COVID-19 in Iceland: Government Alters Border Restrictions Plans Following Quarantine Violations

Icelandair plane Keflavík

At a press briefing earlier today, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir introduced changes to the government’s plan on border restrictions and traveller quarantines. According to Katrín, the new policy involves tightening border restrictions temporarily while providing a viable schedule for lifting restrictions. A colour-coded system granting quarantine exemptions to travellers from low-risk countries will be delayed and a bill giving Ministers increased authority to impose restrictions on travellers will be distributed to parliament tonight.

The Icelandic government will issue its own regional risk assessment, based on the EU risk assessment, concerning travel during the pandemic from May 7 on. The proposed colour-coded system set to take effect May 1 will be postponed until June 1 when the majority of Icelanders over the age of 50 will have been vaccinated. Until then, the current border regulations will remain unchanged, requiring a negative PCR test before arrival and two border tests with a five-day quarantine in between for all unvaccinated travellers. Vaccinated travellers and people with antibodies are exempt from quarantines but will still need to be tested once at the border.

The government will also be introducing a bill to parliament giving ministers more wide-ranging power to implement infection prevention restrictions. The Minister of Health could receive the authority to require people arriving from extreme-risk areas (more than 1000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days) to quarantine at a quarantine hotel with no exceptions, while for high-risk areas (more than 750 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days), quarantining at a quarantine hotel should be the general rule. This will only be done at the suggestion of the Chief Epidemiologist. If the bill passes, the Minister of Justice would also have the authority to ban unnecessary travel to Iceland from high-risk areas. The bill will be distributed tonight and the Prime Minister hopes it could pass into law before the end of the week.

The Prime Minister stated that while restrictions will be tightened temporarily, vaccination schedules indicated that it will soon be safe to start lifting restrictions. The majority of deaths and hospitalisations have been among people over the age of 50 or 60. On June 1, everyone over the age of 50 will have had an opportunity to be vaccinated and on July 1, everyone over the age of 16 will have received the first injection of the vaccine.

During the press briefing, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson lamented that such few quarantine breakers could have such a big impact on domestic infection rates and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stressed that according to vaccination schedules, the majority of Icelanders over the age of 16 would be vaccinated by July 1, making it safer to lift restrictions.

The government’s latest border measures if the bill passes: 

Stay in a quarantine facility: The authorities can decide that from April 22 to May 31, passengers arriving from countries where the 14-day infection rate exceeds 1,000 cases per 100,000 population need to stay in a quarantine facility.
Furthermore, passengers coming from countries where the 14-day infection rate is 750-1,000 cases per 100,000 will, as a rule, be subject to stay in a quarantine facility. However, the authorities can make exemptions to the quarantine location, for example, for travellers who can demonstrate that they can quarantine in a facility that fulfils specific requirements. The conditions for a stay in a quarantine facility will be stipulated in regulation by the Minister of Health.

Increased travel restrictions: The Minister of Interior will be authorized to ban unnecessary travel from countries identified as risk zones by the Chief Epidemiologist (14-day notification rate exceeding 1,000 cases per 100,000 population).

Unchanged rules on certificates and testing at the border until 1 June: The rules regarding certificates for vaccination or prior COVID-19 infection accepted at the border will remain unchanged until June 1. Those presenting a valid certificate of vaccination or prior infection must undergo a single test at the border. They must wait for the test result at their place of residence and follow quarantine rules until the result is available. All other passengers must be tested at the border and  stay in quarantine for five days followed by a second test. From June 1, less stringent border measures will apply to those countries that are defined as low-risk areas.

Regional risk assessment issued on a regular basis: From 7 May, regional risk assessment on the status and development of the pandemic issued every fortnight will serve as a basis for border measures. This risk assessment will be based on the colour coding system of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), along with other factors.

For Art’s Sake

Akureyri is the largest town outside of the Capital Area but its 18,000 inhabitants still make for a relatively small town in an international context. But a sense of identity can’t be quantified in numbers only and Akureyri has a long and rich culture and history.

This content is only visible under subscription. Subscribe here or log in.

Continue reading

Iceland Symphony Orchestra Accompanies COVID-19 Vaccination Today

First mass vaccination in Laugardalshöll arena.

Some 5,000 people who will receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine in Reykjavík’s mass vaccination centre today will be serenaded by the Iceland Symphony Orchestra while they get their jab, Vísir reports. The ISO contacted vaccination officials and asked if they could play a concert at the centre, and the offer was readily accepted. People of all ages with underlying chronic illnesses are being vaccinated in Reykjavík today.

