John Snorri, Ali Sadpara, And Juan Pablo Mohr Presumed Dead

John Snorri við Stein á Esjunni

Pakistan authorities have officially declared that Iceland’s John Snorri Sigurjónsson, Pakistan’s Ali Sadpara and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr are presumed dead, RÚV reports. John Snorri’s family believe they reached K2’s peak but encountered issues on the way down. They were last heard from February 5 at the most challenging part of the route to the K2 summit. Search for their bodies will continue.

At a press conference earlier today, Gilgit-Baltistan’s Minister of Tourism Raja Nasir Ali Khan declared that the three missing climbers were presumed dead. This was the conclusion of meteorologists, other climbers, and the Pakistani army’s specialist. John Snorri and his companions last made contact on February 5. There was no way to survive for this long under such challenging weather conditions. Khan stated that search for their bodies would continue.

Originally, John Snorri intended to climb the mountain with father and son Ali and Sajid Sadpara. Juan Pablo Mohr joined them high in the mountain but Sajid had to turn back due to an oxygen malfunction in the so-called bottleneck region at an altitude of around 8,200 m (26,900 ft) above sea level. K2’s peak is at an altitude of 8,611m (28,251 ft). In a statement posted to Facebook, on behalf of their family, John Snorri’s wife, Lína Móey Bjarnadóttir thanked everyone who helped look for John Snorri and his companions. They state that based on the timing of their last known whereabouts, they firmly believe that the three reached the peak, but that something went wrong on their way down. Both Sajid and Raja Nasir Ali Khan have made similar statements about the climbers reaching the peak. John Snorri’s family expresses their gratitude to Pakistan, Chile, and Iceland’s authorities, as well as their gratitude that Sajid survived.

John Snorri’s family’s statement reads: “Our Icelandic hearts are beating with Pakistani and Chilean hearts. Thank you to all who have devoted your time to the search and taken the time to care by sending supportive words and thoughts to us in these difficult times.  Ali, John and Juan Pablo will live forever in our hearts.”

In Focus: Iceland’s Housing Market

For many years, Iceland’s housing market has been characterised by sharply rising prices. Many may have expected the COVID-19 pandemic and associated recession to change that trend, but throughout 2020, real estate prices continued to rise. Perhaps even more unexpected, considering those rising prices and a worse economic outlook, a record number of sales took […]

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COVID-19 in Iceland: Pre-Departure Testing Could Eliminate Need for Traveller Quarantine

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist is optimistic that requiring travellers to take a PCR test before departure to the country along with a test at the border will be enough to stop infections from crossing the border and eliminate the need to quarantine travellers. All individuals arriving in Iceland from abroad must currently undergo a test at the border, five-day quarantine, and a follow-up test.

As of tomorrow, travellers will be required to present a negative PCR test certificate in addition to the required five-day quarantine and double testing. Authorities hope the measure will lead to fewer travellers testing positive at the end of the five-day quarantine, therefore making it possible to lift quarantine requirements for travellers from May 1. From that date, Iceland is expected to adopt a colour-coded approach to border restrictions, where travellers from countries with a “green” rating would be exempt from quarantine upon arrival.

Iceland has been successful in containing the pandemic locally: and no domestic cases have been reported outside of quarantine since February 1. Authorities expect to relax domestic restrictions, which currently cap gatherings at 20 people, as early as next week. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, however, stated he was “almost certain” that the virus was still present in the community and any loosening of restrictions would proceed very slowly to prevent another wave of infection.

The following is a lightly-edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases and 2 at the border. Total active cases: 26. 8 are in hospital and 9,658 have been fully vaccinated (2.6% of the population). New border regulations take effect in Iceland tomorrow, requiring all arriving travellers to present a negative PCR test before departure in addition to double testing and quarantine in Iceland.

The briefing has begun. Þórólfur goes over the numbers: “Things continue to go well for us.” The last active domestic infection diagnosed outside of quarantine was February 1. No one in hospital due to COVID-19 has an active infection, 8 are recovering from COVID infection and no one is in intensive care. Two were diagnosed at the border yesterday and 22 have been diagnosed at the border within the past week, 15 with active COVID infections.

Þórólfur goes over the new regulations that take effect tomorrow. Arriving travellers are required to present a negative PCR test administered no earlier than 72 hours before their departure for Iceland. The new regulations also permit authorities to place arriving travellers in government-run quarantine facilities (hotels) if they are carrying a more contagious variant of the virus or if they do not have access to adequate quarantine or isolation facilities.

