reach those in society who are opposed to vaccination. Þórólfur says that these conspiracy theories aren’t new but the group in Iceland that believes them is small, which is good because they are completely unfounded in reality. There has been no increase in overall deaths in nursing homes following the first round of vaccinations and Þórólfur denounces all such conspiracy theories.

Asked about attempts to increase production, Rúna says Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca are working to ramp up manufacturing, they are just as invested in that as we are. Þórólfur is asked about the number of people in quarantine rising. He states that the number fluctuates and is not necessarily indicative of an increase in domestic transmission or growth of the pandemic. When asked again about reopening gyms, Þórólfur states that a recent article about infection prevention at the gym is in line with what authorities have been saying: if people are careful, there’s not a high risk of infection. If they aren’t, there’s danger. Authorities go over all suggestions and comments they receive and welcome constructive criticism, says Þórólfur. Let’s follow the rules that are in place, we’re all in this together.

Rögnvaldur closes the meeting by stating we are each responsible for our individual infection prevention. There is often an unfair burden placed on staff at shops and in public places to remind us to follow the rules. Rögnvaldur encouraged staff to not give up, even when customers are being difficult and encouraged the public to be responsible. “Let’s do this together.”

Iceland Review will live-tweet the next briefing on Monday, January 11.

Moderna Vaccine Granted Conditional Marketing Authorisation In Iceland

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland

Yesterday afternoon, Iceland’s medicines Agency issued a conditional marketing authorisation to the vaccine “COVID-19 Vaccine Moderna” in Iceland. The vaccine protects individuals against COVID-19 and is intended for use on people aged 18 years or older. The marketing authorisation is based on the European Commission’s conditional marketing authorisation for the Moderna vaccine, the second COVID-19 vaccine to be authorised for use in the EU. According to the European Commission’s press release, the vaccine “authorisation follows a positive scientific recommendation based on a thorough assessment of the safety, effectiveness and quality of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and is endorsed by the Member States.”

This is also the second COVID-19 vaccine to be granted conditional marketing authorisation in Iceland, in addition to BioNTech/Pfizer’s Comirnaty. Icelandic translation of the vaccine’s package information sheet is ongoing and will be published as soon as the final version has been approved. A special information website on the vaccine will be issued soon at the Medicine Agency’s website.

Authorities hope that the first shipment of the Moderna vaccine will arrive next week. While the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at a temperature of -80°C (-112°F), the Moderna vaccine is easier to handle. Director of Iceland’s Medicines Agency Rúna Hauksdóttir told RÚV “It’s a little simpler to use. It needs to be transported at a temperature of -20°C (-4°F), and can be left longer in coolers or at room temperature.” As with the Pfizer vaccine, people need to be injected twice with the vaccine to receive immunisation, and the waiting period between injections is longer, four weeks instead of Pfizer’s three.

While the Moderna distribution schedule is yet to be released, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told RÚV he hoped that the first shipment might arrive next week. “We haven’t received any confirmation, but they have a distribution plan, so we know that we’ll get 10,000 doses before the end of March,” Þórólfur told RÚV.

More vaccine producers are requesting marketing authorisations. “AztraZeneca is also undergoing a rolling review with the European Medicines Agency, and those data are being reviewed now and in the next few days,” Rúna stated. When asked if she considered it likely that the vaccine is granted marketing authorisation in January, she responded. “I can’t exactly comment on that now but I do think it’s more likely than unlikely.”

The Chief Epidemiologist changed the prioritisation for vaccines yesterday as Iceland is receiving less of the vaccine than was expected. People over the age of 70 are next in line to be vaccinated, paramedics who transport COVID-19 patients and some healthcare workers. “There are still some people remaining. We’re going over the list again, and it’s clear that many healthcare institutions want to redefine their lists and get more of their staff vaccinated, which would mean that we would need to take older individuals of the list,” Þórólfur stated.

Companies that consider themselves to be of national importance have also applied pressure to the Chief Epidemiologist. “I know there will continue to be complaints, but it will simply have to be so,” Þóróflur stated. The next shipment of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to arrive in about two weeks. “That will be around 3,000 doses. What we know now is that we will receive a vaccine for 30,000 people before the end of March,” stated Þórólfur.

There are 34,000 people in Iceland over the age of 70. Pfizer has not replied to a request to vaccinate the entire nation for research purposes. Þórólfur is expecting an answer in the next few days.