Breaking: Iceland Drastically Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions Skip to content
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Breaking: Iceland Drastically Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions

Icelandic authorities have announced a drastic tightening of COVID-19 regulations that takes effect at midnight tonight and will last for at least three weeks. The national gathering limit will drop from 50 to 10, with bars, swimming pools, gyms, and schools being closed as of tomorrow. At a press conference in Reykjavík this afternoon, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed her hope that immediate, drastic measures would minimise the spread of the virus and shorten the time it took the wave of infection to pass.

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


Stay tuned for a live-tweeting of Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefing beginning shortly at 3.00pm UTC. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is expected to announce tighter restrictions following an uptick in cases over the last few days. 12 of the recently diagnosed cases are among children following a group outbreak at a Reykjavík elementary school.

The Prime Minister as well as the Ministers of Health, Education, and Finance are ready to begin the briefing in Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson are also present. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir starts by introducing the ministers and health authorities in attendance. “We’re not bringing happy news,” states Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir. Our methodology of testing and contact tracing has brought us success so far. For the past three months, we’ve had more freedom than other countries in Europe but now there are red flags we have to respond to.

We’ve been monitoring these new strains of the virus carefully. They’re more infectious and some might hit children harder than previous strains. Today, we will be announcing tighter restrictions but vaccination efforts are ongoing and many people are already protected. It is important to remember the fact that we see the end of this battle ahead. At a cabinet meeting, it was decided to act quickly with harsh restrictions to catch the situation before it has a chance to spread. Decisive, immediate action should mean that this will pass faster than if we had acted otherwise.

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir takes over to present the new regulations. The new rules take effect at midnight tonight across the entire country. The gathering limit will be lowered from 50 to 10 and all schools will close until after Easter break, which begins next week. The group infections have all been caused by the British variant of the virus, which is more infectious and causes more serious illness. The restrictions will now apply to all children born 2015 and earlier as the new variant affects children more harshly than others. As of tomorrow, religious gatherings can have up to 30 in attendance. Swimming pools and gyms will close.
Athletic training will halt. Bars and clubs will be closed. Restaurants remain open but must close by 10pm at night (one hour earlier than currently). Two-metre social distancing is mandatory in shops and there are limits on customers. Hair and beauty salons can remain open. Theatres and cinemas will be closed. These are the same regulations that took effect on October 30 last year and helped to curb the third wave of the pandemic. Schools will close today and remain closed until April 1.
They have the option of returning to remote learning or to prepare for how they will deal with the situation.

Vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume again and this time individuals 70+ will receive that vaccine. The message is clear. We will take charge of this situation quickly and securely.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson takes over, stating that it’s a disappointment to have to take these actions but that experts agree that it’s better to stop the spread quickly with harsh restrictions than to let it spread and take longer to die down. Some companies will feel the effect of the tightened restrictions, but Bjarni mentions that the closure grants for businesses are still available and will be extended. Support loans will also be extended. Other response initiatives for businesses such as postponement of taxes and reduced employment ratio benefits also remain in effect. We hope that this step will deal with the situation that has arisen and help fight it.

We’re fighting a pandemic that is unpredictable but we’re seeing the continued effect of vaccinations. We’ve gotten to know the virus at this point and we’ll continue to trust in the experts who are leading the effort and in the solidarity of the nation that has managed to curb the spread of the pandemic up until now. We’ll have to make an extra effort for the next three weeks at least.

The panel opens for questions. The Prime Minister says these measures will affect companies who are forced to close once more (bars, gyms, pools), as well as athletic clubs and the arts but we hope that by stepping in early, we can stop the spread fast. Asked about border restrictions, Katrín reiterates the success of the current regulations.

The changes to border restrictions introduced yesterday will remain in effect and no new restrictions at the border are being introduced today. Most notable in the border regulations that have taken effect: children will now also be tested upon arrival, as they’re more susceptible to the British variant than earlier variants.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson: When dealing with a global pandemic, and the deepest recession in 100 years, you can’t erase all its effects with government actions. The tourism industry is among the hardest hit but we’ve responded with actions intended to help that sector. We’re trying to minimise the effect of the pandemic, not trying to give unrealistic promises that it won’t affect anyone.

Our goal is to discourage people from gathering. A gathering limit of 10 will affect workplaces. Þórólfur takes over to discuss travel over Easter. Authorities are encouraging people to stay at home and not to travel. Vaccination efforts are ongoing and the Ministry of Health is continually looking into new ways of acquiring vaccines to achieve herd immunity as fast as possible, says Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Svandís states that she knows that people are impatient for updates to vaccine distribution schedules and dates of larger vaccine shipments and that she is impatient as well.

Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir: We need flexibility and courage to react in this way. The Ministers are giving individual interviews and the briefing has ended.

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