Icelandic App To Help People Quit Opiates Getting International Attention

A new Icelandic app, created with the help of doctors and designed to help those prescribed addictive substances such as opiates ween themselves off of them safely, is starting to gain traction abroad, RÚV reports.

Simple but crucial

The app in question, Prescriby, is available in both Icelandic and English, and its implementation is fairly straightforward. By entering the name of the drug in question, the number of weeks it is to be taken, and how many doses per day the app calculates a scheduling of dosages for the patient.

This is critically important, as some medications, like opiates, can cause physical addiction in as little as 30 days of daily use. Sudden cessation can cause withdrawal symptoms, which can lead to relapses or, in the case of long term use, withdrawal can be fatal if not managed correctly.

“Prescriby takes a proactive approach to addictive medication management which is essential to realizing better outcomes for patients and the health care system,” the app’s creators state on their site. “Our program is an adaptive model, combining best practices with clinically validated software that integrates with clinical workflow.”

International traction

The app has been in use at the pharmacy Reykjanesapótek for some time now, and has reportedly been serving patients well. It will also be put into practice in Canada next week, and then in Denmark later in the year.

Kjartan Þórsson, creator of Prescriby and himself a doctor, emphasised the necessity of the app to reporters.

“Most people that I speak with have some kind of story, either about a relative or themselves, who have been sent home with a hundred Contalgin [morphine] tablets, or what have you,” he said. “And there’s no plan in place. We’re letting people get some of the most addictive substances in the world and we don’t even have a plan. So we’re trying to change that.”

Strætó Bus Service Transitions Fully to KLAPP App

Public bus in Reykjavík

Strætó, the Reykjavík capital area public bus service, will close its old app on July 1 and fully transition to the Klapp app. The Klapp app currently lacks the ability to purchase bus tickets to rural areas, which can only be bought with cash or credit cards on board the buses

Full transition to KLAPP

As noted in a recent announcement, Strætó – the Reykjavík capital area public bus service – has decided to close the old Strætó app, effective July 1. The so-called Klapp app will take over completely.

The announcement highlights that the Klapp app now encompasses all functions concerning the bus network and tickets for the capital area, along with additional features. Additionally, the majority of riders have already transitioned to the new app due to its enhanced capabilities.

However, the Klapp app lacks the option to purchase bus tickets for rural areas, which can only be obtained through cash or credit card payment on the buses – a method preferred by the majority of passengers, as stated by Strætó.

According to the announcement, ticket sales through the Klapp app constituted just 3% of total fares sold in rural areas. The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration (IRCA), responsible for the rural bus system, is presently exploring the possibility of introducing additional payment options for rural customers.

Travellers can access rural fare prices through the “planner” section of the Klapp app and on straeto.is. Both the Klapp app and straeto.is offer trip planning, real-time coach monitoring, and price information for both the capital area and rural locations.

New Law on Taxis Takes Effect

Taxi in Iceland's capital, Reykjavík

The much-protested law on taxis came into effect this April 1, leaving many taxi drivers uneasy about their future as a new company enters the market.

Among other reforms, the law loosens requirements for operating a taxi and removes restrictions on the number of taxi permits. According to lawmakers, the intent is to free the taxi market and to bring it up to date. The bill was opposed by interest groups, such as the Federation of Icelandic Taxi Drivers, who say it will both drive down their wages and lead to a decline in service quality.

Read more: Taxi Drivers Stage Protest in Reykjavík

The bill, however, was not opposed by all. Hopp, a popular electronic scooter rental company, is now making moves into the taxi market.

Reykjavík residents will soon be able to order a taxi through the Hopp app, 15% cheaper compared with traditional taxi services in Iceland. The law now also allows taxi drivers to operate within multiple companies, meaning that drivers in Iceland’s established taxi fleet may now choose to also work part-time gigs at Hopp as well.

Eyþór Máni Steinarsson, CEO of Hopp, stated to Morgunblaðið: “Times change and so should transportation. We can drive down prices in the taxi market, and we aim to be 15% cheaper than our competition. There is, of course, a vocal minority who are concerned about these changes. We only accept taxi drivers who are legal and registered. But of course, we would like to see extensions there as well. The barriers in becoming a registered taxi driver don’t quite match the spirit of the times.”

Eyþór Máni continued: “This is the next step in the revolution against the private car. The best car is no car, but the next best is the one you share with others, and we want to make it easy for people to share cars, both the ones they drive themselves and the ones others drive. We also believe that many working taxi drivers would be willing to work for more than one station and will be happy to receive more fares and a more transparent way of assigning them.”

