COVID-19 in Iceland: Concertgoers and Hospital Staff Test Negative

COVID-19 test tubes

None of the hundreds of locals that took part in a mass testing initiative in Iceland yesterday proved positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Health authorities invited some 700 concertgoers as well as dozens of National University Hospital staff to undergo testing after a hospital staff member who had also attended an event at Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall tested positive for the virus. Concertgoers will be tested a second time on Thursday.

Iceland reported 2 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, both out of quarantine. Two domestic cases emerged over the weekend as well, and all four have been traced to an individual returning to Iceland from abroad. That traveller tested negative upon arrival to Iceland but positive for the British variant of SARS-CoV-2 following their mandatory five-day travel quarantine. There is no evidence the traveller broke quarantine rules and health authorities’ hypothesis is that at least one of the domestic infections was contracted by using a common stairwell with the quarantined traveller.

Variant Seems Highly Contagious

These four COVID-19 cases are Iceland’s first to be diagnosed outside of quarantine in over a month. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that at this point, he does not consider the cases to be the beginning of a new wave of infection. However, he added that authorities must proceed carefully to avoid a new outbreak. “We are trying to put as much effort into this as possible to prevent the spread, with testing, tracing, and the like. Hopefully, we can stop it there but one has certain worries as it seems to be highly contagious.”

Some Hospital Staff in Working Quarantine

Some of the hospital staff that were exposed to the positive case had already been vaccinated against COVID-19. Those staff members have been put in Quarantine C and can continue work at the hospital while fulfilling certain conditions, while those who have not been vaccinated have been quarantined at home for seven days, after which they will undergo a second test.

Reykjanes Seismic Activity: Tremor Pulse Detected, Surges Might Continue

A tremor pulse and increased seismic activity were detected by Fagradalsfjall shortly after 5.00am this morning. While an eruption is still one of the four possible scenarios, new data suggests the magma flow is slowing down. The activity occurred in the southernmost part of the magma passage and if the movement continues, earthquake streaks such as the one occurring last weekend might continue as well.

Recent activity

Around 5.20am this morning, increased seismic activity was detected at the southernmost part of the magma passage underneath Fagradalsfjall. A tremor pulse was detected around the same time and lasted until around 7.00am. This likely means the magma passage is growing. Since then, there’s been a steady activity of smaller quakes.

The latest satellite images, GPS measurements, and models all indicate that the magma flow has decreased since the beginning of last week. Still, the magma is close to the surface and we must continue to assume that an eruption might occur. If the magma passage continues to grow in the next few days and weeks, we might also expect similar earthquake surges to the one over the weekend, which was powerful enough to unsettle the residents of Grindavík.

Map of the Reykjanes Peninsula indicating the magma intrusion and the areas at each end where seismic activity due to tension release might occur.
Icelandic Met Office. The red line marks the magma intrusion underneath the area between Fagradalsfjall and Keilir. The grey areas indicate where earthquakes due to tension release might occur.

Magma intrusion affects surrounding area

When magma flows into the ground’s surface, creating a magma intrusion, it creates tension in the earth’s crust. This leads to increased tension in large areas around the magma intrusion, which can trigger earthquakes in areas at either end of the passage (grey areas on the map). When such earthquakes occur, it’s a sign of tension release in the ground underneath, not magma movement.

It is still the consensus of the Scientific Advisory Board that if an eruption occurs, a fissure will open somewhere in the area between Fagradalsfjall and Keilir where the magma passage is forming. There are no indications of magma movement outside this area. The most likely point of eruption, considering the activity in the past few days, is in the southernmost part of that passage, by Fagradalsfjall.

Possible scenarios

Experts still assume that one of the four scenarios is the most likely:

  • The seismic activity will die down in the coming days or weeks
  • The activity will increase with larger quakes, up to M6 by Fagradalsfjall
  • An earthquake of up to M6.5 will originate in Brennisteinsfjöll.
  • The magma intrusion at Fagradalsfjall continues, leading to
    • Magma flow dying down and the magma cooling and hardening
    • A fissure eruption and lava flow that likely won’t threaten inhabited areas

The Brennisteinsfjöll mountains are situated closer to Reykjavík than Fagradalsfjall and a large earthquake originating there would affect the capital area.

Icelandair’s Boeing 737 Max Jets Airborne Again

Keflavík airport Icelandair

Icelandair flew a Boeing 737 Max jet yesterday for the first time in almost two years. The jets were grounded around the world in March 2019 after a failure in their software caused two fatal accidents. Since then, the aircrafts’ computer equipment has been updated in accordance with aviation authorities’ requirements. Icelandair is giving passengers the option to change their flights at no cost if they prefer not to fly on the jets.

Icelandair’s Boeing 737 Max jet named Mývatn landed safely in Copenhagen yesterday morning after a three-hour flight from Iceland. Icelandair PRO Ásdís Ýr Pétursdóttir told RÚV the flight went according to plan, and there were few requests from passengers to change their tickets. For the time being, Icelandair is allowing passengers scheduled on 737 Max jets to do so at no additional cost.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency approved the use of the MAX aircraft at the end of January, and the US Federal Aviation Administration authorised passenger flights in mid-November.