Record Traffic on Ring Road in July

Traffic in Iceland’s capital area decreased by more than 3% last month while traffic on the Ring Road increased by around 6% and has never been heavier in any July on record. This data from the Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration indicates that an unusually high number of capital area residents travelled to the countryside last month. July traffic in the capital area has not been lighter since 2016.

Despite lower numbers of foreign tourists as compared to pre-pandemic figures, a record amount of traffic was recorded on Iceland’s Ring Road in July. Traffic was 2.3% higher in July 2021 than in July 2019, when the previous record for that month was set. The biggest increase was recorded in East Iceland, where counters recorded a 23% rise in vehicle numbers.

Traffic has increased 6.4% in the first half of 2021 as compared to the same period in 2020. It is, however, still 3% lighter than it was during the same period in 2019. Looking at data for the month of July 2021 alone, there was less traffic on all days of the week as compared to July 2020, except on Fridays, which showed a 1.4% increase in traffic. Fridays show the heaviest traffic while Sundays show the lightest.

The Road and Coastal Administration projects an 8.5% increase in traffic by the end of the year as compared to 2020. If that figure proves correct, traffic will still be 2.5% lighter than in 2019.

Schools to Remain Open this Autumn, Says Icelandic Government

Borgarfjörður eystri

Icelandic schools will open for in-person teaching at the end of this month, according to Iceland’s Prime Minister and Health Minister. RÚV reports that the state council, which consists of cabinet ministers and the President of Iceland, will meet this week to review pandemic response. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says the council will evaluate the success of the restrictions implemented over the past two weeks in response to the current wave of COVID-19 infection, Iceland’s largest since the start of the pandemic.

Teachers receiving booster shots

Primary schools and preschools have largely remained open in Iceland throughout the pandemic, though their operations have at times been subject to restrictions. The Prime Minister says this will remain the case.  “We will continue to prioritise school operations. Whether we need to keep things in mind in regards to their organisation, that’s something that we are going to discuss with those working in the field, and a part of preparing for school operations to proceed as normally as possible is, of course, the revaccination of teachers that begins today,” Katrín stated. School workers in Iceland received the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine but are now being offered a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna, as are all residents of Iceland that received the single-dose J&J vaccine.

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir underlined that current domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 do not restrict school activities in any way. The Icelandic Medicines Agency has approved the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for the 12-15 age group and Iceland health authorities are now reviewing whether to recommend the vaccination of this demographic before the school year begins.

Government reevaluating approach to pandemic

In recent days the cabinet has scheduled meetings with special interest groups, such as educators, artists, and athletes. One of the goals of the meetings is to evaluate the need for further economic measures in response to the pandemic. Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson has stated that the pandemic’s economic impact in 2021 is nothing compared to the blow it dealt last year. Current economic measures will remain in effect until the end of this year.

While vaccines are not proving as effective in preventing infection and spread of the Delta variant as Icelandic authorities had hoped, they are reducing the rates of hospitalisation and serious illness due to COVID-19 in the country. This changes the position we are in, according to the Prime Minister, and requires a reassessment of government response to the pandemic.