Breaking: Domestic Restrictions Reimposed in Iceland

A 200-person gathering limit, one-metre distancing, and restricted opening hours for bars and nightclubs will be reimposed in Iceland just four weeks after all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 were lifted. The restrictions are based on recommendations from Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and were decided on at a lengthy cabinet meeting today. At a briefing in Reykjavík yesterday, Þórólfur stated that COVID case numbers were rising at an exponential rate despite the country’s high vaccination rates.

On June 26, Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19, one year and four months after the very first social restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic. The country also loosened border restrictions on July 1, allowing travellers with proof of vaccination or previous infection to enter the country without testing or quarantine. Infection rates have risen over the past two weeks, and Iceland now reports 371 active cases, up from 60 cases just eight days ago.

Restrictions, gathering limits, and masks

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced the new restrictions at 7:00 PM tonight following a three-hour cabinet meeting in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland. They include a 200-person gathering limit, mandated closing time of midnight for bars and nightclubs, and a general one-metre distancing rule between individuals who do not have a close relationship.

Swimming pools and gyms will remain open but may not operate above 75% capacity. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that mandatory mask use will also be reimposed for certain activities that will be announced later. Katrín stated that the restrictions decided on by the cabinet were for the most part in line with the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations.

The restrictions take effect tomorrow (July 24) at midnight and will remain in place until August 13.

All Icelandic Egg Farms Free-Range by 2022

According to new regulations regarding the welfare of domestic fowl, the use of traditional cages in Icelandic egg farming will no longer be permissible as of December 31, 2021. Bændablaðið reports that egg farmers all over the country are in the process of converting their facilities, with the total expected cost of the conversion coming to ISK 3 billion [$23.8 million; €20.2 million].

“To my knowledge, all egg farmers who intend to continue [egg] production are well into converting their facilities into free-range housing and getting rid of their cages,” remarked Stefán Már Símonarson, the head of the Association of Egg Farmers and CEO of organic egg company Nesbú. “I know two producers who are going to stop [farming] at the end of the year because of their age, but then we also have new farms coming in, like Hranastaðir. There are ten egg producers in Iceland today.”

Free-range requirements will necessitate farmers providing considerably larger facilities in order to produce the same number of eggs. This is where the major expense comes in. “Estimated cost of the conversion is around ISK 15,000 [$119; €101] per bird. There are over 200,000 laying hens in the country,” he continued, which is how the ISK 3 billion [$23.8 million; €20.2 million] figure was determined.

Farmers have a couple different options as to what kind of free-range arrangement they want to provide for their birds. “The most common set up is a platform system where the birds can move between levels and where the nests are in the middle,” explained Stefán Már. “Another arrangement is a traditional floor system on one level or with just a part of it that’s been elevated.”

Two Swimmers to Carry Icelandic Flag During Olympic Opening Ceremony

Swimmers Snæfríður Sól Jórunnardóttir and Anton Sveinn McKee will carry the Icelandic flag during today’s Opening Ceremony for the 2020 Olympics, RÚV reports. This will be the first time that participating countries will have two flag-bearers, one man and one woman.

Team Iceland is made up of four athletes including Guðni Valur Guðnason, who will compete in discus throw, and Ásgeir Sigurgeirsson, who will compete in 10-metre air pistol shooting. Anton Sveinn will swim in the 200-metre breaststroke, while Snæfríður Sól will swim in two events: the 100- and 200-metre freestyle.

Iceland will be first team to enter the arena after the Team Greece, which always enters first, and the IOC Refugee Olympic team. The procession will proceed according to Japanese alphabetization, making Iceland – which is called aisurando (アイスランド) in Japanese – first in line.

The Opening Ceremony will begin at 8:00 PM in Japan, which is 11:00 AM in Iceland. RÚV will broadcast the ceremony live.

Arctic Tern Chicks Fall Victim to Careless Drivers

Dozens of Arctic tern chicks have been killed in recent weeks by traffic around the village of Rif on the northern side the Snæfellsnes peninsula, RÚV reports. The speed limit in the area has been lowered and there’s plenty of signage clearly marking nesting grounds, but these measures seem not to have prevented a number of casualties among newly hatched chicks.

Guðjón H. Björnsson, foreman of the Icelandic Road and Costal Administration in nearby Ólafsvík, says that the area is being closely monitored and that an additional speed limit reduction is under consideration.

“We permanently lowered the speed limit to 70 km/hr [43 mi/hr] last year,” he explained, “but we’re considering lowering it even more, down to 50 km/hr [31 mi/hr] in certain sections.”

“It’s different from day to day—some days, we’re cleaning up 20 chicks [from the roadway] over there. Other days, none,” said Guðjón, reiterating that the area is well-marked, but drivers are clearly not being careful enough.

Increased Demand for Vaccinations but No Plans to Recall Vaccination Staff from Summer Holidays

Demand for vaccinations at Heilsugæslan health clinics in the capital area has increased considerably in recent days, RÚV reports, unsurprisingly prompted by the recent spate of positive COVID-19 infections.

Two hundred people received vaccination shots at the health clinic on Suðurlandsbraut on Wednesday. “We didn’t anticipate this with all the COVID testing we’re doing, too, so we’ll have to limit ourselves to 100 a day,” said Sigríður Dóra Magnúsdóttir, Medical Director of capital-area Heilsugæslan clinics.

Around 50,000 Icelanders have received the one-shot Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine and pandemic authorities will probably call for second shots of one of the other available vaccines, most likely Pfizer, to be administered to these individuals in order to bolster their resistance to COVID-19. Sigríður Dóra says that people who received the Janssen shot will probably not be given a booster until mid-August, but health clinics will wait for further guidance from chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason before making any final decisions.

Vaccination staff went on summer vacation on July 7 and are not scheduled to return until mid-August. Sigríður Dóra says that despite the current increase in infections, she doesn’t believe that there is cause to call these employees back from their holidays. It will take around three days to vaccinate the 30,000 capital-area residents, young people, teachers, fishermen, and ship and flight crew personnel who received the Janssen shot.