Culture Minister Continues Legal Battle Over Hiring of Male Staffer

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir will continue a legal battle to nullify a ruling that she broke gender equality laws in the hiring of a permanent secretary to her ministry in 2019. The ruling was issued by the Equality Complains Committee in May 2020. Lilja filed a case against the complainant in the Reykjavík District Court last year in an unsuccessful attempt to nullify the ruling. She will now take the case to the Court of Appeal.

In November 2019, the Ministry of Education and Culture announced that Páll Magnússon had been hired as the ministry’s permanent secretary. Páll was then a secretary for the Municipality of Kópavogur and a fellow party member of Lilja’s for the Progressive Party. The Ministry had selected Páll out of 13 applicants, four of which had been interviewed for the position.

Hired Based on Gender, Committee Ruled

Hafdís Helga Ólafsdóttir, secretary-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, was among the rejected applicants for the position. After requesting and receiving the relevant documents concerning the hiring process from the Ministry, she decided to refer the matter to the Equality Complains Committee, who ruled in her favour in May 2020. The Committee ruled that Hafdís Helga’s education and experience had been undervalued whereas Páll’s had been overvalued in the hiring process. The Committee’s evaluation was that it had not been possible to show that Páll was hired for reasons other than his gender and therefore Lilja had broken the Gender Equality Act by hiring him.

State Initiates Personal Court Case

The Equality Complaints Committee’s decisions are meant to be binding and thus cannot be appealed directly. In June 2020, however, Lilja announced she was starting a court case against Hafdís Helga in the name of the Icelandic state with the goal of nullifying the ruling. The decision was based on a legal assessment that Lilja has refused to make public. While Lilja is not the first minister whom the Committee has ruled to have broken the Gender Equality Act, she is the first to not accept such a ruling and sue an individual in the name of the state. Last Friday, the Reykjavík District Court ruled to uphold the Equality Complaints Committee’s ruling and ordered the state to pay Hafdís Helga’s legal fees of ISK 4.5 million ($35,000/€30,000).

Lilja stated that the decision to take the case to the Court of Appeal was “not easy,” but had been made based on legal advice. When asked by reporters whether her decision would prevent women from seeking redress in the future for discriminatory hiring decisions, she stated she does not believe so. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has stated that the matter is entirely under Lilja’s jurisdiction.

Daði Freyr’s 2021 Eurovision Song Leaked Online

Mere days before its scheduled premiere on Icelandic national broadcast network RÚV, Daði Freyr’s 2021 Eurovision submission 10 Years has been leaked. The leak occurred within a day of Daði and his team submitting the song to Eurovision officials, with the song been widely distributed online both in Iceland and abroad. Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson, RÚV’s programming director, says the leak is intolerable but Daði’s team is keeping calm and carrying on.

Theft Is Evidence of Public Anticipation

“What happened was we submitted the song on Tuesday, when we were required to submit it to the Eurovision Song Contest. And less than 24 hours later, it’s been leaked, or has leaked to the internet,” Skarphéðinn stated. He adds that the incident was clearly intentional theft and not an accidental leak. “This shows how much anticipation there is when it comes to people wanting to hear these songs. It’s something we can look at positively, there is a lot of anticipation to hear Daði og gagnamagnið’s contribution this year.”

Eurovision Betting May Be a Factor

Skarphéðinn says the leak is impossible to trace, but could have something to do with the extensive gambling that surrounds Eurovision outcomes. “But as I say, it is impossible to trace it and the only thing we can do is keep on keep calm and carry on and Daði is calm, we are calm.” Skarphéðinn says that RÚV is in contact with Eurovision representatives, who have been informed of the leak.

In the meantime, RÚV’s Saturday premiere of the song and accompanying choreography will go ahead as planned, and that is where Skarphéðinn will direct his energy. “We are primarily focusing on offering a show on Saturday where the song and the routine will be revealed in all their glory and we are very excited to be able to do so on this new TV show, Straumur.”

Read more about Daði og gagnamagnið.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Temporarily Suspend Use of AstraZeneca Vaccine

A screenshot from RÚV. First COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Iceland, December 29, 2020

Icelandic health authorities are temporarily suspending use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine while the European Medicines Agency researches whether there is a causal link between the drug and blood clots reported among recipients outside of Iceland. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that the suspension will likely only last a few days until more information is received from the EMA, which so far does not consider there to be a causal link. Preliminary results do not indicate a higher rate of blood clots in those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine when compared to the general population.

