Icelandic Horse Export Increased By 53% Last Year

Icelandic horse

In 2020, 2,320 Icelandic horses were exported from Iceland, an increase of 53% from the previous year. The biggest export markets are Germany, Sweden, and Denmark, but demand from the USA and the UK is growing. According to statistics Iceland, the combined export value of horses from Iceland in 2020 was over 1.5 billion ISK ($11,717,000, €9,644,000), up half a billion ($4,000,000, €2,800,000) from 2019.

Export increased to all of Iceland’s major export markets last year. While Germany is still the largest export market for Icelandic horses, export to the US grew by 176 % and export to the UK and Switzerland close to doubled. Germany imported the most horses, (974), far ahead of Sweden (306) and Denmark (271). The US is in fourth place with 141 horses but interest in the Icelandic horse is growing, as only 51 horses were exported to the US in the previous year. Export to Switzerland also grew by 42% and the number of horses exported to Belgium tripled in the past year. There were also some new markets last year, with three Icelandic horses exported to Latvia for the first time.

The reason for the growth in export likely thanks to the devaluation of the Icelandic króna, at least in part, and the marketing efforts of Horses of Iceland. Director of Icelandair Cargo’s export division Mikael Tal Grétarsson also told Bændablaðið last year that he believed the pandemic played a part. The devaluation of the Icelandic króna means that prices are affordable but people are also unable to travel and likely to spend their vacation funds on their hobbies at home instead. He also stated that the growth in export was causing some difficulties as Icelandair Cargo only had a limited amount of horse-safe containers for shipping the animals and that they were acquiring new containers to respond to demand. In January, horse export to Belgium was temporarily halted when some horses got injured at the Liège airport due to human error. The matter was quickly resolved and export resumed a few weeks later, following updated import regulations.

While horse export is a growing market, horse import is forbidden in Iceland and has been for centuries. As a result, the only horse breed in Iceland is the small but tough Icelandic horse.

Civil Protection Calls for Airport Bus to Discourage Quarantine Violations

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There are still too many cases of locals breaching quarantine regulations by picking up travellers at Keflavík International Airport, says Sigurgeir Sigmundsson, Chief Superintendent of Keflavík Airport Police. Travellers arriving from abroad are permitted to take a rental car, their own car that has been parked at the airport, or a taxi to arrive at their quarantine destination. Bus service between the airport and the capital area was suspended indefinitely last month, but the government is now considering subsidising the service so it can be reinstated.

All travellers arriving in Iceland from abroad are required to undergo testing upon arrival, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. To arrive at their quarantine location, travellers are permitted to pick up a rental car at the airport, take their own car which has been parked at the airport or take a taxi. Friends or family members that pick up arriving travellers are required to go into quarantine with them. Authorities however strongly advise against this option and urge locals to avoid picking up travellers from abroad.

Taxi Drivers with Antibodies Sent to Airport

Unlike friends and family members, taxi drivers are not required to go into quarantine after transporting travellers from Keflavík Airport. They are, however, required to operate according to strict infection prevention guidelines. Vehicles are disinfected between each set of passengers and travellers are required to put in and take out their luggage themselves. Many drivers have also set up partitions in their vehicles, though they are not required according to current taxi regulations. Both drivers and passengers are required to wear masks for the duration of the trip.

Stefán Bachmann Karlsson, a taxi driver at BSR contracted COVID-19 in October of last year. He says that he and another co-worker, who has also recovered from COVID-19, are often sent out to the airport to spare other drivers at the company who are more at risk. “Many drivers are seniors, maybe have underlying illnesses and are reluctant to go on these trips, so we are used for them,” Stefán told RÚV reporters.

Government Considers Subsidising Bus Transport

Until late January, arriving travellers were also permitted to take airport buses to their quarantine location. Buses were operated according to strict infection prevention regulations, much like taxis. The privately-operated bus service was however discontinued last month as the drastically reduced flight schedule made the service unsustainable.

The Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department has since sent the government a formal request asking for bus operations to be subsidised. “We see that the cost of taking a taxi on the one hand and a bus on the other is significant,” stated Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, the Department’s Director. “Of course, we must also try to ensure equality in this, how much the government should be subsidising people’s travel and such. It is not necessarily easy to intercede in this but this is something that we want to be examined in a formal way and a conclusion be made.” The government is considering the request.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Gathering Limit Upped to 50

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Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, and bars will take effect in Iceland tomorrow. The current gathering limit of 20 will also be raised to 50. The changes were announced by Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir following a cabinet meeting this morning.

Iceland reported no new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday and total active COVID-19 cases in the country number just 17. The nation’s incidence rate is by far the lowest in Europe, and the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced that the domestic success in containing the pandemic warranted a relaxing of restrictions within the country. It’s a different story at the borders, where last week Icelandic authorities tightened regulations. All travellers arriving from abroad must present a negative PCR test certificate before departure in addition to undergoing double testing and five days of quarantine upon arrival.

Up to 200 May Gather for Sports, Performing Arts

“Probably the most important thing that stands out is that we’re raising this general gathering limit from 20 to 50,” Svandís told reporters after the cabinet meeting. “We still have the two-metre rule and masks and these general precautionary principles. We expect to allow up to 200 in certain activities, there we’re talking about museums and the like, but also performing arts and sports events where it is possible to ensure that there is one metre between unrelated parties and where it is possible to register information on each person. That is in order to ensure contact tracing if necessary.” Sports events may have up to 200 audience members, subject to the same seating and distancing conditions outlined above. Audience members at sports and performing arts events are required to wear masks.

Restaurants and Bars Open Later

In addition to being able to welcome more guests, restaurants and bars may remain open one hour longer starting tomorrow: until 11.00pm instead of the current 10.00pm limit. No new customers may be admitted after 10.00pm, however. All customers must be seated and served at their tables. Bar service is not permitted. Swimming pools and gyms will also see relaxed restrictions starting tomorrow. Both may operate at 75%, up from the current 50% limit.

Restrictions are further relaxed in schools, where up to 150 people may gather together and the general distancing guideline is one metre rather than two. Adult visitors will be once again permitted to enter primary and preschools.

The updated regulations will be valid for three weeks, though conditions are regularly reviewed by authorities. This is the third time general restrictions have been relaxed in Iceland since the beginning of the year. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stressed the importance of maintaining personal infection prevention such as handwashing and mask use to prevent another spike in infection if new domestic cases emerge.