Cricket Conquest

Cricket Krikket

It’s a grey spring day in Southwest Iceland. In the town of Hafnarfjörður, in Víðistaðatún park, few people are out and about except for the occasional dog owner taking their pet for a stroll. One pauses under the angled façade of Víðistaðakirkja churchto cast an inquisitive glance at a group gathered on the field. Then a […]

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Why has vaccination not led to herd immunity in Iceland? What is Iceland’s strategy for tackling COVID now?

Icelandic healthcare system

The short answers to these questions are: the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has proved more infectious than experts hoped; and Icelandic authorities have adopted a policy of curbing the spread of infection with mild social restrictions rather than aiming to eliminate the virus entirely with harsh restrictions. This policy allows Icelandic society to operate as “normally” as possible at any given time.

Now for a longer answer: Icelandic health authorities began administering vaccines against COVID-19 at the end of 2020. The country lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 on June 26, 2021, when around 88% of the population 16 and over had received one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Before that point, the newer Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus had not spread widely in Iceland. Just four weeks after restrictions were lifted, they were reimposed due to rising case numbers.

The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 was responsible for the wave of infection that followed, Iceland’s largest until that point. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, like many other health experts, had hoped that vaccines against COVID-19 would not only reduce rates of serious illness but would also reduce transmission rates until the virus was no longer a threat to public health. Unfortunately, vaccines proved less effective against the Delta variant than the variants they had been developed for, and Iceland learned that vaccinated individuals could still contract and transmit SARS-CoV-2 at high enough rates to kickstart a larger wave of infection.

It bears noting that vaccination has had a significant impact in reducing rates of serious illness, hospitalisation, and even infection due to COVID-19 in Iceland and has therefore significantly reduced strain on Iceland’s healthcare system. Local data revealed unvaccinated individuals were four times as likely to be hospitalised due to COVID-19 infection and six or seven times more likely to end up in the ICU than those who are vaccinated in the most recent wave of infection. This is clear in the continually updated data on Iceland’s official COVID-19 website.

Though vaccination has been moderately effective, COVID-19 remains a public health threat in Iceland. Authorities’ approach is to minimise the spread of infection using the mildest restrictions possible at any given time. This allows society to operate as openly as possible and avoids lockdowns. Iceland also maintains border restrictions including testing and quarantine depending on the vaccination status of arriving travellers to prevent COVID-19 cases from entering the country.

Activists Call for Clearer Regulations on Drugging and Sexual Assault

The emergency ward has handled 131 cases of sexual violence this year, already more than the 130 cases it handled in all of 2020. Nineteen people have gone to the emergency ward due to gang rape so far this year, a rise from 13 in 2020, Fréttablaðið reports. Activists are calling for clearer regulations in support of victims of drugging.

Drugging and sexual assault have been prominent in public discussion in recent days. The rate of gang rape (defined by having two or more perpetrators) has risen since last year, and Hrönn Stefánsdóttir, project manager for victims of sexual offences at the emergency ward, stated that this year has also seen more offences committed by a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Hrönn states that could be one reason for the low rate of police reports in such cases. Of the 130 cases the emergency ward dealt with last year, only 43 were reported to police.

“It can make it even more difficult for victims to report when it’s a friend or acquaintance, or even a family member,” she stated. “Society often asks why people don’t report or take the ‘proper route,’ it’s just not that easy. Even when people report, only 12-20% of cases are prosecuted, cases are dropped even though people have taken all the proper routes.” The emergency ward places emphasis on caring for the physical and mental injuries sustained by victims, collecting forensic samples, and photographs. Samples are only stored for one year.

Most victims who sought help in the emergency room last year were 18-25 years old (52 out of 130), while another 32 were between 26 and 35 years old. Nineteen victims were 16-17 years old while six victims were between 10 and 15 years of age.

