Health Ministry Considers Returning Cervical Screening Processing to Iceland

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir says the Ministry is considering processing cervical scans in Iceland once more after transferring the procedure to Denmark has not gone as smoothly as planned. Such a decision would require a great deal of preparation on the part of the National University Hospital, which would be processing the samples.

At the end of last year, cervical screening was transferred from the Cancer Society to capital area healthcare centres following a human error that led to several misdiagnoses at the Cancer Society. Authorities decided to send the samples to Denmark for viral and cellular analysis, which has been harshly criticized by women, gynecologists, and oncologists. There have been cases of women having to wait months for results even in cases where cellular changes had been detected.

In a radio interview this morning, Svandís stated that the processing time of the samples abroad was too lengthy and that it was concerning how little trust society had toward the changes made at the end of last year. “And that’s why we have been discussing with the Health Centres and the National University Hospital about the possibility of moving that research part back here.”

The process would require significant planning, according to the Health Minister, including ensuring staffing, equipment, and housing was available to process the samples. “In fact, we have always thought that it would be best if this was done here, but that requires preparation. It is not as if the National Hospital could take this over in a day.” Svandís stated she hoped the ministry and healthcare centres would be able to report more details on the issue in the next few days.

Reykjanes Eruption Could End With Earthquake Swarm

volcano eruption Geldingadalir Reykjanes

The ongoing eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula was kicked off by a strong earthquake swarm, and it could take another such swarm to end it. That’s one of Volcanologist Þorvaldur Þórðarson’s hypotheses about how the eruption could eventually come to a close, but it is indeed just a hypothesis. Experts have oft underlined that there is no reliable way to predict when the eruption will end.

“There are no clear signs that the eruption is ending,” Þorvaldur stated on Bylgjan radio station this morning. Before it began more than three months ago, the eruption was preceded by weeks of strong earthquakes, felt across the capital area and South and West Iceland. Þorvaldur believes another such earthquake swarm could be what stops the eruption, which is located along a rift between two tectonic plates. As the plates move apart, they create tension in the earth’s crust which is released in the form of seismic or volcanic activity.

Read More: The Geology of the Reykjanes Peninsula

“Such plate movements appear to have instigated this eruption and I suspect that maybe something similar is required to end it,” Þorvaldur stated. Until such movement happens, the eruption may continue, and experts have already stated that could be years or decades. Until then, the eruption is “like a pipe that’s always open. It’s dripping steadily. And there’s no tap to screw shut. They forgot to buy one,” Þorvaldur joked in the morning interview.

While volcanic activity at the eruption site briefly paused on the night of June 28, it resumed again some hours later. Þorvaldur says there are once more considerable magma jets spewing from the active crater and visible lava flow over a large area, including Meradalir valley.

Police Procedure Under Scrutiny Following Minister’s COVID Restriction Breach

Bjarni Benediktsson icelandic politics

Throughout the period of pandemic restrictions, Icelandic police sent hundreds of logs to media reporting breaches of gathering bans and social distancing regulations. One particular log, involving Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, has received more attention than any other, leading to phone calls from the Minister of Justice and an investigation by a Parliamentary committee. Now a leaked committee report has put the log under scrutiny again. The National Police Association is unsatisfied with how the matter has been handled.

“Honourable Minister” Mentioned in Police Log

In the early hours of December 24, 2020, media received logs from Reykjavík Capital Area Police describing how officers had broken up a large gathering in downtown Reykjavík the previous night. Iceland’s national gathering limit at the time was 10 individuals and social distancing of 2 metres was in effect. “Between 40-50 guests were gathered in the hall, and one honourable Minister of the Icelandic cabinet among them,” the log stated. Police reported that distancing regulations were “barely respected by anyone” at the event.

Read More: Criticism of Finance Minister After He Breaks COVID-19 Regulations

While police did not identify which minister was present at the gathering, it quickly came to light that it had been Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, Chairman of the Independence Party. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir called the Capital Area Police Commissioner twice that day due to the log and according to RÚV’s sources asked whether she would issue an apology for its content. The Commissioner later stated she does not believe the Justice Minister’s phone calls constituted political intervention into police activities.

Committee Considers Police Conversation “Reprehensible”

The event organisers were fined, the matter was investigated by Parliament’s Constitutional and Supervisory Committee, and in the beginning of June a committee responsible for police supervision turned in a report that was leaked to media. The committee’s report includes a transcription of a conversation between two police officers who broke up the event:

What should the press release say? ‘Forty-person private party and nationally renowned individuals…’ Is that too much?

Not for me, I would read it. I knew two girls who were up there and they’re both Independence… like… social climbers.

The committee considered that conversation to be reprehensible and suggested it required further investigation. According to the report, the procedure of publishing media logs also required review. RÚV reports that the two officers did not write the log mentioning a minister present at the event.

National Police Association to File Complaint

Fjölnir Sæmundsson, Chairman of the National Police Association (LL) expressed surprise at the amount of attention the log has received. “This is almost censorship of police officer’s thoughts,” he stated, adding that he would have hoped police have as much a right to their personal thoughts as other citizens. “And then the other thing, their personal conversation is all of a sudden in the media, presumably verbatim.” LL will file a complaint with the Icelandic Data Protection Authority regarding the use of the recordings. “They are not saying this within hearing distance of others, they are standing at a distance and talking to each other and are just waiting for people to leave the building.” It bears noting that the officers have not been personally identified in the report or the media.

The transcribed comments above were originally edited out of the recordings police submitted for committee investigation. The decision to edit the recordings before submitting them has raised questions about police’s ability to tamper with such recordings.

Landslide Damages Two Houses in North Iceland

landslide Varmahlíð aurskriða

No one was injured in a landslide that occurred yesterday in Varmahlíð, North Iceland, though two houses sustained significant damage. Nine homes on four different streets in the town have been evacuated. The evacuation will remain in force until after the region’s local Civil Protection and Emergency Management Committee meets this morning to assess the situation. An announcement is expected by noon on whether residents can return to their homes.

According to Sigfús Ingi Sigfússon, head of the local council, authorities had noticed the land sagging on the town’s Norðurbrún street towards the end of the winter. Repairs on the street were scheduled to begin today and equipment had been ready at the location when the landslide occurred. Luckily, no one was home in the two houses affected when the landslide fell.