2021 in (Iceland) Review Skip to content
New Year's Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík, 2017.
Photo: Golli. New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Reykjavík.

2021 in (Iceland) Review

Another year is coming to a close and it was a headline-heavy one. With parliamentary elections, landslides, a global pandemic raging, earthquakes, and to top it all off – a volcanic eruption, there was plenty of news this year.

COVID-19 in Iceland

Exactly one year ago, hopes were high that an end to the pandemic was nigh. The vaccine was arriving and healthcare staff had already received the first few doses. 90% of people eligible to be vaccinated got their shot in the spring and last summer, we experienced a brief COVID-free period in Iceland. In late July, some restrictions were reimposed as infections started rising and it became clear that vaccinations had not led to herd immunity as hoped. A new wave of the pandemic proved a tough one for healthcare workers already fatigued from more than a year of tough working conditions, and

Travellers were welcomed to the country again as borders reopened for tourists who no longer had to quarantine on arrival. They were happy to be here but not as happy as the tourism companies who desperately needed their business. Despite surges in the pandemic, the borders have remained open, although testing requirements have fluctuated.

Read More: Doctor’s Orders

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

Footballers in hot water

National discourse yet again faced the question of how to handle allegations of sexual abuse and this time, it was Iceland’s beloved national men’s football team. The director of the national football association went on tv and stated that they hadn’t heard any such allegations but his statements were refuted by a person who had come forward to notify the Association of a team member’s conduct. Over the course of a weekend, the Director of the Association resigned, as well as the entire board. A workgroup was appointed to suggest improvements to Icelandic football from the ground up, and a new director is at the helm of the association.

Read More: In Focus – Icelandic football association accused of silencing violence and sexual assault

Golli. Former Icelandic Football Association Director GUðni Bergsson on the right. Standing directly behind him is Klara Bjartmarz, Icelandic Football Association CEO

The Reykjanes peninsula erupts

It was a Friday night in March, following weeks of earthquake activity in the Reykjanes peninsula, when a red glow spread across the night sky indicating that a volcanic eruption had begun. Always a thrilling occasion, the nation was quickly assured that the lava spewing from the ground posed no threat to habited areas, which prompted everyone ready and able to hike up to the new eruption. A relatively small eruption to begin with, scientists believed at first that it would peter out quickly but instead, it grew and lasted for months. For the last few weeks, it sputtered, with lava flow stopping for hours, even days, before restarting. The last liquid lava seen from the crater flowed on September 8 but it would be another three months before scientists could confidently declare an end to the eruption. Only a few days after that very declaration, a series of earthquakes again shook the Reykjanes peninsula, perhaps indicating that a new eruption is imminent.

Read More: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Reykjanes Eruption
Golli. The glare from the Reykjanes eruption is visible from the city

Cultural moments

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, this year saw the release of two eagerly-awaited tv projects, the third season of crime series Trapped, and Netflix’s Katla, a supernatural volcano drama based on the possibility of a Katla eruption. Not all releases were celebrated equally, as a leak made a demo version of Daði Freyr’s Eurovision song available before the main competition. It didn’t affect his progress in the competition too severely, with Daði and Gagnamagnið’s 10 Years ending up in a very respectable 4th place, despite several of the group contracting COVID-19 making them unable to participate live in the final competition.

Read More: Katla director Baltasar Kormákur is on Dry Land

Furry friends

In animal news, Iceland’s ban on the import of certain dog breeds caught the world’s attention, as well as a group of horses that had been bred in isolation for the past 60 years, preserving certain biological traits lost in other horses.

Iceland’s blood mare industry came under scrutiny following allegations of animal abuse during blood collection, with Swiss animal rights activists capturing footage of alleged issues with the animal’s treatment.

On a lighter note, a visiting walrus entertained the people of Höfn í Hornarfirði, with some internet sleuths deducing that the animal was a famous explorer known as Wally.

Read more: A New Leash on Life

Photo: Dagmar Trodler

John Snorri’s final trek to K2

John Snorri Sigurjónsson spent his last winter working towards his dream of becoming the first person to summit K2 during the winter. A 2019 expedition was cut short but he tried again the following year. While data retrieved from his camera and GPS devices suggest that he fulfilled his dream, he didn’t make it back down. He and his companions, Ali Sadpara and Juan Pablo Mohr were lost on the mountain until they’re bodies were found and retrieved some weeks later.

Read More: Closer to the Stars

John Snorri við Stein á Esjunni
Golli. John Snorri during a practice hike up mount Esja

The votes are in

Finally, 2021 was an election year, with parliamentary elections taking place on September 25. Early the next morning, it was reported that Iceland had elected a majority female parliament for the first time, with Lenya Rún Taha Karim becoming the youngest elected member of parliament ever. Later that day, a recount in the northwest constituency shifted the numbers somewhat, with all parties retaining the same number of MPs but coming from different jurisdictions. Consequently, the electoral process in the Northwest constituency was found lacking, with votes left unsealed and unsupervised for hours after the count. A revote was debated but in the end, Parliament confirmed the result of the election. The government kept its majority but entered into lengthy debates over coalition cooperation, ending in a shift in the cabinet and a reshuffle of ministries and duties.

Read More: In Focus – Upcoming Parliamentary elections

Golli. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s second Government coalition took ofice November 28, 2021

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