COVID-19 in Iceland: Tightened Restrictions Take Effect

mask use social distancing

Tightened infection prevention restrictions are in full effect today, requiring mask use when a one-metre social distancing rule can not be observed and limiting gatherings and restaurant opening hours. Infections in Iceland are surging, with a record of 178 new infections yesterday, following 168 infections the day before.

The tightened restrictions were announced last Friday, November 4 and rules on mask use went into effect the following day. The rest of the tightened restrictions took effect at midnight yesterday. The set of conditions announced were the least restrictive of three suggested by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Masks will be required when the one-metre social distancing rule can not be observed, the maximum number of persons allowed in any location will be 500, and restaurants that have an alcohol licence will be required to close two hours earlier than the case is now. Events with up to 1500 participants will be allowed subject to rapid tests. The restrictions will remain in force for four weeks until Tuesday, December 8.

The Chief Epidemiologist considers these stricter domestic measures necessary to prevent an emergency in the health care system. Authorities now aim to bring the daily infection rate down to 40–50 and maintain that level through restrictions until better mass immunity has been reached through booster vaccinations and natural infections.

The measures in brief:

Masks must be worn when it is not possible to respect the one-metre social distancing rule, e.g. in shops where large numbers of people congregate, on public transport and similar. Masks must also be worn at seated events.

  • Children aged 15 and younger are exempt from the mask requirement.
  • Employees providing individual services that require close contact, e.g. hairdressing, massage and similar, are not required to wear masks since the customers must wear masks.
  • Students in upper secondary schools may remove their masks after sitting in class, even if students can not observe the one-metre social distancing rule.

The general restrictions on gatherings will be 500 persons: The one-metre social distancing rule can be waived at seated events while people remain seated, provided everyone wears a mask (applies as of November 10).

Rapid tests and organised events: Events with up to 1500 participants will be allowed. Even though rapid tests have been administered, participants in such events will still be required to wear masks if the one-metre social distancing rule can not be observed (applies as of November 10).

The special authorisation for school events in elementary and secondary schools continues to apply with rapid tests.

Restaurants with an alcohol licence: The opening time will be reduced by two hours; closing time will be 23:00h (11 p.m.), and the venues must be vacated before midnight. Registration of guests will begin again, and alcohol shall be served at the table.

 

Report: Former US Ambassador to Iceland Threatened Staff

Staff of the US embassy in Reykjavík are still recovering from the “threatening and intimidating environment” created by former ambassador Jeffrey Ross Gunter, a US government report reveals. Gunter held the position from July 2019 until January 2021, when he announced his departure. The newly-released report stated that the embassy’s new Chargé d’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission are working to rebuild diplomatic relations with the government of Iceland, which deteriorated under Gunter’s leadership. Mbl.is reported first.

The report comes from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US Department of State. It describes a difficult working environment during Gunter’s stay. Several months after his departure, “embassy staff were still recovering from what they described as a threatening and intimidating environment created by the former Ambassador. For example, staff reported to OIG multiple instances in which the former Ambassador had threatened to sue Department officials and embassy staff who expressed disagreement with him, questioned his wishes, or were perceived to be ‘disloyal’ to him. In addition, many employees reported to OIG that the former Ambassador threatened reprisal against employees who communicated with Department officials in Washington while conducting their official duties.”

Relationship with Icelandic government deteriorated

Gunter’s relationship with the government of Iceland deteriorated to the point that the Department of State decided to bypass him in communications with Icelandic officials. “The then-Undersecretary for Political Affairs instructed the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (EUR) to work directly with the Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure proper management of the bilateral relationship. This action attempted to mitigate the negative impact of the former Ambassador’s frequent failure to respect diplomatic protocol or to coordinate with the Icelandic Government on policy initiatives and press statements touching on sensitive defense-related subjects,” the report states.

As mentioned in the document, Gunter’s social media posts generated controversy in Iceland throughout his tenure. The report also states that certain important procedures were neglected under Gunter’s leadership, including seismic safety assessments for 11 out of 15 of its leased residential units.

New Ship Freyja Increases Coast Guard’s Response Capacity

Freyja coast guard ship

The Icelandic Coast Guard’s new patrol ship Freyja has arrived in Iceland. The ship is currently located in Reykjavík harbour for the installation of equipment but its home port will be Siglufjörður, North Iceland. With the Coast Guard’s other patrol ship, Þór, stationed in Reykjavík, response time to emergencies will shorten across the country.

The decision to make Siglufjörður Freyja’s home port was jointly made by the Coast Guard and Ministry of Justice. As a press release from the Coast Guard explains, “With increased ship travel in the Arctic, the number of trips by large cargo and oil vessels along the east and north coasts of Iceland increases. The number of cruise ships are also expected to increase, and there is no need to extrapolate on the threats posed to the ecosystem in the event of danger. Hours to or from [the scene of an event] can be crucial. With Þór in Reykjavík and Freyja in Siglufjörður, the Coast Guard’s response capacity around the country has been increased and it will be easier to ensure the safety of seafarers, Icelanders, and resources at sea.”

Freyja is comparable to Þór in terms of its size and equipment, but has greater towing capacity. With Freyja’s arrival, the Coast Guard’s older patrol ship Týr will be relieved of duty. Freyja, Þór, and Týr are all names taken from Norse mythology, a tradition for the naming of Coast Guard ships.

The new ship arrived in Reykjavík harbour last Monday afternoon and is now being outfitted with a computer system and other equipment. Freyja is scheduled to set off on its first patrol mission on November 22, and will end the mission in Siglufjörður on December 9.