One School, 25 Nationalities

Golli. A Brim ship in Akranes, West Iceland

Iceland is host to people from all over the world, and in few places is that more evident than the primary school Grundaskóli, in Akranes, West Iceland.

Multicultural days

This school is comprised of 700 students and 160 employees. Vísir reports that the school celebrates that diverse nature of its student body, having recently held a Multicultural Festival over the course of April 16th through 18th.

“Among the activities, we were emphasizing the culture and peculiarities of each nation, but not least of all where we have something in common, we think that is important, too,” school department head Valgerður Jóna Oddsdóttir told reporters.

All around the world

Students were free to represent their countries in the manner of their choosing, whether it included dance, their home country’s flag, some words in their language or something similar.

By all accounts, the festivities were a success.

“It all went very well,” Valgerður Jóna said. “Everyone was very pleased, and it was especially fun to see older and younger students working together. You often see the stars in the eyes of the younger kids because they look up to the older ones, so it was really great.”

Protest Job Loss Due to Whaling Ban

Páll Stefánsson. Whaling in Iceland, 2010

Local councils in West Iceland are urging the Minister of Fisheries to lift the ban on whaling implemented just one day before the season was set to begin. The last-minute decision has left some 200 employees of whaling company Hvalur hf. unexpectedly unemployed and will have a significant financial impact on the western region.

On June 20, Minister of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries Svandís Svavarsdóttir temporarily halted the hunting of fin whales until August 31. The decision followed on the heels of a report that found whaling breached Iceland’s animal welfare legislation. The ban was implemented to enable an investigation on whether it is possible to ensure that hunting conforms to the legislation.

Only one company, Hvalur hf., was set to hunt whales this season. The company is based in Hvalfjörður, West Iceland, and typically employs around 200 people, most from the region, at the height of the hunting season. Both the municipal council of Akranes and the local council of Hvalfjörður have encouraged the Fisheries Minister to lift the whaling ban.

Tax and income losses

The Municipal Council of Akranes (pop. 7,986) published a resolution criticising the timing of the decision. “The ban was unexpected and a curveball to many Akranes residents who were counting on employment and income during the summer whaling season,” the resolution reads. The council estimates that it will lose tens of millions of ISK (hundreds of thousands of dollars) in local tax income due to the decision, affecting its ability to finance services to residents. The council stated that the ministry should carry out investigations before making such an impactful decision, not the other way around.

The local council of Hvalfjörður has also published a short statement on the temporary whaling ban, stating that its financial impact is significant, both directly and indirectly. “Hvalfjörður’s local council is not taking a stance on whaling with this statement but urges the Minister of Food to reconsider her decision,” the statement concludes.

Uncertainty Phase Declared as Earthquakes Rock Reykjanes Peninsula

An Uncertainty Phase was declared on Reykjanes after earthquakes started rocking the peninsula around noon on Saturday, RÚV reports. As of 3:00 PM, the earthquakes were still underway. The most significant seismic activity is concentrated to the northeast of Mt. Fagradalsfjall.

At time of writing, small quakes were happening on a more or less constant basis; nearly 700 had been measured as of 5:30 PM. However, a much larger quake, measuring 4.0, occurred earlier in the day, around 2:00 PM, and that one was felt not only around Reykjanes, but also throughout the capital area as well as the villages of Akranes (roughly 95 km [59 mi] to the northwest) and Hvolsvöllur (about 120 km [75 mi] to the southeast). An even bigger earthquake occurred  3 km northeast of Fagradalsfjall at 4:00 PM, this time at a magnitude of 4.4.

Einar Hjörleifsson, an expert in natural hazards at the Met, said that the first large earthquake occurred at a depth of 5-7 km [3-4 mi]. He said the increasing magnitude of the eruptions may indicate that some significant seismic event is afoot; the activity may be a precursor to another volcanic eruption. Einar noted that the seismic activity currently underway on Reykjanes is reminiscent of that which occurred in the area around the end of last year. But in that instance, there was no eruption, as the lava did not rise to the surface.

Later in the day, Sigríður Kristjánsdóttir, who is also a natural hazards expert, said the Met believed there was lateral magma movement occurring at a depth of 5-7 km. The Met was paying close attention to any change in depth of the seismic activity, particularly if it were to get any more shallow, “as that would be an indication that the magma is pushing its way a bit higher.”

See Also: 50% Chance of Another Reykjanes Eruption this Year, Expert Says

An Uncertainty Phase means that there will be additional monitoring of the Reykjanes peninsula and any developments in seismic activity there. An Uncertainty Phase is not indicative of a current state of emergency, but signifies that if conditions continue to progress, there could be danger to the safety of people, inhabited areas, or the environment. During an Uncertainty Phase, first responders and emergency services such as the Department of Civil Defense and Emergency Management review their preparedness plans and get ready to put them into action if needed.

The Met has also issued a yellow aviation weather alert and noted that falling rocks and landslides could easily begin on steep terrain. Travellers are advised to be careful on mountain roadways and in areas surrounded by sheer hills.

Peninsula residents were directed to take precautions with furniture and household items that can fall during an earthquake and take special care to ensure that no loose objects can fall on people who are sleeping.

This article was updated to reflect ongoing developments.

Elkem Production Halted Following Major Fire, Staff Prevent More Serious Damage

Firefighters 112

A major fire broke out at the Elkem silicon plant in Grundartangi last night. Although no injuries were reported, the accident was serious enough to call the entire fire brigades of both Akranes and Hvalfjörður, reports RÚV. 

One of Elkem’s three furnaces was affected, but more serious damage was prevented by the staff.

Álfheiður Ágústsdóttir, CEO of Elkem, stated that as of now, the exact cause of the fire is unclear, but that an investigation is under way. Admitting that the incident represents a setback, Álfheiður hopes that production will be halted for no more than a week for repairs. And of course, she notes, the most important thing is that no one was injured.

