Sólveig Anna Announces Candidacy for Efling Chair

Anna Sólveig Jónsdóttir Efling Union

Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, who resigned as Efling’s Chairperson in October, has decided to resubmit her candidacy for the position, RÚV reports. Elections for a new board and chairperson will begin on February 9 and will end on February 15.

Resubmission of candidacy

In October of last year, Efling Union Chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir resigned. Her departure followed on the heels of accusations of workplace bullying, as alleged by union staff in letters of no-confidence to her, the union, and Icelandic media.

Sólveig Anna subsequently denied the allegations, and after her resignation, union members stated, in another letter to the media, that what they had wanted was solutions – and not resignations.

Following these events, Efling voted in its first chair of foreign origin (on a short-term basis): Agnieszka Ewa Ziółkowska, who previously served as vice-chair of the union.

“Numerous encouraging messages”

Elections for a new board and chairperson will commence on February 9 and will end on February 15. So far, two other candidates have announced their intentions to run: Ólöf Helga Adolfsdóttir, Efling’s current vice-chair, and Guðmundur Baldursson, Efling board member.

In an interview with RÚV, Sólveig Anna remarked that she had decided to submit her candidacy in light of the “numerous encouraging messages” that she had received from union members. Despite these positive messages, Sólveig added that her decision had required careful deliberation: “I still spent a lot of time weighing the prospect, but in the end, having discussed it with good people, we reached this conclusion.”

Sólveig Anna will be campaigning under the banner of Baráttulistinn (the Fight List), and states that she is prepared for the campaign: “I’m certainly ready for the fight. Since I first assumed chair of the union, in 2018, I’ve been prepared to fight. Efling has made tremendous strides; we managed to transform this colossal bureaucracy, which enabled the continuation of low-wage policies, into the most powerful tool wielded by Icelandic workers.”

Iceland’s second largest labour union

As noted in an article in Iceland Review last year, Efling is Iceland’s second-largest labour union, with around 27,000 members working in public service, healthcare, and other industries. Sólveig Anna became Efling’s chair in 2018 and led wage negotiations and strikes among City of Reykjavík employees and hotel workers calling for better wages and working conditions for low earners. More than half of Efling’s members are of foreign origin.

Public Encouraged to Count Birds This Weekend

Bird

This weekend marks BirdLife Iceland’s annual “Garden Birdwatch” where the public is encouraged to count and record the birds visible in their yards. The aim is to gather data on how various bird species in Iceland are faring while raising the public’s awareness of the environment.

A yearly effort

Today Friday, January 28, marks the beginning of the annual Birdwatch Weekend (lasting until Monday, January 31), which is sponsored by BirdLife Iceland. During the event, the public is encouraged to spend one hour observing and registering the species of bird visible in their yards (along with noting the most numerous species) before submitting their data online.

“We’re talking the annual Garden Birdwatch weekend,” Anna María Lind Geirsdóttir, publicity officer with BirdLife Iceland, stated in an interview with RÚV, noting that the event has been held in January since 2004.

According to Anna María, the purpose of the campaign is twofold: on the one hand, to raise awareness of the environment and nature, and, on the other hand, to monitor how particular bird species in Iceland are faring.

A more extensive survey

As noted on its website, BirdLife Iceland also promotes a more extensive survey that lasts the entire winter. This survey has been held since 1994. Seventy-four bird species have been seen in the survey since then. Redwing, snow bunting, raven, redpoll, common blackbird, and starling are the most common garden birds in Iceland.

“Of course, we’d like more people to participate in the big survey that is in effect all winter, but with these weekend campaigns, we’re hoping that people realise that participating takes very little effort,” Anna María added.

Government to Relax Restrictions At Midnight, Lift Domestic Restrictions By Mid-March

Katrín Jakobsdóttir at press briefing

The first step in the government’s plan to lift restrictions will take effect at midnight, ministers from the Icelandic government announced at a press briefing at the Culture House earlier today. Bars will reopen and be allowed to remain open until 11 pm, and audiences will return to sporting events. If nothing unexpected happens, restrictions will continue to be lifted over the next six to eight weeks, and by mid-March, we could be looking at a restriction-free society. Finance Minister Bjarni Ben also announced that the government will continue its financial support for industries hard hit by the effect of restrictions.

Changes to restrictions taking effect at midnight:

  • General gathering limits expand from 10 to 50
  • Social distancing requirements go from two metres to one.
  • Mask requirements remain unchanged
  • Swimming pools, gyms, spas and ski resorts, which have been operating at a 5% capacity will now be able to operate at 85% capacity.
  • Sporting events will continue to be allowed and now, audiences are permitted to attend, 500 per compartment.
  • The maximum number of customers in stores will e 500.
  • Bars, pubs, arcades and slots machines will be allowed to reopen.
  • Restaurants, as well as bars and clubs, will be allowed to remain open until 11 pm, but all guests must have left the premises by midnight.
  • Seated events will e allowed to welcome audiences of up to 500 per compartment, keeping up a social distance of one metre between unconnected parties. Masks are required but rapid tests are not.
  • School operations will remain unchanged but will adapt relaxed restrictions when appropriate.
  • The regulation will take effect on January 29 and be in effect until February 24.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

The government will be presenting plans on easing restrictions over the coming weeks.  Iceland reported 1,213 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, fewer than the previous few days. Still, there are 11,297 active cases of COVID-19 in the country. Around 5% of the population is either in isolation or quarantine. Both ministers and healthcare authorities will be present at the briefing, which is to begin shortly.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottir takes the podium. The Finance Minister and Health Minister are present, as are the Chief Epidemiologist, Director of Health, and Director of Civil Protection. Katrín says the plan is to go over the plan for the next few weeks: “we have good news.”