The new border regulations will minimise the risk of new domestic infections within Iceland. We will also gain experience and knowledge of whether a second test after a five-day quarantine is truly needed, if travellers present a negative PCR test taken before departure. This information will be helpful when we start relaxing border restrictions (expected from May 1) and implementing the requirements for a PCR test pre-departure now will give us valuable information that will be useful later.

Next week, Þórólfur will present the Minister of Health with suggestions for further relaxing domestic restrictions. Þórólfur addresses discourse suggesting that Iceland’s border restrictions are the harshest in Europe and compares several aspects of Iceland’s regulations to those of neighbouring countries. Nine countries in Europe have an active ban on unnecessary travel, which Iceland does not. Travellers to many other countries in Europe are required to quarantine for 10 or 14 days, compared to just five days in Iceland. Iceland is one of only two countries in Europe exempting people who have already recovered from COVID-19 from tests and quarantine upon arrival. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason: In no way does Iceland have the harshest restrictions in Europe, and a case can even be made that they are among the most relaxed.

Þórólfur: At the same time as we’re protecting the border, we’re slowly but surely vaccinating the nation. We’re doing well but we must be careful. Early detection is key and now the number of people getting tested is dropping. Þórólfur encourages the public to get tested if they’re experiencing any symptoms at all, no matter how mild. Þórólfur cautions that it is almost certain the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still out there in the community and could possibly cause a new wave if we relax restrictions too quickly.

The panel opens for questions. When asked if new border restrictions are also intended to discourage Icelanders from unnecessary travel abroad, Þórólfur replies that Iceland’s authorities have for some time been discouraging people from unnecessary travel.

“When will we reach herd immunity?” We don’t know but Þórólfur hopes that our experience at the border will give us the data we need to figure out what border restrictions are necessary. Þórólfur: If a negative PCR test before departure and a negative test on arrival in Iceland are enough to keep infections from crossing the border, that would be great, and I’m hopeful that that is the case. Þórólfur declines to speculate on long-term vaccination schedules, he will only base his words on the distribution schedules already in hand.

One reporter notes that as more people are vaccinated, more are reporting side effects. Þórólfur responds that there has been no causal link found between symptom reports or deaths and COVID-19 vaccination in Iceland. Furthermore, death rates have not risen since vaccination began. It seems the AstraZeneca vaccine causes slighty more flu-like symptoms when the immune system is triggered but that shouldn’t discourage anyone from taking the vaccine, says Þórólfur.

When asked about the vaccination schedule for younger people outside priority groups, Þórólfur states that it will likely be a long time before healthy 35-year-olds will be vaccinated. There are several priority groups and people with underlying conditions that will be vaccinated first. Þórólfur says Iceland will receive doses for 45,000 people by the end of March. Frontline workers and those over 70 are the current priority. Around 40,000 should be vaccinated by the end of March.

“When will we be able to take down our masks?” Þórólfur says that is a good question and preaches caution in this respect. Þórólfur: Will Icelanders continue to use masks in the future? Will two-metre distancing become a given? The Chief Epidemiologist says changes to mask regulations will be among the last regulations to be relaxed. We must proceed slowly with relaxing restrictions. The third wave began in bars and gyms, says Þórólfur. We have classified those institutions as high-risk, as have other nations. We must proceed with particular caution when it comes to relaxing restrictions in these institutions.

When asked about the possibility of falsified vaccination or PCR test certificates, Þórólfur stated that such a prospect is worrying. Víðir stated that falsifying official documents is a crime and is subject to fines according to Icelandic law.

Þórólfur thinks the Janssen vaccine decision in March will bring good news, but it’s taking a little too long for his liking. Although he is sure European authorities have their reasons. Þórólfur states a vaccination calendar, intended to give various groups a better idea of when they will be offered COVID-19 vaccination, will likely be made public today.

When asked if Iceland was too late in responding to a spike in cases last year, Þóróflur states that the fact of the matter is that we know how the last two waves started, the third and most serious wave caused by two tourists who weren’t following quarantine rules. That shows the importance of having clear regulations at the borders. Since restrictions were revised last summer, no infections crossing the border have caused new waves of the pandemic. Þórólfur doesn’t find it useful to focus on possible mistakes, but rather focus on the general success we’ve had since the third wave, stopping several variants of the virus from entering the country and local community. Other European countries are now discovering the importance of good border regulations.