Victims of drugging dismissed

Steinunn Gyðu- og Guðjónsdóttir is a spokeswoman for Stígamót, a centre for survivors of sexual violence. She told RÚV there have been cases where victims of drugging have not been provided with an ambulance when they have called for one. Stígamót also helps many victims of drugging who were not victims of a sexual offence afterwards.

“People come to us regularly that have been drugged without having experienced another violent offence afterwards, such as rape or some other crime. They often experience complete confusion and helplessness. Call an ambulance and don’t receive assistance or go to the hospital and don’t receive blood tests, because there was no other violence afterwards,” Steinunn explains.

Over 130 victims of drugging and sexual violence have been sharing their stories in a Twitter thread started last Sunday. Many state that authorities attributed their condition to their own consumption of alcohol and even refused requests for a blood test. Ninna Karla Katrínardóttir of activist group Öfgar says clearer regulations are needed within police, the healthcare system, and the emergency ward in dealing with such cases. Ninna says nightclubs can also clarify their procedures and train staff to recognise signs of drugging and react accordingly.

Justice Minister responds

In an interview published by Vísir, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir underlined the importance of the justice system taking drugging cases seriously and holding perpetrators responsible, but stated one of the main obstacles in such cases was obtaining evidence. Drugging is a crime according to Icelandic law and Áslaug does not believe that regulations necessarily need to be changed to address it differently. It could help, however, to review procedures in the healthcare system in such cases.

2,000 Attend World Geothermal Congress in Iceland

Carbfix Hellisheiðarvirkjun

The World Geothermal Congress, held in Reykjavík’s iconic Harpa Concert Hall this week, has drawn 1,100 in person guests and another 900 virtual attendees from around 100 different countries. Bjarni Pálsson, chairman of the congress’ organisational committee, says it is a big recognition for Iceland to be selected as the conference site this year.

“We have been really lucky with our resources and have been able to utilise them very well for a long period,” Bjarni told RÚV, adding that other countries are looking to Iceland for assistance on how to utilise their geothermal energy sources. Iceland is also the site of a special geothermal training program established by the Icelandic government and the United Nations University in 1978. The program brings geothermal professionals from developing countries around the world to Iceland for a six-month intensive training program in geothermal science and engineering.

One fifth of the lectures and articles presented at this year’s congress are from the school’s graduates. Ingimar G. Haraldsson, the school’s assistant director, says Iceland is a great location for the program. “The knowledge here is so broad,” he stated. “We live in a northerly region and have such a great need for heating. We have direct utilisation; heating homes, swimming pools, aquaculture, greenhouses, even snowmelt. You can find specialists in so many areas here in Iceland.”

The next World Geothermal Congress is scheduled to take place in Beijing in three years.

Glíma: Icelandic Wrestling Applies for UNESCO Status

glíma Icelandic wrestling

Icelandic wrestling, known as glíma, could soon be on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, RÚV reports. The sport involves wrestlers gripping their opponent by the waist and attempting to throw them to the ground.

Glíma was brought to Iceland by Norwegian settlers. Though originally opponents held onto each other’s trousers, in 1905 a special belt or harness was introduced to the sport, allowing wrestlers to have a better grip on each other. The sport is known for emphasising technique over force and was featured in a demonstration at the 1912 Summer Olympics.

Guðmundur Stefán Gunnarsson teaches glíma in Njarðvík, Southwest Iceland. He is working to get the sport onto UNESCO’s official list of intangible cultural heritage. It recently reached the first milestone in that process, which is to be registered as Icelandic cultural heritage.

According to Guðmundur Stefán, the atmosphere of glíma is very positive and competitions are characterised by respect among athletes. Heiðrún Fjóla Pálsdóttir, an award-winning glíma competitor who teaches alongside Guðmundur, agrees. “There’s such incredibly good morale in Icelandic glíma. Everyone is friends and it’s always so much fun.”

More information about glíma is available in English on the website Lifandi hefðir (Living Traditions).