Read more: Taxi Drivers Demand Hearing with the Government

Some, however, are still concerned over the shakeups in the taxi market.

Daniel O. Einarsson, chairperson of the Federation of Icelandic Taxi Drivers, stated: “They begin by undercutting the competition to establish themselves in the market. But then they raise their prices. We’ve seen this strategy before, just like how Uber operates.”

With the new taxi bill now in effect, Hopp has opened applications for new drivers. Hopp has stated that they hope to launch their taxi service when they have enough drivers, hopefully this spring.

New App for Learning Icelandic Vocabulary

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

Academics and students at the University of Iceland have created a new mobile and computer app that uses flashcards to teach Icelandic vocabulary. The flashcard deck contains the 4,000 most frequently used words in Icelandic and provides translations into English, Polish, Chinese, and Ukrainian.

“Flashcards [are] a well-known and well-established method used in diverse studies. The cards used to be made out of paper but now they are usually digital on phones or in computers,” says Anton Karl Ingason, associate professor of Icelandic linguistics and language technology at the University of Iceland. Anton has developed the app, called IceFlash 4K, along with Xindan Xu, Veronika Teresa Kolka, and Alesia Kovaleva at the University of Iceland’s Institute of Linguistics.

“There has been rapid progress in Icelandic language technology in recent years, both when it comes to software and databases,” Anton stated. “We also believe that there is a considerable demand for tools to facilitate learning Icelandic; this project is thus a certain contribution to meet this demand.”

The vocabulary app is open to all and is free of charge. Anton stated that the database behind the teaching tool is open source, making it easier for other developers to create language-learning tools built in part on IceFlash 4K.

Instructions on how to set up the app are available in the YouTube video below. See Iceland Review’s comprehensive guide to online resources for learning Icelandic.

Electric Car Share Launches in Reykjavík

Hopp car share Reykjavík

There’s a new way to get around Reykjavík for residents and visitors: shared electric cars. Transportation app Hopp, which introduced shared electric scooters to the city in 2019, has now added ten electric cars to its fleet of vehicles. Users can rent a car through the app, drive it from A to B, and park and leave it anywhere within the active zone.

“People are calling for a variety of forms of transportation and the environment is calling for us to change our travel habits,” a Facebook post from the company reads. “We believe that the time is now; city residents are calling for diversity in transport, and by offering shared cars, we are bridging a certain gap. People can take public transport to work and then take a shared car if they need to run an errand during working hours. Families can therefore do away with the “extra car” and use a shared car when needed.” The shared cars are also useful for those who do not own a private car but need to run errands that are more difficult to do on public transport or a bike, such as making a trip to big box stores in the suburbs, the company points out.

The Hopp cars cost a flat fee of ISK 300 [$2.33; €2.11] to rent, and ISK 45 [$0.35; €0.32] per minute to drive, meaning a trip between the University of Iceland and the Grandi harbour area would cost around ISK 660 [$5.12; €4.63]. It costs ISK 10 [$0.08; €0.07] per minute to “pause” a rental, for example, to run an errand while the car is parked. Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson was the first to try one of the vehicles last week, as seen in the pictures below.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Weekend Partygoers Reminded to Show Caution

bar

Make sure you register your attendance at restaurants and download the updated contact tracing app Rakning C-19: these were the two directions that Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson had for the Icelandic public at today’s COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík. Víðir stated that he understood people’s desire to let loose particularly in light of lifted restrictions this week, but a group infection in Reykjavík proves the virus is still out there and caution remains necessary.

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

 

On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers are in on covid.is.
New domestic cases: 3
New border cases: 3
Total active cases: 39
Hospitalised: 0
Vaccinated w/ at least one dose: 169,570 (45.8% of population)
Fully vaccinated: 80,464 (21.8% of population)

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by discussing the cases being diagnosed out of quarantine within Iceland. He underlines the importance of maintaining personal preventative measures despite regulations being loosened this week. He encourages people to take care when registering their presence at restaurants and bars as it helps with contact tracing if it becomes necessary. He also encourages the public to update to the latest version of the official contact tracing app.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the numbers. There were three infections diagnosed yesterday, two in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. For the past week, nine people have tested positive, four out of quarantine. They are connected to the group infection at the downtown location of H&M. Around 100 people are in quarantine and Þórólfur expects more infections to arise from that group. The infections are of the UK variant of the virus. Border cases have fluctuated over the past week but there is not much increase. One person is currently hospitalised due to COVID-19, none in the ICU. In the past week, one person died after a month in hospital due to COVID-19. That brings the total number of Iceland’s COVID-19 fatalities to 30.