The fire began around 2:00 AM last night, but the fire was largely contained by the staff before the arrival of the fire brigade.

Initial reports indicate that the fire broke out in the so-called tapping platform. Any criminal activity has been ruled out.

Ten Cases of Omicron Variant Confirmed

COVID-19 briefing Iceland Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Ten cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were confirmed in Iceland as of Saturday afternoon. RÚV reports that contract tracing in these cases is going well.

The country’s first case of the omicron variant was diagnosed on earlier this week in the town of Akranes in West Iceland. The individual who tested positive with the variant did not recently arrive from abroad and had been fully vaccinated. He was admitted to the hospital with mild symptoms.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason said that all ten of the current omnicron cases are probably connected with Akranes. It is not unlikely, however, that the variant has spread further throughout Iceland.

Around 150 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Iceland in recent days. Þórólfur says that the current wave is slowly declining. “If you look at the curve in the long term, then it’s going down slowly.”

The current gathering restrictions expire on Wednesday. Þórólfur will be sending the Minister of Health a memo with updated proposals shortly.

“There is uncertainty around this omnicron variant. How it behaves, how it is transmitted, and how the vaccine protects against it. This definitely puts a spanner in the works. […] I need to take all these factors  into account when making my proposals.”


Toddler Santas Spark Joy

A news report on toddlers in santa outfits sparked joy on social media

During last nights broadcast evening news, RÚV reported on a childcare worker in Akranes who dresses herself and her wards up in Santa costumes before their walks around town. Icelanders expressed much joy over the report and accompanying video clips on social media.

Magný Guðmunda Þórarinsdóttir is a childcare worker in Akranes in west Iceland. For the past 18 years, she’s dressed the toddlers in her care in Santa outfits during December. She has a costume for herself as well, and during her walks with the children, the group turns heads. According to her, the children love the event as much as Akranes residents love to see them, and they line up to receive their outfits when it’s time for a walk. They go out most days, “to get a little jolt of Christmas”.

After the report aired, several Icelanders took to social media claiming that the adorable clip of Santa toddlers was exactly what they needed during this difficult time. A local poet and rapper stated: “There were a few small children on the news, wandering around aimlessly as they are wont to do, with big red cheeks, wearing Santa outfits, and now I’m pregnant.” He was not the only one, with another local stating that he couldn’t explain it but after watching the news, his ovaries were jingling. One also noted that the only thing cuter than the report itself was beloved news anchor Bogi Ágústsson’s smile after the report ended.

Two Group Infections Active, but with Limited Spread

A group infection centred in the West Iceland town of Akranes led to extensive, random local testing on Saturday, RÚV reports. Happily, all 612 people who were tested returned negative results, indicating that the infection has not spread as extensively as was originally feared.

There are currently two active group infections in Iceland: one in Akranes, and one in Akureyri, in North Iceland. In Akranes, seven coworkers were diagnosed with COVID-19, as well as three of their family members. It is not currently known where this infection started. The random sampling in Akranes on Sunday was conducted by deCode Genetics in order to determine how far the infection had spread within the town. Authorities originally hoped to test 450 residents, but locals were quick to cooperate, meaning that an additional 162 samples could be taken – roughly 10% of the town’s population.

There are currently two people in isolation and 35 people in quarantine in and around Akureyri. Two of those who have active COVID-19 infections and 28 of those under quarantine are residents of the town. These new infections have not yet been traced, so it is currently not known if they are related.

One of the individuals in isolation in Akureyri is a tourist who arrived in the country earlier this week. The man tested negative for the virus at the border, but then showed symptoms after his arrival and a second test revealed that he had an active infection. The three members of his family with whom he was travelling are also in isolation with him in the quarantine hotel in Akureyri, where they will all remain for two weeks. The tourist’s family members do not, however, have the virus.

Thirteen community infections were diagnosed on Saturday, and one at the border, although it is uncertain as of yet if that individual has an active or old infection. At time of writing, 72 individuals are in isolation, 569 are in quarantine, and one person is hospitalised, although not in intensive care.

Bowie Mural in Akranes Moves Fans To Tears

A mural dedicated to David Bowie in the West Iceland town of Akranes has become quite a local attraction and will be the site of a Bowie memorabilia exhibition this weekend, RÚV reports. According to Björn Lúðvíksson, the artist who created the memorial, the sight of the unexpected mural at Kirkjubraut 8 often takes viewers completely by surprise and some, he’s been told, have even been moved to tears.

The mural has been in place for two years and is located on the town’s main street. Many people have been “dumbstruck,” Björn laughed on a morning radio program on Rás 1, by running into such a memorial “out in the boondocks in Iceland.” He explained that the idea for the mural stemmed from smaller memorial artworks that he started creating shortly after Bowie’s death in 2016. “It started off with me painting stones—Bowie stones,” Björn said. “…I started painting Bowie stones and placing them down by the Akranesviti lighthouse.” Prior to painting the mural, Björn created four different stones in honor of Bowie, each of which represented a different period in the artist’s career.

There are murals honoring David Bowie all over the world, most notably perhaps, in the London neighborhood of Brixton where he grew up. Björn decided that such a memorial should exist in Akranes as well. “The response has been really good and I’ve heard of people who’ve been moved to tears [by it].”

Björn will be exhibiting his collection of Bowie memorabilia at the mural, along with his friend and fellow Bowie enthusiast Halldór Randver Lárusson. “We have most, if not all, of the albums, and various other things,” Björn said. “Halldór is also a graphic designer and he has been making all kinds of Bowie prints and made picture tees.”

The exhibition will run from 1 – 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday in front of the Bowie mural at Kirkjubraut 8 in Akranes.