Around 8% of Iceland’s population has been fully vaccinated while a total of 19% have received at least one shot. The first priority groups to be offered vaccination were frontline workers and nursing home residents, followed by the oldest demographics. Now over 95% of residents over 80 have been vaccinated and most residents over 70 have received at least one dose. This week authorities are vaccinating residents with underlying chronic illnesses in all age groups. Iceland is administering COVID-19 vaccines from three manufacturers: Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna.

“This is a very large group overall, but we have started on the lists of people with the most serious illnesses, this is about 30,000 people in the Reykjavík Capital Area so it will take us a few weeks or the next few weeks to work through this group,” stated Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, Director of Nursing at Capital Area Healthcare Centres. While those vaccinated today will receive the Pfizer vaccine, others with chronic illnesses that are scheduled to get the jab tomorrow will receive the Moderna vaccine. The 60-70 year old demographic (without underlying illnesses) will be offered vaccination starting next week, Ragnheiður says.

Read More: What’s the Status of COVID-19 Vaccination in Iceland?

It is standard procedure for all individuals to remain at the vaccination centre for 15 minutes after receiving their dose. This allows healthcare staff to monitor them and provide medical care in the rare case they exhibit allergic reactions to the drug. “It was great that the Symphony Orchestra contacted us and asked whether they could come and play for people, because everyone has to wait 15 minutes until they can leave,” Ragnheiður explained. A little bit of music should certainly help soothe nerves and pass the time for today’s vaccine recipients.

Icelandic authorities have stated that they are on track to reach their goal of vaccinating 75% of the population by the end of July.

Report: Iceland’s Media System “Increasingly Less Viable”

Iceland’s ranking has fallen in the World Press Freedom Index, which just published its annual ranking for 2021. Iceland fell by one spot, from 15th to 16th place, and has fallen slowly but steadily since it was ranked 10th in 2017. An Index statement says the climate for journalists has been worsening in Iceland and cites funding as the main issue facing the country’s media.

“Despite the declared aim for Iceland to become the Eldorado of investigative journalism and online media with the adoption of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) in June 2010, the climate for journalists has been worsening for years because relations between politicians and media have soured,” a statement from the Index reads. “The 2008 economic crisis had a big impact on the media, undermining their economic viability and ability to resist pressure from lobbies, while at the same time reviving public trust in the media and their role as a pillar of democracy. After the crisis, two leading national dailies were acquired by two major fishing and industrial companies, posing a problem of conflicts of interest.”

Read More: Broken News

While the statement commends Icelandic legislation, which protects journalists and freedom of expression, it stated that “a lack of funding continues to be the main problem for the media.” Iceland’s government is discussing a new law on funding independent media companies.

The full statement on Iceland’s media can be read here.

Blinken And Lavrov To Attend Arctic Council Meeting in Reykjavík

raven krummi hrafn ís ice winter

United States Secretary of States Antony Blinken confirmed yesterday that he would represent the US at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council. Previously, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov had confirmed that he would also be attending, leading the Russian delegation as Russia will be taking over the Council’s chairmanship. Lavrov and Blinken’s meeting in Reykjavík would be their first.

Iceland’s 2019-2021 chairmanship of the Arctic Council is officially ending at the Council’s ministerial meeting in Reykjavík May 19-20. All participating countries of the Arctic Council and leaders of indigenous councils were invited to the meeting but requested to keep their delegations small for infection prevention purposes.

Foreign officials arriving for the meeting will follow regulations for a working quarantine, an option available to “ensure continued operation or to do work that can’t be postponed,” and subject to Chief Epidemiologist approval. Lavrov and Blinken will be in the same quarantine, meaning they could meet while they were here.

During Iceland’s Chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the theme was sustainable development and the four priorities were The Arctic Marine Environment, Climate and Green Energy Solutions, People and Communities of the Arctic, and a Stronger Arctic Council. In a speech yesterday, Secretary Blinken’s topic was America’s global climate leadership and how American foreign policy would be addressing the climate crisis. He stated: “We will convey a strong message to the meeting of the G7 next month, whose members produce a quarter of the world’s emissions.  And I’ll also represent the United States at next month’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, where I’ll reaffirm America’s commitment to meeting our climate goals and encourage other Arctic nations to do the same.”

He also mentioned the possibility that a rapidly heating Arctic could be a source of international conflict. Blinken stated: “In February, a Russian gas tanker sailed through the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route for the first time ever.  Until recently, that route was only passable a few weeks each year.  But with the Arctic warming at twice the rate of the rest of the global average, that period is getting much longer.  Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces.  It is modernizing its bases in the Arctic and building new ones, including one just 300 miles from Alaska.  China is increasing its presence in the Arctic, too.”