A recent wave of infection in the Faroe Islands has led Icelandic authorities to remove the Faroe Islands from the list of low-risk regions. Restrictions were relaxed considerably in the past week and Þórólfur has noticed some unrest and worry among the public. Þórólfur says that authorities believe that if people continue to mind their personal infection prevention, we should be fine and should be able to tackle the group infections that will occur. Vaccinations are going well though fewer were vaccinated this week due to smaller shipments. They should increase again next week, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur mentions the AstraZeneca vaccine, stating that while it is safe to get one dose each from two different vaccines, cases of serious side effects are rarer after the second shot of one vaccine. People are generally encouraged to get the same vaccine for their second shot. The vaccines we are using now protect against the Indian variant, which appears to be more infectious than previous variants of the virus. (The Indian variant has been diagnosed at the border but has not spread domestically in Iceland.)

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked about herd immunity and replies that percentages of vaccinated individuals to reach herd immunity varies for each virus but we won’t have contained the virus until global vaccinations have reached a certain point. As for other contagious diseases, such as measles, Iceland has had luck with keeping them at bay with general vaccinations and Þórólfur doesn’t think that COVID-19 will be any different.

The government has announced that mandatory stays in government-run quarantine facilities for those arriving from high-risk areas will end next month. People will still have to prove that they have adequate access to housing that fulfills quarantine requirements. Víðir notes that while mandatory stays in quarantine facilities will end, the facilities will remain open for people who don’t have access to adequate quarantine facilities at home or where they are staying in Iceland. He mentions migrant workers specifically. If people break quarantine, they will also be required to quarantine in the government’s quarantine facilities.

Þórólfur is asked about Janssen and the AstraZeneca vaccine and states that few countries have stopped using these vaccines altogether but most are using them with restrictions. That is also what the Icelandic healthcare system is doing, in order to take the utmost care. Þórólfur is asked about young women who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before authorities stopped using it for their demographic. Þórólfur replies that people need to make their own decision, they can get a second dose of AZ or another vaccine.

When asked about vaccination certificates for those who have received doses of two different vaccines, Víðir answers that at first, such certificates weren’t being issued due to a glitch but it has now been fixed. Everyone should now be able to get a certificate. Þórólfur adds that such certificates will be accepted among travellers arriving in Iceland and he can see no reason why other countries should reject such certificates, as many nations are using two different vaccines to vaccinate people.

Asked about vaccine side effect research in Norway, Þórólfur states that they are monitoring all such research and will proceed based on the results of investigations. Any time a large mass of people receives vaccines, it is likely that some of them will develop symptoms that could be unrelated to the vaccines. Statistically speaking, there have been no spikes in health issues overall.

Víðir states that there’s no suspicion that the current group infection can be traced to quarantine violations.

Víðir closes the briefing by warning partygoers and people who are planning to enjoy themselves this weekend to be careful, remember to register at bars and restaurants, and have the latest version of the contact tracing app. The briefing has ended.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Updated Tracing App Unveiled

rakning c-19 app

Locals in Iceland should expect some level of social restrictions until 60-70% of the population is vaccinated, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Though nearly 40% of Icelanders have received at least one dose and over 16% are fully vaccinated, those figures are far from what is necessary to achieve herd immunity, Þórólfur reminded.

Continued diagnosis of domestic cases means the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still out in the community and we must proceed carefully, the Chief Epidemiologist underlined. The Indian variant of the virus has been detected in two individuals in Iceland who are currently in government isolation facilities.

Director of Health Alma Möller discussed the update to the government’s official tracing app Rakning C-19. Unlike the previous version of the app, which used GPS, this new update uses Bluetooth technology, allowing authorities to notify people if they’ve been in the vicinity of an infected individual without compromising privacy. Current users of the app will need to update to the latest version.

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

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of the Civil Protection Department Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 3 new domestic cases (2 in quarantine) and 1 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 75; 3 are in hospital. Iceland’s latest COVID-19 vaccination data: 16.89% of the population are fully vaccinated. 39.28% have received at least one dose.

The briefing has started. Víðir begins by addressing the alert phase due to wildfires in the southwest quadrant of the country. He asks the public to do their part in preventing fire. Even a small spark can cause a large wildfire in these dry conditions. Víðir says that the emergency phase due to COVID-19 will be lowered to an alert phase today. He says solidarity has helped us prevent a large group infection.

