Iceland Joins UK-led Joint Expeditionary Forces

Last week, Iceland joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Forces to strengthen defence and security cooperation with the UK and other like-minded nations in Northern Europe. Iceland is the JEF’s 10th member, alongside other Nordic nations, the Netherlands, and the Baltic countries. Iceland’s ambassador in London Sturla Sigurjónsson and UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace signed a Note of Joining last April 20.

“Iceland has noticed the global shift in defence matters in the past few years, characterised by increased instability, uncertainty and tension,” the Ministry for Foreign Affairs’ reply to Fréttablaðið stated.  “Under such conditions, a powerful multi-national cooperation in safety and defence issues, is especially important, especially cooperating with our closest allies,” the answer further stated. A government press release states that the JEF participation will “improve oversight over status and development in defence matters in Iceland’s immediate surroundings. The cooperation could be useful for emergency response, civil protection and humanitarian aid. The cooperation isn’t expected to incur any costs save for a civilian expert who will work with the JEF in the future.”

According to the UK’s Ministry of Defence, the JEF is “a UK-led coalition of ten countries who share a commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as a long history of operating together.” It focuses on the north and is intended to be an addition to NATO’s operations in the region. Unlike NATO, the JEF handles smaller, clearly defined operations. Fréttablaðið reports that the Baltic countries have shown increased interest in defence cooperation in recent years due to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. According to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the JEF cooperation isn’t directed against any particular states but rather based on common defence interests of like-minded states. “Under conditions such as now in defence and security matters, the JEF is a much-appreciated addition to the cooperation already in place, based around Iceland’s participation in NATO. Iceland’s participation in the JEF will be civilian just like all other international defence cooperation.”

The UK’s Ministry of Defence stated that Iceland’s entry into the JEF reflects a “growing bilateral relationship with the UK on defence and security issues” and that the two nations shared security concerns. They noted that In 2019 the RAF patrolled over Iceland for the first time since the Second World War as part of the NATO Icelandic Air Policing mission. During World War II, Iceland was occupied by the UK and the latter half of the 20th century saw a series of skirmishes with the British Navy over fishing rights, known as the Cod Wars, during which Iceland repeatedly threaten to leave NATO.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Police to Question Man Suspected of Breaking Quarantine and Isolation

The Capital Area Police force intends to question a man suspected of breaking both quarantine and isolation regulations, RÚV reports. He is connected to the group infection at the Jörfi preschool, which has led to more than a hundred infections, including over 30 of the children attending Jörfi. Inspector Guðmundur Páll Jónsson told RÚV that this is one of the most serious infection prevention regulation infractions they’ve seen.

According to RÚV’s sources, the man was only released from isolation due to his COVID-19 infection recently, which is why the police haven’t had a chance to question him yet.

Fines for breaking quarantine can be between 50,000 and 250,000 ISK and fines for breaking isolation is punishable by 150,000-500,000 ISK fines. The Public Prosecutor has stated that when assessing the severity of such infractions, it should be noted if the defendant behaved reprehensively, how many he interacted with during the infraction and how he interacted with them.

More than a hundred infections have occurred in connection with the Jörfi preschool and one teacher has been hospitalised due to their illness. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Response has revealed that the infections can be traced to an individual not respecting quarantine after crossing the border.

Vísir reported that the man was suspected of breaking not only quarantine but also isolation after he tested positive in his second border test. Mbl.is later reported that it took a district court ruling to require the man to isolate in the government’s quarantine facility.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Reports of Xenophobic Bullying Following Group Infections

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson

At an information briefing earlier today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that although the number of cases outside of quarantine is cause for concern, he does not believe that it’s necessary to tighten restrictions unless infection rates change for the worse. Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson disclosed that the police had been notified that both children and adults connected to group infections were receiving extreme bullying and xenophobic remarks and admonished against such behaviour.

COVID-19 numbers for April 28:

New domestic cases: 10 (7 in quarantine)
New border cases: 2
Total active cases: 191 (up from 183 yesterday)
In hospital: 4
Individuals with one or both doses of the vaccine: 98,008 (26.59% of Iceland’s population)

The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

Víðir starts the meeting by thanking the contact tracing team for their work and the people of Ölfus municipality for their solidarity in curbing the group infection. He also thanks teachers for their work during the pandemic.

On a sadder note, Víðir states that both children and adults affected by group infections are receiving hateful and xenophobic messages, and being bullied for being from a certain country. He discourages this behaviour, stating that when a group infection occurs, it’s because we couldn’t limit the spread of infection and no group should be blamed for the actions of certain individuals. “We’re all responsible and we all need to participate by getting tested when experiencing even the slightest symptoms.” He adds that authorities were doing their best to make sure that everyone knows what to do.

