Bárðarbunga Calming Down or Preparing for Next Eruption

Vatnajökull Bárðarbunga

Bárðarbunga volcano has been expanding and it could be due to magma accumulation or recovery from its last eruption in 2015. Geophysicist Páll Einarsson told Morgunblaðið that recent powerful earthquakes underneath the volcano are likely due to land rise. An eruption is not imminent, however.

Two earthquakes measuring M3.9 and 4.5 occurred at the volcano site two days ago, according to the Icelandic Met Office. According to Páll, it’s difficult to say what the activity could indicate in a larger context. If Bárðarbunga is preparing for an eruption, then the earthquakes would be a sign of that. An eruption is not, however, expected in the near future.

Read More: The 2014 Eruption in Holuhraun

Bárðarbunga is a stratovolcano located underneath Iceland’s largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The volcano’s last eruption was the Holuhraun eruption in 2014-2015.

Seal Numbers Swell in North Iceland

seals Iceland selir selur

Seals numbers have risen on Vatnsnes peninsula, North Iceland, according to the results of a seal count conducted last weekend, RÚV reports. A team of experts and volunteers counted 718 seals in the region, up from 580 when the last count was done in 2016. Icelandic Seal Centre CEO Páll L. Sigurðsson believes a seal hunting ban has had a positive impact on the population.

The count was conducted over an area stretching across more than 100km (62mi) on the Vatnsnes and Heggstaðanes peninsulas. “We counted 718 seals, which is considerably better than the last three times. The last time we counted, 2016, we got 580 seals. So we are very happy that the population isn’t decreasing rather is at least staying consistent,” Páll stated.

Seals hunted over salmon

Seal counts have been conducted on Vatnsnes since 2007 and the average number has been 757 animals. Páll believes the seal hunting ban implemented two years ago has helped keep the population steady. “That people aren’t killing seals at estuaries where there were salmon. People had the misconception that seals were eating the salmon and then they were killed on sight, we can put it that way.”

Volunteer counters both local and foreign

Páll expressed gratitude for the interested in the project, both from media and tourists. “There was very good participation, altogether there were 58, and 55 that walked or hiked Vatnsnes and Heggstaðanes. So we are very pleased and thankful for that group of volunteers.” Another count is planned for next year and organisers hope to make it an annual event. Páll says the information gathered will be useful to seal research in the coming decades.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Staff Needed in Healthcare and Testing Centres

Kamilla Jósefsdóttir

Strain on Iceland’s healthcare system has increased as more people are admitted to hospital in the current wave of COVID-19 infection, Director of Health Alma Möller stated in a briefing this morning. The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to administer COVID-19 tests in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport.

Iceland has reported over 100 new daily COVID-19 cases for the past three days in a row and now has 966 active cases, a steep rise from 60 cases just two weeks ago. Though authorities expressed hope the wave would be curbed by the time current restrictions run out on August 13, both Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Deputy Chief Epidemiologist Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir stated it was too early to say.

The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to take COVID samples at Suðurlandsbraut in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport. Education in the healthcare field is not a requirement, but Alma stated that all employees would receive comprehensive training. Staff are also needed in various positions within the healthcare system, including positions that do not require medical training. Those with training in the field of healthcare are encouraged to register for the healthcare reserve force. The welfare services reserve force is also in need of people.

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


On the panel: Deputy Chief Epidemiologist Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 118 new domestic cases (51 in quarantine) and 3 at the border. Total active cases: 966 (8 are in hospital). 68.58% of the population is fully vaccinated.

The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to take COVID samples at Suðurlandsbraut in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport. Education in the healthcare field is not a requirement

The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by going over the border regulations. All entering the country must show a negative PCR test or rapid antigen test prior to departure for Iceland.

Kamilla goes over the numbers. There were 118 new domestic cases yesterday. A decision has been finalised that those who received the Janssen vaccine will receive a booster shot in the near future, most likely with Pfizer. There is enough vaccine to inoculate this group within a relatively short time.

Alma takes over. The situation has somewhat worsened, 3 people were hospitalised due to COVID-19 since yesterday and there are 10 in hospital altogether. Two of them are in the ICU. Alma underlines that vaccination reduces the likelihood of serious illness from COVID-19.

She underlines that staff is needed in the healthcare system and a background in healthcare is not necessarily required. Staff are needed in kitchens, for example. Staff are also needed to administer COVID-19 tests and no medical training is required. Staff will receive comprehensive training for the job.

