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.