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the latest numbers. While the infections in quarantine can be traced to group infections, the incidents outside quarantine can’t be traced to known group infections with certainty. “We’re still finding cases with no known connection to earlier infections, which is worrying,” Þórólfur states. He adds that random testing found no infections, which indicates that community-spread infection isn’t widespread. Þórólfur encourages everyone to get tested as soon as they experience even the slightest symptoms. Three of yesterday’s ten new infections were people outside quarantines.

While the British variant is rumoured to cause more serious illness than others, Iceland currently has a hospitalisation rate of about 2.5%, which is similar or slightly lower than earlier waves of the pandemic. It is affecting younger people than earlier waves of the pandemic, however. Þórólfur notes that the samples are small and it’s risky to extrapolate too much from this data.

There are currently 421 people in quarantine after possible being exposed to the virus. Around 5 % of people in quarantine test positive, meaning that if authorities were to lose control over infections, the spread of the pandemic would be similar to what happened in previous waves of the pandemic.

The regulations currently in place are in effect until May 6. Þórólfur is working on his suggestions for the regulations that will replace the current ones but is not yet ready to disclose any details. He will likely send his memo to the Minister of Health next weekend. The execution of the latest border measures are going well.

While authorities feared that fewer people would turn op for AstraZeneca vaccinations, the ratio of people turning up for their vaccinations is the same as for other vaccines

The priority group currently being vaccinated is a big one and it will take time to send out vaccination appointments for all of them so Þórólfur encourages people to be patient and wait for to receive a notification.

Vaccine shipment schedules indicate that Iceland will have received at least 360,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of June. That’s not counting doses from AstraZeneca and Janssen who are yet to reveal their distribution schedules for May and June. Þórólfur is asked if infections out of quarantines will require tighter restrictions. Þórólfur says it’s possible, some infected people show little to no symptoms but adds that the current restrictions seem to be curbing the spread. He notes that everyone should continue to practice personal infection prevention, and get tested if experiencing even the slightest symptoms. He will monitor the situation closely but at this moment, he does not consider it necessary to tighten restrictions.

The infections out of quarantine yesterday were in different regions of the country. They’re waiting for the result of viral sequencing to gain more insight into how the virus spread and if the cases are connected to known group infections or not.

Asked about the 80% attendance rate of vaccination appointments, Þórólfur states that they’re happy with the public’s participation, over 70-year olds have a 95% vaccination rate, and no-shows might have different reasons and might show up later. He had feared participation would be lower due to the negative discussion surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. He himself got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday and isn’t experiencing any side effects yet. He is hoping they’ll turn up later today, as mild side effects are a sign of the vaccine working.

When asked about the government’s plan for lifting restrictions, Þórólfur states that he’s happy that such a plan exists and that it’s an optimistic one. He notes that such a plan does not affect his work which is to monitor the status of the pandemic and react to the rate of infections at any given time. When asked how likely it is that the government’s schedule will pan out as planned, Þórólfur states: “If everything goes according to plan, I think this can work.”

When asked about what would impede lifting restrictions, he mentioned problems in vaccine distribution, more difficult strains of the virus, or if the pandemic gets more serious domestically.

People with a history of certain blood clots aren’t called in for an AstraZeneca vaccination. People are asked to be patient while waiting for information on vaccinations, everyone will get their turn.

Þórólfur does not have information on how certain vaccinations will affect people’s ability to travel to other countries. When asked about the level of protection offered by the first shot of the vaccine, Þórólfur states that it does offer some protection, perhaps most importantly against a serious illness if an infection occurs. While being infected after one dose of the vaccine might cause a milder illness, it would not make the disease any less contagious, which is what worries Þórólfur when it comes to lifting restrictions once the majority has received one shot of the vaccine.

Víðir takes over and preaches patience, as it’s only two months until plans suggest the majority of Icelanders will be vaccinated. “we’ve been doing this for fourteen months now, two more months is nothing,” he states. The briefing has ended. Full story coming on (icelandreview.com)

What Is the Difference Between the Prime Minister And the President of Iceland?

Iceland is a constitutional republic with a multi-party political system. The Republic of Iceland was founded in 1944 after centuries under Norwegian and later Danish rule. Since 1944, Iceland has had six presidents and 20 prime ministers.
The prime minister is the head of the government and usually has a seat in parliament, much like prime ministers in the Nordic countries and the UK. They are often the head of a political party and have an active political role. Iceland’s current prime minister is Katrín Jakobsdóttir, head of the Left-Green party.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir
Golli. Prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir outside the Government Office in the city centre
The president is Iceland’s head of state, a ceremonial figurehead much like kings and queens in other Nordic countries and the UK. While they appoint ministers to Iceland’s cabinet and their signature is required for parliament-approved legislation to take effect, their political power is limited. Traditionally, their political role has been a passive one. Iceland’s current president is historian Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson.
Golli. President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson outside Bessastaðir, the Presidential Residence
The difference between Iceland’s presidents and monarchs in neighbouring countries is that the presidents have been known to exercise their political power in matters they considered especially important, by appointing controversial cabinets or vetoing legislation they believed unjust. These occasions are, however, very rare.