No Plans to Cancel Þjóðhátíð

There are no plans to cancel this year’s Þjóðhátíð, a festival held annually on Merchant’s Weekend on Heimey Island in the Westman Islands, RÚV reports.

In spite of a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases around Iceland and tightening measures to prevent a more serious outbreak, authorities have yet to impose any gathering bans that would prevent organizers from holding the festival, which is one of the biggest multi-day events in Iceland. In past years, it’s drawn as many as 16,000 attendees—nearly four times the population of Heimey.

“We are determined to put on this Þjóðhátíð,” said chair of the festival committee Hörður Orri Grettisson. “From here out, just as up until now, this all depends on us. We have to take precautions with personal infection control, sanitize often, and do it well. This is how we’re going to prevent ourselves from getting infected.”

Hörður says that ticket sales and planning, which have been underway since the start of the year, have been successful thus far. Organizers are assessing the situation on a day-by-day basis in meetings with Westman Island police and civil defense authorities, he continued.

But if the festival had to be cancelled for the second year in a row, it would have serious economic consequences for Westman residents and businesses, Hörður said. “It would, naturally, be a devastating blow, particularly for ÍBV [the Westman Islands football club]. This is by far their biggest fundraiser. All their work with children and teens depends on this festival going well.”

The financial consequences would also extend to companies based in other places around Iceland, Hörður continued. (Indeed, among other things, the weekend necessitates an uptick in both ferry crossings to the Westmans and short flights booked with tour companies to the island.) “Tourism, restaurants, etc—many of them live or die with this weekend. People have probably booked in for the weekend and such. So [cancelling] would just be a devastating blow.”

Major Rent Decrease for Bjarg Tenants

apartments downtown Reykjavík housing

The Bjarg íbúðafélag housing association will be lowering the rent for a number of tenants by as much as ISK 35,000 [$280, €238] a month, RÚV reports. The rent decrease will go into effect on September 1.

Established by the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB), Bjarg is a not-for-profit foundation that aims to provide affordable, long-term housing for low-income families and tenants. According to new data collected by the Housing and Construction Authority, once the decrease goes into effect, rent paid by Bjarg’s tenants will be 20% cheaper than rent on the general housing market.

Bjarg has credited a recent government decision to grant favorable, long-term refinancing on the loans it received from the Housing and Construction Authority. The new lending terms will apply to loans that go toward the construction and purchase of apartments for the social good, such as in the case of a nonprofit like Bjarg. A letter of intent outlining this decision was co-signed by Minister of Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Bjarg CEO Björn Traustason, and Housing and Construction Authority Assistant Director Anna Guðmunda Ingvarsdóttir.

Bjarg made its first apartment available two years ago and now rents around 500 units. Björn says that the foundation expects to have as many as 1,000 apartments within a few years.

The rent decrease is expected to put pressure on other apartment associations to lower their rents as well, Ásmundur Einar remarked to Vísir. “I’ve no doubt it will. This is the first time that we’ve had lower interest rates passed directly down to tenants. This is what happens with companies like Bjarg, which ensures that all profits go straight to the lessee and not to the landlords.”

Humpback Whales Sighted Close to Shore in North Iceland

A pair of humpback whales was sighted close to shore in North Iceland, Vísir reports.

The whales were captured in a drone video taken by Dalvík resident Jóhann Már Kristinsson, who was on his way to work when a friend, who happens to own a whale watching company, called and urged him to join an outgoing tour as whales had been spotted in the area.

“Straight to the point. A humpback whale really putting his all into catching its lunch,” wrote Jóhann on Twitter. “Right offshore btw I was on dry land when I took this,” he continued. “WILD! Then swam off with its cousin. Satisfied and happy.”

Jóhann wasn’t able to make it onto the whale watching boat, but found a vantage point near Múlagöng, the tunnel that connects Dalvík and Ölafsfjörður, from which he was able to take his drone video.

New Quarantine Hotel Opened for COVID Patients

red cross iceland

The Red Cross has opened new facilities for people with COVID-19 as the current quarantine hotel is at capacity. RÚV reports that the National and University Hospital of Iceland’s Epidemic Committee has also tightened mask-wearing requirements at all of its sites. These measures have been taken in advance of an anticipated increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the coming days.

Forty-four positive cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, 38 of which were domestic and six of which were diagnosed at the border. This is the highest number of cases to be diagnosed in a single day so far this year. There are now 163 people in isolation and 454 in quarantine and these numbers are expected to go up presently.

See Also: Uptick in infections marks “a new chapter in the fight”

A statement on the website of the National and University Hospital explains that in light of widespread infection and many isolated events that are directly connected to the hospital, the Epidemic Committee sees no other option but to immediately tighten mask-wearing regulations within its facilities. Hospital employees are now only allowed to take off their masks when eating.

The same rules apply to hospital visitors and others with business at the hospital. Inpatients are not required to wear masks, however, unless they are leaving their wards for tests or procedures.

Increased measures to stem the uptick in infections are also being taken elsewhere. For one, capital-area police have begun to wear masks when on the job. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to require all travellers to Iceland to present a negative COVID test before entering the country. Residents and people with connections in Iceland are also advised to get tested in Iceland upon arrival in the country, even if they don’t present any symptoms.