A jump in local transmissions has led Icelandic authorities to tighten COVID-19 restrictions once more. The new measures take effect at noon tomorrow, July 31. The current gathering limit of 500 individuals will be lowered to 100 and the two-metre distancing rule, which had been declared optional from May 25, will once again become mandatory in public spaces. The stricter measures were announced in a press conference in Reykjavík this morning.
Spike in Local Transmissions
The number of active infections in the country is currently 39, a jump from yesterday’s figure of 28. Of the 39 active cases, 28 are local transmissions. Twenty-four are connected in a single cluster, and four in another cluster. A separate infection, acquired abroad, has potentially set off another cluster, according to Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir, Acting Chief Epidemiologist while Þórólfur Guðnason is on leave. One person has been admitted to hospital for treatment of COVID-19, the first admission in Iceland since this spring.
Double Testing for Some Foreign Travellers
“We are pulling the hand brake decisively,” stated Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir as she presented the changes this morning. In addition to the stricter gathering ban and two-metre rule, Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir presented several additional measures that will take effect as of tomorrow, both local and at Iceland’s borders.
All travellers to Iceland staying for ten days or longer who arrive from defined high-risk areas will be required to undergo two COVID-19 tests, one upon arrival and a second test 4-5 days later. This requirement was previously only in place for Icelandic citizens, residents of Iceland, or those who have strong connections within the local community. If more infections connected to foreign travellers arise, stricter measures may be implemented, the Minister stated.
Two-Metre Rule May Lead to Closure of Bars, Gyms
Opening times of bars and clubs will remain unchanged (they must close at 11.00pm). Svandís underlined that bars, slot machine venues, and gyms, as well as other businesses where customers are in close contact or use shared surfaces, must close if they cannot ensure that two-metre distancing can be followed. It is likely the reinstated two-metre rule will oblige pools, gyms, and other venues to operate at reduced capacity.
Svandís also stated that in essential services where distancing could not be ensured, masks would be required. This is the first official recommendation for mask use from Icelandic authorities.
Encouraged Icelanders to Stay Home Over Long Weekend
The first weekend of August is a long weekend in Iceland, known as Merchant’s Weekend, and is one of the heaviest travel periods of the year for locals. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, Director of Iceland’s Civil Protection Authority, encouraged locals to cancel any travel plans and stay home this weekend. Vídir also encouraged organisers of adult sporting events to delay any planned tournaments until after August 10. The Civil Protection Authority has yet to decide on whether to raise the level of emergency, but the move is being considered.