COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Restrictions Extended for Two Weeks

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Iceland’s current COVID-19 domestic restrictions, including a 200-person gathering limit and one-metre social distancing, will be extended for an additional two weeks, Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced at a press conference this afternoon. Though the nation is experiencing a record rate of COVID-19 infection, its high vaccination rate is preventing serious illness and hospitalisation. The Chief Epidemiologist and Prime Minister agreed that was the reasoning tighter domestic restrictions were not currently necessary.

The current domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 were imposed on July 24 and include a 200-person gathering limit, one-metre social distancing, and mask use where distancing cannot be ensured, such as in hair salons and on public transportation. The measures were set to expire this Friday, but in a memorandum to the Health Minister, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist recommended they be extended for an additional two weeks.

The measures will remain in effect until August 27, 2021.

A live-tweeting of the briefing in English is available here.

Effects on Ocean Among Primary Climate Concerns for Iceland

Waves crashing over Reykjavík lighthouse

Ocean acidification, increased frequency of landslides, and possible changes to ocean currents are some of the impacts of climate change that could most affect Iceland, according to the country’s experts. Responding to the newly released report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Iceland’s Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson says government around the world need to step up their response to the climate crisis.

The PICC’s newest climate change report, intended as a resource for policymakers, compiles the latest data on climate change. Compared to the panel’s earlier reports, its findings are categorical about climate change being caused by humans and about the severity of the consequences it has in store.

Ocean acidification as concerning as warming

Tómas Jóhannesson is Director of Glaciology and an expert on the avalanche team at the Icelandic Met Office. He says the impact on the ocean surrounding Iceland is one of the biggest concerns regarding the local impact of climate change. The earth’s ocean’s have absorbed around 90% of the heat that has accumulated due to the increased greenhouse effect.

Considering Iceland’s dependence on the ocean, its acidification as a result of the carbon it absorbs from the atmosphere could be a long-term issue for the country. Acidification can affect the survival of smaller ocean organisms, in turn affecting the survival of fish and sea birds. “The acidification of the sea is unequivocal and is just as much a reason to stop emissions as warming,” Tómas stated.

Read More: Iceland’s Plan to Become Carbon Neutral by 2040

Weakening currents and more frequent landslides

Weakening and even halting ocean currents is an unlikely but significant change that could occur as a result of continued global warming. Changes in the Atlantic Ocean’s system of currents, known as the AMOC, could affect climate and precipitation in Iceland and its tipping point is not known, according to Tómas. “The possibility of this is one of the reasons why it is very urgent to take action to stop this development.”

Global warming could increase the risk of landslides in Iceland, especially as permafrost in mountains and glaciers thaws. Warmers winters that bring rain rather than show could magnify that risk. “We are seeing landslides in areas where we have not expected landslides to occur or they were previously rare.” Whether the devastating landslides that occurred in Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland last winter are a result of global warming is, however, uncertain, according to Tómas.

Iceland must address agriculture and fisheries

Responding to the IPCC report, Iceland’s Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson called it “yet another confirmation that we need to do even better.” Energy exchange in fisheries and agriculture are two areas where Iceland needs to achieve better results, he told RÚV. Road transport, however, “has gotten off to a much better start and is beginning to yield results,” the Minister added. He added that authorities must ensure climate measures do not come down harder on low-income or marginalised groups.

Stolen Artefacts Returned to Icelandic Museum 50 Years Later

Glaumbær museum turf house

Three artefacts have been returned to Glaumbær Museum in North Iceland by post more than 50 years after they were stolen, RÚV reports. The museum staff was at first perplexed by the package, which contained no letter or explanation. They eventually contacted the sender in Germany, who had a strange explanation for the return of the items.

Last week Glaumbær Farm and Museum received a package from Germany in the post. The museum, a preserved turf farmhouse from the 18th and 19th centuries, often receives gifts in the post, though they are usually accompanied by letters explaining the origin and significance of the items enclosed.

Unmarked package bore familiar items

“There were three things in the package: a creamer, a butter tub, and a small backgammon checker, which is like a chip for backgammon. There was no explanation with them, no letter or memo,” stated Inga Katrín D. Magnúsdóttir, project manager at Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga (e. The Skagafjörður Settlement Museum), to which Glaumbær belongs. “[…W]e didn’t understand a thing but the more we thought about it and the more information we found here at the museum, the more exciting it became.”

artefacts Glaumbær turf house museum
A screenshot from RÚV. The artefacts were stolen in 1970 and returned to Glaumbær in August 2021.

Disappeared in 1970

A search in a database revealed more information about the objects. “The creamer, it was so familiar that we started to suspect that maybe it was possibly from here and then we went into our database, sarpur.is, and searched for the items we thought it resembled and then it came to light that there was an entry for this creamer and a comment had been written under it: ‘Disappeared from the museum July 23, 1970’.”

The museum staff decided to contact the sender who offered an interesting explanation for the items’ return. “He told us this story, that he had found these artefacts at a flea market many years ago and with the explanation that they were from Glaumbær in Skagafjörður. And now he was getting old and his descendants didn’t want to have them so he had decided to send them back now.”

Asked whether it was likely the man had stolen the items himself and returned them out of guilt, Inga Katrín stated only: “That may very well be.”

COVID-19 Update Expected at Government Press Conference

Iceland’s government has called a press conference at 4:00 PM this afternoon. It will be held on the Suðurnes peninsula in Southwest Iceland, where the cabinet convened at 10:00 AM this morning and will hold meetings all day. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that COVID-19 restrictions will be on the agenda. Current domestic restrictions expire on August 13.

“At our regular meeting I expect infection prevention measures to be discussed,” Katrín told Vísir. “The current measures run out in three days so we will discuss them.” Iceland reimposed domestic restrictions on July 24, including a 200-person gathering limit and one-metre social distancing, in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers. While health authorities have confirmed that vaccination is minimising instances of hospitalisation and serious illness in the current wave, they have also stated that the sheer number of cases is pushing infrastructure toward its limits.

Long-term COVID-19 policy will not be presented

A government notice stated that the press conference will also address “the progress of the projects in the government agreement and measures to support the creative industries.” The state council has met with various interest groups over the past two weeks in order to shape a long-term policy on tackling the ongoing pandemic. The Prime Minister stated, however, that a long-term COVID-19 policy would not be presented at today’s press conference.

“We’ve both been discussing this current wave and how we tackle it but also long-term measures,” Katrín stated. “We won’t present any long-term measures at this time. I can absolutely confirm that. The issue has not reached that stage.” She did, however, imply the government would present what measures, if any, would replace the current ones after August 13.

Iceland Review will live-tweet the press conference at 4:00 PM UTC.