COVID-19 in Iceland: Tightened Restrictions And Booster Shots For All Over 16

COVID-19 Iceland

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 3:00 PM, the first one in nearly three months. The meeting was called in response to rising case numbers that are putting strain on the healthcare system. Iceland reported 167 COVID-19 cases yesterday. Health authorities have stated their goal of curbing daily case numbers to 40-50 per day so as not to overwhelm Iceland’s healthcare system. Authorities have also announced that about 160,000 people will be called in for booster shots before the end of the year. People who are eligible to be vaccinated but haven’t yet been vaccinated are encouraged to do so. On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Iceland’s authorities were set to lift all domestic restrictions on November 18. In a cabinet meeting today, the government decided to tighten restrictions instead, in an effort to curb the ongoing wave of infection. As of midnight, mask use will once again be mandatory in Iceland in shops, on public transportation, and in services where it is not possible to maintain a one-metre distance. Other tightened domestic measures go into effect next week.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Nov. 4:
Domestic cases: 167 (45 in quarantine)
Border cases: 12
Total active cases: 1,096
Hospitalised: 16 (5 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 345.0
The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by saying that alarm bells are ringing. The rising case numbers have an impact on many people’s daily lives as well as the healthcare system.

“We’ve fought this battle for 22 months and we know what we have to do. By showing solidarity, we’ve tackled this before. There is no other option than to accept the situation before us. The healthcare system is simply reaching the point of not being able to handle the number of people who need hospitalisation. So there is no other option but to tighten restrictions,” Víðir says.

This is the reality many countries are facing, not just Iceland, Víðir adds. Víðir: For the many who don’t want restrictions but want to depend on individual responsibility, I remind them that we also have a social responsibility to others.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason takes over. He states that the current wave of the pandemic is the largest we’ve seen yet. Infections are spread over the whole country but the majority are in Reykjavík. Group infections have started from choir rehearsals and karaoke parties. In these situations, ventilation is often not sufficiently good.

The situation at the National Hospital in Reykjavík and the Akureyri Hospital is difficult. If infection numbers continue to rise, we might be heading into an emergency situation. This is the same situation that’s occurring all over Europe, Þórólfur specifically mentions Romania, where the ICU is full.

Þórólfur wants to avoid such a situation and states that the most important thing is individual behaviour. Stay away from crowded places where infection prevention is insufficient. Event organisers should reconsider large events, Þórólfur says. We can take preventative measures even if some activities are not outright banned by the regulations.

Everyone over the age of 16 will be offered a booster shot. Scientific research from abroad shows that booster shots are effective in preventing infection and serious illness and side effects of vaccination are rare. People will be called in for booster shots once at least five months have passed from their second shot. People who experienced side effects when receiving their first two injections and people with autoimmune disorders are asked to consult with their doctors on whether they should accept a booster shot.

This booster shot program and personal infection prevention is what Þórólfur hopes will bring us out of this next surge of the pandemic.

“To those who have been questioning the severity of the pandemic, I ask you to join us in fighting the disease and keeping the pandemic at bay,” Þórólfur says.

Þórólfur encourages everyone who has been invited for vaccination but has not accepted, to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Around 11% of those who have been invited for vaccination in Iceland have not accepted the invitation.

At this point in the briefing, the broadcast was interrupted due to technical issues and was cut short. A recording will be released later today and this article will be updated.

Read more on the status of COVID-19 in Iceland

Government Announces New Social Restrictions

Katrín Jakobsdóttir COVID-19 mask

With COVID cases on the rise, the government has announced new restrictions. A 500-person limit on social gatherings will come into effect next Wednesday, and masks will be mandatory in certain places starting tomorrow. A record number of COVID cases were reported today.

Mask mandate beginning tomorrow

In light of the sharp rise of COVID cases, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted proposals on new restrictions to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir yesterday. Following a cabinet meeting this morning, Svandís – speaking to Vísir – confirmed that the authorities would be tightening social restrictions next week, although masks will become mandatory in those places where individuals cannot maintain a one-metre distance beginning tomorrow.

Children 15 years and younger will, however, be exempt from the mask mandate and so willl those individuals who provide up-close, personal services (e.g. barbers, masseuses). High-school students may also remove their masks after classes begin (even if it is not possible to observe the so-called “one-metre rule).

Bars and restaurants made to close early

Starting next Wednesday (November 10), the following restrictions, among others, will come into effect:

  • The maximum number of people allowed in the same location will be 500 people.
  • The business hours of restaurants and bars will be shortened by two hours so that restaurants that serve alcohol will have to close at 11 pm, and patrons must vacate the premises by midnight.
  • Up to 1,500 people may attend an event if all guests bring a negative result from a rapid antigen test and wear masks.

These restrictions would be in effect for four weeks (until and including December 8).

According to Svandís, there is nothing preventing Christmas concerts from being held and nor do theatres need to cancel shows.

Will not have the intended effect

Despite these new regulations, it is unlikely that these measures will have the intended effect; as noted by RÚV, Þórólfur’s proposal from November 4 contained three possible sets of restrictions. The restrictions that the authorities decided to adopt – which Svandís referred to as “the middle road” – are similar to those that were in effect between September 15 and October 20. In his memo from November 4, Þórólfur stated that if the authorities chose this route, it could “be argued that infections will continue to rise;” between September 15 and October 20, the daily number of cases rose from 20 to just over 60.

A record-number of new cases

A record number of new COVID new infections were diagnosed yesterday, or 167. Not since the pandemic began have so many new cases been reported over a 24-hour period. Sixteen individuals are currently hospitalized with infections, and five are in intensive care.