Alma also mentions the official contact tracing app Rakning C-19 and encourages the public to download and use the app, which also provides information on quarantine rules and much more. We need to keep doing what we can to protect those who are vulnerable, states Alma, use masks properly, wash our hands and use hand sanitiser, keep our distance, and stay home when we have any symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include cough, cold, fever, headache, and digestive issues. Alma says authorities hope that the situation clears in the coming weeks but we need to show solidarity and protect each other for the time being.

The panel opens for questions. “There were two women who showed up to protest vaccination of pregnant women today. What do you have to say to them?”

Kamilla answers: Pregnant women who showed up for vaccination were doing so to protect themselves and their children and I want to encourage them to go ahead with that decision.

“Have you heard about people showing up to get their vaccination bar code scanned so they can get a certificate but then disappearing and not getting vaccinated?” Víðir says there is no evidence of such occurrences.

Alma: With earlier variants, around 5% of those who were infected needed hospitalisation. Figures from the UK, Scotland and Canada indicate that that the percentage of hospitalisations is higher with the Delta variant. But we don’t have clear figures of how many were vaccinated or not.

Alma says the infectious diseases ward has been converted into a COVID ward as in previous waves. She believes there are 17 beds there for patients in isolation but other wards can be converted as well if needed.

“Will Iceland make different rules for people who are vaccinated versus those who are not?” There are other countries, such as Israel, who have done so, says Alma, but there has been no discussion to do so in Iceland.

“If people don’t show a COVID test prior to departure you stated they will get tested upon arrival. Does that mean the test is optional?” Víðir says no, passengers can be denied boarding if they do not present a test certificate. However if people board without the test certificate, which could happen in exceptional cases, they will be tested upon arrival.

“Will the current social restrictions be lifted on August 13?” Víðir says it is too early to say. “We will just wait and see.”

“Influenza also causes deaths and some people have stated that we may start to think of COVID as a regular illness. What will it take for that to happen?” Kamilla answers that experts are hoping for a vaccine that is more effective against the Delta variant. But as long as high numbers of people are contracting COVID-19 then there is always a risk that new variants will arise.

Kamilla says infection numbers over recent days have been relatively steady despite fluctuations. She says it is good the numbers aren’t higher but we would still prefer them to be lower. Alma underlines that the hospital is under a lot of strain due to the current situation.

“Many large events are scheduled in late August: Reykjavík Marathon, Culture Night, possibly the delayed Þjóðhátíð – is there any chance they will happen?” Kamilla says we have curbed waves of infection before, it usually takes a few weeks at least. But it is too early to say at this point what the situation will be in late August.

Víðir takes over to close the briefing. He reminds the public to show solidarity, continue practicing infection prevention measures and go get tested if even the mildest symptoms arise. He also asks the public to show moderation over the coming holiday weekend and avoid gathering in large groups even though the current restrictions allow up to 200 people to gather. Víðir encourages the public to spend the holiday with their nearest and dearest and think carefully about what activities and gatherings they participate in. The briefing has ended.

John Snorri and Companions Likely Reached K2 Summit

John Snorri við Stein á Esjunni

Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson and his two companions likely reached the summit of K2 before perishing in a storm on the way down. The trio set out to summit the mountain, the world’s second-highest after Everest, last winter but lost contact with base camp on February 5, 2021. Search and rescue efforts in the following days were unsuccessful and their bodies were only found on the mountain earlier this week.

A tweet from “Team Ali Sadpara,” the Twitter account previously belonging to John Snorri’s climbing companion of the same name, revealed that Ali’s son Sajid and other climbers were transporting the three bodies further down the mountain to where they would hopefully be retrieved by helicopter at a later date. “At the moment, immediate retrieval efforts can harm the bodies as well as pose great risks to people involved,” the Tweet stated.

The team states that “as per instruments and presence of fig8 it is now confirmed that climbers had summited K2 in winters [sic] and were frozen to death due to storm on their way back.”

A memorial plaque for John Snorri has been placed at the mountain’s Gilkey Memorial. In a statement sent to media, his widow Lína Móey wrote: “John’s family wants to thank you for the warmth, support, and care that we have been shown over the past months and we would like to reiterate our sincere thanks to everyone who has taken part in the search for John Snorri, Ali, and J Pablo.”