Iceland reported one new domestic case of COVID-19 yesterday, the fifth in a small outbreak of the British variant of COVID-19 tied to a traveller who returned to Iceland from abroad on February 26. Authorities are hopeful the outbreak has been contained, but stated that more cases are likely to emerge from individuals who have been quarantined in connection with the cases.

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

 

On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 1 new domestic case (in quarantine) and 3 at the border. Total active cases: 18. 12,763 have been fully vaccinated (3.46% of the population) and an additional 20,526 have received one dose (5.57%).

The briefing has begun. Víðir mentions the seismic activity on Reykjanes. The activity continues and has been uncomfortable for residents of Grindavík, close to the origin of the quakes. The situation is unchanged, with a magma intrusion growing below the surface in the area.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the COVID-19 numbers. Five cases have now been diagnosed in the group outbreak that is traced to a traveller with the British variant. They all have the British variant. The domestic infection detected yesterday was in quarantine. The person had been tested before and had tested negative, but then tested positive after a few days in quarantine. 1,300 samples were taken yesterday and we need to be prepared for more infections to emerge, although we hope they will be among people who are already in quarantine.

Current domestic restrictions are valid until March 17. Þórólfur does not believe there is cause to tighten restrictions at this point but he will not relax them further either. If many people start testing positive outside of quarantine, that will be cause to reconsider.

Since February 19, 17 active cases of the virus were detected at the border, 10 of which presented negative PCR test results before departure. Six of those tested positive at the border and four in the second test after five days of quarantine. Þórólfur: The negative PCR test certificate does not in and of itself ensure travellers are not carrying the virus. We must also beware of falsified certificates.

There’s a good chance that we’ve managed to contain the group infection traced to the British variant. Many concertgoers who were exposed to an infected individual last Friday will be tested for the second time today and it possible more infections will emerge.

Þórólfur discusses news that possible reported side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine include blood clots and that some countries around us have halted vaccinations with that vaccine. To ensure safety, Iceland will also hold off on vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until further research indicates that there’s no causal link between the vaccine and reported blood clots. The European Medicines Agency does not believe there is a causal link between the two but it is being reviewed in detail. We expect to receive more information from the EMA.

Icelandic healthcare authorities have received no reports of any adverse effects of AstraZeneca vaccinations domestically. Around 13,000 people have been fully vaccinated and a further 20,000 have received their first shot in Iceland.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked if he is concerned the news about AstraZeneca might affect public trust in the vaccine. Þórólfur states that it’s possible, but reminds the public that when so many people are being vaccinated at once, we’ll always see issues come up. The key is to figure out if it’s linked to the vaccine or not. Preliminary results do not indicate a higher rate of blood clots in those vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine when compared to the general population. If that is the case, the deaths are not linked to the vaccine and this needs to be looked at realistically.

Þórólfur notes that Icelandic authorities haven’t stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine for good, only temporarily, and reminds that in the UK several millions have been vaccinated with that vaccine and it doesn’t seem that any serious side effects have been reported.

Þórólfur states that he will take vaccination into account when deciding on future restrictions. “We are, however, still far from that point. Even though we’ve vaccinated at-risk groups, it’s still a while until vaccination is widespread within younger age groups.” We’re “shovelling through the snowdrift” slowly but surely, says Þórólfur. Each vaccination is important towards reaching herd immunity.

Víðir notes how effective compartmentalisation has been when unknowingly infected individuals visit public places. It has helped contact tracing proceed more quickly.

Now that we are suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, will that affect the government’s vaccination timeline? Þórólfur says no.

Work on a colour-coded system for border regulations is ongoing.

Þórólfur is asked whether quarantine regulations will be changed for people in apartment buildings in light of the fact that the current outbreak appears to have spread through a shared stairwell with a traveller in quarantine. Þórólfur says it does not look like there are any grounds for forbidding people to quarantine in apartment buildings. Þórólfur does not believe the group infection is cause to tighten restrictions at the border.

Víðir ends the briefing by urging the public to get tested if they are experiencing even the most minor symptoms. The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next information briefing on Thursday, March 18 at 11.03am UTC.