“If we do nothing, things will take a turn for the worse; we’ll begin to run into real trouble in the hospitals,” Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated in a radio interview this morning.

New Report: Football Association Urged to “Shoulder Responsibility”

Football fans in Iceland

A workgroup established by the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ) has submitted proposals on how the association could better handle allegations of violence and sexual assault. The report, which tackles issues of “procedure, attitude, and culture,” encourages the association to shoulder increased responsibility.

To “take a clear stand” against all manner of violence

Following resignations by Director Guðni Bergsson and the board of directors earlier this year, the Icelandic Football Association established a workgroup to examine procedures relating to allegations of violence and sexual assault. The group’s mandate was to review responses to sexual and violent assaults within Icelandic football “in collaboration with outside professionals.”

A few days ago, the workgroup submitted its report, which was subsequently published on the association’s website. On the first page of the report, the authors urge the leadership to assert their opposition to all kinds of violence publicly:

“This summary report contains the workgroup’s proposals alongside an encouragement to the leadership to make good use of the present opportunity to take a clear stance against violence of any kind – especially sexual violence – and, thereby, improve the culture and attitude of individuals connected to the association.”

Betterment founded upon four pillars

The report is predicated on four proposals.

First, the workgroup advises that the association update its code of ethics, adding provisions relating to allegations of violence and creating channels for individuals to report misconduct and bring charges. The Icelandic Football Association is encouraged to sign contracts with members of national teams in which the code of conduct is explicitly referenced. Furthermore, the report advises that these contracts include provisions regarding violent misconduct, wherein – among other conditions – athletes commit to declaring any charges of violent or sexual misconduct. Finally, the authors counsel that employees who occupy positions of confidentiality within the association be made to confirm the code of ethics with their signatures.

Second, the workgroup stresses the need to create clear channels and response protocols for instances of violence within the Football Association and its member societies. The Director of the Football Association is to be designated as a “special liaison” to communication consultants within sports and youth clubs. Furthermore, instructions on how to report violence are to be made accessible on the association’s website and on all member societies’ websites.

Third, the association is encouraged to take a “clear stance” against violence and to coordinate the messaging of its member societies. The workgroup also advises that leadership attend seminars on equality and violence each year following the annual meeting.

Fourth, the workgroup advises that the association assume a leading role in equality within sports in Iceland, that it adopt an “equality plan,” and that it work to ensure gender balance within all of its internal committees and councils.

The association  should “welcome its responsibility”

The report concludes with further encouragement in which the association is urged to welcome its responsibility while at the same time taking it seriously:

“The association cannot, by itself, change society; however, it does occupy a unique position in terms of effecting significant and positive change. The association’s messaging and policies matter. By acting on these four proposals, and by leaning on the insights of professionals in the field of equality and violence, the association can become a role model and demonstrate that it is intent on shouldering responsibility.”

Stricter Social Restrictions Proposed Amid Rising Cases

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller

Yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted a proposal on new COVID measures to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Although she declined to comment on the specifics, the Minister confirmed to Mbl.is that Þórólfur has advised that the authorities move to tighten social restrictions.

A record-number of infections?

One hundred forty-four new COVID cases were reported yesterday, the highest number of infections since August 4 of this year. Seventeen people are in hospital, thereof five in intensive care.

These cases are not confined to the Reykjavík area; following a cluster of infections in Akranes and Sangerði, local authorities have decided to close schools and postpone recreational activities in the area.

In light of numerous cases, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted a proposal on new COVID measures to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir yesterday. Speaking to Mbl.is, the Minister stated that authorities would be reviewing Þórólfur’s suggestion at a cabinet meeting this morning.

“Yes, it concerns tightening restrictions. We know what measures can be taken when infections are rising, and that’s what the cabinet will discuss tomorrow,” Svandís stated in an interview with Mbl.is yesterday. The Minister confirmed that Þórólfur’s proposal solely concerned domestic restrictions as opposed to measures to be taken on the border.

Asked if she was concerned about the apparent dwindling of solidarity when it comes to proposed domestic restrictions, Svandís refused to say: “Only time will tell, of course. In conjunction with these measures, we’ll be launching a campaign of booster shots, which will hopefully increase immunity among the populace.”

According to the Minister, the primary aim of the proposed restrictions is to protect the hospital and the healthcare system. “Like all nations struggling against this new wave of the pandemic, it’s about protecting the lives and the health of citizens and preventing the curve from rising too sharply so that the system can continue to provide adequate service.”

Svandís added that easing all domestic social restrictions on November 18 was not realistic: “I think it’s apparent to all of us that the infections are spreading too quickly now.”

A historic proposal

In an interview with Rás 2 this morning, Svandís Svavarsdóttir observed that even more COVID cases had been diagnosed yesterday and would be reported today.

“We know that with the Delta variant, we can expect a hospitalization rate of ca. 2%, with a proportion of that percentage requiring intensive care. We know, given the statistics, what we are dealing with.”

Svandís added that the National University Hospital could handle approximately 40-50 infections a day; in light of the government’s most recent removal of social restrictions, however, the curve is rising too fast for the healthcare system to cope.

Finally, Svandís referred to Þórólfur’s new proposal as “historic;” in the memo, he traces the origin of the pandemic in Iceland and reviews the measures that have been taken. Þórólfur also discusses what has worked and what hasn’t, arguing that the authorities must move switftly to enact tighter restrictions: the aim being to flatten the curve back to approximately 40-50 new infections a day. The measures, according to Svandís, involve placing limits on public gathering, mask mandates, and restrictions on the operation hours of business.