Katrín: There have been real changes in our fight against the pandemic. The virus has changed its behaviour and widespread vaccinations, as well as the healthcare system’s success in treating illness, have made a difference. It was a watershed moment this week when we relaxed the quarantine regulations. This is a fundamental change in our tactics. This tells us that we’re taking careful steps from tempering infections toward opening up society. This has remained our goal the whole time, Katrín says. We’ve introduced lifting restrictions before and then had to reimpose them before. But now, the science seems to indicate that we could be one step closer to regaining normality.

Katrín: Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson will introduce action to help society tackle the next few weeks financially.

Katrín: Restrictions will be lifted in stages over the next six to eight weeks. The plan is to take safe and careful steps to get back to what we considered normal two years ago. I know there are people that are afraid that we’re doing this too quickly and taking too much risk. I want to assure those people that no steps to impose restrictions or to lift them have been taken lightly. We’re doing our very best to protect people’s lives and health. Katrín: When the situation is deemed safer by healthcare authorities, we have to take steps to lift restrictions, in full cooperation and with the support of healthcare authorities.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson takes over to discuss financial support for impacted industries. Bjarni: In short, since the new government took power, we’ve been discussing the best way to deal with the situation. Bjarni mentions the reimposing of rebound grants (viðspyrnustyrkir) for restaurants and ISK 450 million to support performing arts and culture. It wasn’t clear that we would need this financial support until Omicron appeared and society slowed down again. With a high percentage of the nation in quarantine or isolation, spending collapsed. Bjarni: We’re looking at good news now, which will likely result in a better economic outlook for these industries. The grants will be awarded for the period between December and March, Bjarni says.

Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson takes over. Willum: We can allow ourselves to be optimistic. In my time as Health Minister, I’ve received several memoranda from the Chief Epidemiologist and the latest was the most positive yet. We’ve had to impose restrictions to be able to handle the situation. I will now go over the first step in the plan to lift restrictions, taking effect tomorrow.

In the first step: we’ve had a gathering limit of 10, which will now be 50. General social distancing reduces from 2 metres to 1. Mask requirements will remain unchanged. Swimming pools and gyms have been operating at 50% capacity but will now go to 75%. Audiences will be permitted once more at sports events. Bars will be permitted to reopen and be allowed to stay open to 11:00 PM, all guests must leave by 12:00 AM. For cultural events, up to 500 people are permitted per compartment. Schools will operate under the same conditions as before.

It is important to ensure predictability, Willum says. As for the situation at the hospital, we’ve supported them fully. The situation has improved greatly and the infection prevention committee will continue to monitor the situation. The situation is still precarious but it looks a lot better.

The press briefing itself received an exception from the current gathering limit of 10.

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir takes over once more. She says if everything goes according to plan, Iceland will be able to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March. Katrín: The lifting of domestic restrictions depends on the situation, of course. Katrín states that they’ve consulted many experts in all fields and consult regularly with the so-called troika (Chief Epidemiologist, Director of Health, and Director of Civil Protection). The conversation with specialists in their fields has been enlightening and is very important, Katrín says. Katrín reiterates that the new domestic regulations outlined just now by the Health Minister take effect at midnight.

The formal press conference has ended and the ministers and health authorities are now taking interviews.

Government to Introduce Plan to Ease Social Restrictions Today

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

The government will meet this morning to discuss the Chief Epidemiologist’s new memorandum on the COVID-19 pandemic. After the meeting, the cabinet will hold a press conference to introduce its plan to ease restrictions. The press conference will take place at 11.30 AM at the Culture House in Reykjavík.

Ample reason for optimism

Less than 48 hours after significantly relaxing COVID-19 quarantine regulations, the government is expected to introduce a plan to begin easing social restrictions. The current restrictions – mandating a ten-person limit on social gatherings, in effect since January 15 – will expire on Wednesday, February 2.

In a speech before Parliament yesterday, Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson did not go into the details of the new plan but admitted that he was optimistic: “We are at a turning point, and there is ample reason to be optimistic, seeing as we’ve arrived at the point in this pandemic where we can begin easing restrictions,” Willum stated.

The easing of social restrictions is expected to lead to an increase in infections, as noted in a memorandum authored by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and submitted to the Minister of Health on Monday; a record number of COVID-19 cases were recorded yesterday and Wednesday (nearly 1,600). Despite the rise in infections, however, hospitalisations have continued to decline, and the state of the hospitals has been better than the most optimistic models predicted. The National University Hospital has been in an emergency phase since December 28, owing mainly to the absence of quarantining staff.

Step-by-step

In an interview with RÚV, Sigríður Dóra Magnúsdóttir, director of patient care at capital area health centres, stressed that the manner in which restrictions were eased mattered: “I believe that we should ease restrictions in deliberate phases, one step at a time. In this way, we can observe changes incrementally. Removing all restrictions at once, will make it much more difficult to turn back if things go awry. We’ve tried that approach, and I don’t recommend it.”

As noted by Mbl.is, Willum has suggested that the government would take a cautious approach to easing restrictions.