There is now increased surveillance of airport pick-ups since it was found that many were picking up friends or relatives at the airport, a breach of quarantine regulations. “New Zealand imposed harsh restrictions immediately after new domestic cases. Is that a possibility in Iceland if domestic cases come up?” Þórólfur congratulates New Zealand on their general success, but states that their approach is more extreme than Iceland’s. While we don’t currently have the same freedom as they do, if we experience a backlash, the restrictions won’t be as extreme.

Þórólfur won’t submit a memo for relaxed restrictions before the weekend. He would not disclose the nature of his recommendations but reminded the press that school regulations are about to expire and authorities must attend to them as well. The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next information briefing, scheduled for Monday, February 22 at 11.03am UTC.

 

Seven Now in Custody Due to Reykjavík Murder

Police officers in masks

Seven individuals are in custody in connection with a murder that took place in East Reykjavík last Saturday, Fréttablaðið reports. The first arrest took place last Sunday, with three more arrested outside Selfoss, South Iceland on Monday night. Four more were taken into custody yesterday, though one individual was released. One of the seven individuals currently in custody is allegedly an informant of the police’s drug unit.

Passers-by in downtown Reykjavík yesterday evening were taken aback by the rare sight of a convoy of police and special forces vehicles outside the Reykjavík District Court. As least three special forces vehicles and two police cars surrounded the courthouse as the four arrested that day were brought before the judge. Three of them were sentenced to a week in custody while one, reportedly a woman, was released.

Police Tight-Lipped on Extensive Case

Chief Superintendent Margeir Sveinsson is leading the police investigation into the murder. “This is a very large and extensive investigation that we have and that explains why it’s not possible to discuss specific events,” he stated. Margeir says the case is one of the largest of its kind in recent years, and confirmed that police are investigating whether the case is connected to a settlement in the criminal underworld.

Despite its magnitude, Margeir says the case does not pose a general threat to the public. “If we believe there is any danger posed to the public by such groups, then the police would always take appropriate action. We’re never going to let that happen without intervening. Then we would not be doing our job.” Police are now working to uncover the scope of each individual’s involvement in the case.

Europol Assists With Gathering Information

The murder victim’s name was Armando Beqirai and he was in his early 30s. He was an Albanian national and a resident of Iceland. He leaves behind his Icelandic wife and a young child. Most of the individuals in custody due to the murder are of foreign origin, though one is Icelandic. Some are residents of Iceland while others are not. The international division of the National Police Commissioner’s Office is assisting with the investigation, as is Europol. According to Margeir, the two parties are mainly assisting with gathering information.

Digital Sexual Violence Now Punishable By Up To Four Years In Prison

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir bill for legislation on sexual privacy was made law in Parliament yesterday with 49 unanimous votes. The legislation makes sharing sexual videos and images without consent punishable by up to four years in prison. Threatening to share such content or copying someone else’s private content is now punishable by up to 1 year in prison.

The new law states that making, sharing, or publishing images, video, text or comparable content of someone’s nudity or sexual behaviour without their consent, is punishable by up to four years in prison and that this includes falsified content. Threats of creating or sharing such content are also punishable by fines or imprisonment, “as such a threat is likely to cause fear,” the law states. Violating another’s privacy by “prying into, creating, copying, showing, disclosing, publishing, or distributing documents, data, images, or other comparable private information, in digital or analogue format, shall be fined or imprisoned for up to one year, as the behaviour could cause the sufferer damage.”

A report accompanying the bill stated that it is based on the increased threat of digital sexual violence in Icelandic community, the behaviour of using electronic communication to create, distribute or publish sexual imagery of others without their consent. Sufferers of such abuse have criticised the response of the justice system in such cases and their lack of faith in the system might discourage them from contacting the police in case of such an infraction. Previous laws had not accounted for the possibility of contactless sexual privacy infringements. Therefore, the previous laws did not provide the necessary legal protection for sufferers of digital sexual violence.

The bill received widespread support and was passed unanimously. Team Manager in the Bjarkarhlíð Family Justice Centre Ragna Björg Guðbrandsdóttir told RÚV that the new legislation was important for her clients and that it was a matter of rights. Sexual digital violence is something they often see when people leave abusive relationships. When the relationship ends, the perpetrator will start distributing sexual images of the sufferer or start harassing them on social media. Ragna states that the results can be serious and interfere with people’s daily lives. They feel powerless and fear that anyone is able to view sexual images of themselves online. Ragna hopes the penalty framework will send a message that these infractions constitute serious sexual abuse.