COVID-19 in Iceland: National Church Cancels New Year’s Ceremonies

Fireworks Exploding over Reykjavík

Iceland’s National Church buildings will be empty this New Year’s Eve, Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir announced as omicron variant infection wave reaches record highs.

In light of the recent omicron variant infection surge, Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland has issued an announcement that the country’s churches won’t be accepting guests for religious ceremonies this New Year’s Eve.

Three ceremonies will take place to usher in the new year, but no visitors will be allowed. Instead, the ceremonies will be broadcast on the National Radio station Rás 1.

On New Year’s Eve at 6 pm – Evensong in Hallgrímskirkja. Rev. Sigurður Árni Þórðarson officiates with a sermon from rev. Eiríkur Jóhannsson. Organist: Björn Steinar Sólbergsson. Music by the Hallgrímsskirkja choir, directed by Steinar Logi Helgason.

On New Year’s Day at 11 am – Service in the Reykjavík Cathedral. Sermon by Bishop Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, officiated by Rev. Sveinn Valgeirsson and rev. Elínborg Sturludóttir. Organist: Kári Þormar. Music by the Cathedral choir.

On Sunday, January 2 at 11 am – Service in Áskirkja in Laugardalur valley in Reykjavík. Sermon and officiated by Rev. Sigurður Jónsson. Organist: Bjartur Logi Guðnason. Music by the Áskirkja choir.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland or the National Church is Iceland’s largest religious institution by far, with 62% of the nation as its members. The second-largest religious organisation is the catholic church, with 4% of the nation. 7.6% of the nation don’t belong to a religious organisation.

Iceland is currently experiencing a surge in infections, most due to the omicron variant. 1600 people tested positive over Christmas and December 26 saw record numbers, with 664 domestic infections. Despite reports from other countries indicating that omicron infections cause fewer hospitalisations, restrictions were tightened on December 22 as the surge in infections could still counteract the milder illness and put a strain on the National Hospital.

Read More: What’s the Status of COVID-19 in Iceland

Three Cars Destroyed in Breiðholt Fire

fire firefighters Reykjavík

A fire broke out in an apartment building’s garage in Breiðholt yesterday, Vísir reports. All available firefighters were called to the spot, but at least three of the 26 cars in the garage were destroyed.

Divisional manager with the capital area fire department Vernharð Guðnason stated in a radio interview today that several cars were in the storage facility and that there was plenty of damage. “When we arrived, the fire was already blazing and a few cars were burning. It generated a lot of heat and smoke, which caused great damage to the other cars.”

All available firefighters in the capital area were called to the scene. Vernharð stated: “when cars burn, there’s so much energy released. The heat was immense and the ceilings were relatively low. There’s nowhere for the heat to escape and a lot of black smoke becomes dangerous for our people due to the heat and toxic chemicals in the smoke.”

Luckily, no one was harmed and there was no danger that the fire would spread to the surrounding buildings. “The garage design makes sure that there’s no entry from the space to stairwells. The only exit leads outside so it went as well as possible, with no smoke entering the surrounding buildings.

The police is now investigating the scene to discover the cause of the fire.

Read More: A String of House-Fire Deaths Has Sparked Calls For Fire Safety Reforms

Substitute MP Becomes Youngest Person To Take Seat in Parliament

Two substitute members took a seat in Parliament on behalf of the Pirate Party today, Gunnhildur Fríða Hallgrímsdóttir and Lenya Rún Taha Karim. On this occasion, Gunnhildur Fríða became the youngest person ever to take a seat in Alþingi, at 19 years and 241 days of age. The former record belonged to Karl Liljendal Hólmgeirsson who was 20 years and 355 days old when he took a seat in Parliament in 2018. 

Gunnhildur is known for her fight for climate issues and the new constitution but she is a substitute member of Parliament for Björn Leví Gunnarsson. 

Lenya Rún Taha Karim made headlines earlier this year when early vote tallies indicated that she was to become the youngest elected member of Parliament in Icelandic history. Following a controversial recount in the northwest constituency, she became the Pirate Party’s first substitute MP instead. She is taking her seat in Parliament for the first time, substituting MP Andrés Ingi Jónsson. 

The youngest elected MP was Jóhanna María Sigmundsdóttir, born 1991 and elected to Parliament in 2013 for the Progressive party at 21 years and 303 days old.



Reykjanes Earthquake Swarm: Experts Advise Against Travel To Eruption Site

Geldingadalir eruption lava

On December 21, an earthquake swarm began on the Reykjanes peninsula near the recent eruption site. Around 3,000 earthquakes have been detected every day since, with the biggest measuring 4.9M. Satellite images show a deformation similar to the one preceding the 2021 eruption. 

Slight decrease in seismic activity today

According to natural hazard expert with the Icelandic Meteorological Office Einar Hjörleifsson, 3,300 earthquakes were detected yesterday, but today, there have been slightly fewer tremors detected, 1,300 since midnight. The largest earthquake since midnight was a magnitude 3.6 quake by Kleifarvatn. 

Magma intrusion causes earthquakes

Most of the activity is near the Fagradalsfjall volcano, but earthquakes have also been detected near Grindavík and lake Kleifarvatn. The earthquakes near Grindavík and Kleifarvatn are interpreted as triggered earthquakes due to increased pressure in the ground caused by a magma dike intrusion near Fagradalsfjall. On Christmas Eve, three earthquakes above M4 were detected near Grindavík, the largest one M4.8. There are no signs of magmatic intrusions in other places than by Fagradalsfjall. The earthquake activity by Fagradalsfjall is episodic with periods of very intense earthquake activity.

Deformation similar to events preceding March eruption

Latest InSAR images show clear signs of deformation from 20 to December 26. The deformation seen now is very similar to deformation observed at the end of February this year when a dike intrusion was starting near Fagradalsfjall. This InSAR data supports GPS measurements showing deformation in the same area.

Via the Iceland Met Office

A new eruption?

While no new lava flow has been detected at the crater in Fagradalsfjall for the past three months, there’s still uplift in the area. “It can be difficult to say with some accuracy when an eruption is finished because the volcanic activity can be intermittent, “says coordinator for Volcanic Hazards at the Met Office Sara Barsotti. “As we know from the past, when the peninsula is reactivated, episodic eruptions might occur as a series, “says Sara.

Or more of the same?

The eruption that started on March 19 lasted for about six months. Deformation data show that there is still magma inflow in the crust by Fagradalsfjall, so it is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve. “We continue to monitor the Reykjanes peninsula closely, but we can say that the specific eruption that started on March 19 got to an end. However, even though this episode is closed, we know the activity in the area is still ongoing, and other eruptive phases might start in the near future, “says Sara.

Department of Civil Protection and Met Office urge caution

Due to the elevated seismic activity, the aviation colour code was raised from yellow to orange. The Police’s Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management has issued an uncertainty warning in the Reykjanes area. Icelandic Met Office experts warn people not to travel in the area because they do not know when or where an eruption might occur or where fissures might open up. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s Scientific Advisory Board will meet this afternoon to discuss the situation. 

Waiting game

The activity is similar to events preceding the eruption last March, but experts don’t know when, where, or even if a new eruption will begin. Volcanic tremor pulses often precede eruptions, and such a tremor pulse was detected early on Christmas day but has not been detected since. According to Einar, it might also have resulted from the sheer volume of earthquakes. It is not known when, where, or even if a new eruption will occur, but experts agree that it can’t be ruled out that magma might breach the surface in the Reykjanes area on short notice.