Þórólfur goes over the number. One individual who tested positive yesterday domestically arrived in the country recently. There’s a possibility their infection was undetected by border tests. There are fewer infections being diagnosed at the border, perhaps because current border measures might discourage people liable to be infected from travel, speculates Þórólfur. Two people have tested positive for the Indian variant of the virus. They’re in isolation in government facilities. Two patients are in hospital due to COVID-19. One of them in the ICU but not on a ventilator. We’re still finding new cases domestically so the virus is still out there as we’ve repeatedly stated.

There’s an increase in tourism in the coming weeks and that presents a great challenge to ensure proper infection prevention at the border. This challenge will last throughout June or July, until we expect vaccinations to be widespread enough that we don’t have to fear if infections cross the border. We’re not at that point currently, Þórólfur states. We need to stick to our proven methods, which include lifting restrictions slowly. Þórólfur notes that restrictions were last eased at the beginning of this week.

Alma takes over to discuss the latest update to the official government COVID-19 tracing app. She adds that the app will have increasing importance in the coming weeks as we start to relax restrictions further. Unlike the previous version of the app, which used GPS, this new update uses Bluetooth technology, allowing authorities to notify people if they’ve been in the vicinity of an infected individual without compromising privacy. Data will not be stored in clouds and will only be stored for 14 days.

The app is available in English, Icelandic, and Polish. Those who have the original version of the app installed on their phones will need to update it. The app will notify you if you’ve been in close contact with an infected individual and will guide you on the proper steps to take if that happens. This will not replace the COVID-19 tracing team but is an addition to the current system, says Alma. The app was created for the government but an independent investigation was conducted to ensure its privacy and appropriate handling of personal data. Alma particularly encourages young people who are out and about to update the app.

The panel opens for questions. Q: More young people are now being called in for vaccinations, has randomised vaccination begun? A from Þórólfur: No, but the last priority groups aren’t called in based on age but rather risk factors. Also, many young people work in healthcare for ex. nursing homes. Þórólfur believes that once 60-70% herd immunity is reached, hopefully in June/July, we might still experience group infections but not epidemics that carry the risk of overpowering the healthcare system.

The second AstraZeneca shots will likely be administered 2 months after the first one, not 3. That depends on vaccine stocks, says Þórólfur. Þóróflur is asked about the Indian variant of the virus. He states that it is being detected in several countries and as such it is normal that we have detected it here. We don’t know much about the Indian variant, says Þórólfur, for example whether it is more contagious than others or resistant to vaccinations. When asked why there aren’t more vaccinations scheduled this week, Þórólfur replies that it’s because we don’t have more vaccine. “We always use all the vaccine that we receive each week.”

Some vaccine distribution schedules aren’t yet available and others change regularly, Þórólfur adds. Þórólfur is asked about the Sputnik V vaccine, now being evaluated by the European Medicines Agency. He states that Iceland will base its decision on the EMA’s but that he’s seen promising research on the vaccine. Víðir closes the briefing on an optimistic note, praising the nation’s solidarity. The briefing has ended.

Iceland’s Embla Joins Siri and Alexa

Embla virtual assistant

Icelandic speakers will soon have their own virtual assistant in their language – Embla. The app is the first of its kind  to understand and speak the Icelandic language. Embla is answering a widespread call for integrating the Icelandic language into technology. RÚV reported first.

Embla speaks Icelandic and she knows quite a bit. She can tell users the opening hours of shops, when the next bus is coming, and can even tell jokes. Like her “colleagues” Siri and Alexa, Embla doesn’t have the answer to every single question, but she can search through Wikipedia.

“There’s a demand for it, people talk a lot more to their devices,” stated Katla Ásgeirsdóttir, one of the app’s designers at startup Miðeind. “Children do this a lot, talk to computers and phones. And people speak English or other languages because Icelandic hasn’t been available. To have such technology on the consumer market is important for us and it’s not a moment too soon.”

The virtual assistant app has been in development for over a year and a half and is supported by a government initiative to integrate the Icelandic language into digital technology. It will become available to Android and Apple users in the coming days.

Equality-Driven App Wins Icelandic Startup Competition

An app called Heima, that helps families or housemates manage the “mental load” of housework is the winning idea at this year’s Gulleggið startup competition. Heima (Home in English) was thought up by Sigurlaug Jóhannsdóttir, Birgitta Rún Sveinbjörnsdóttir, and Alma Dóra Ríkharðsdóttir, who wanted to support the struggle for equality in a fun way.

“Studies continue to show that within families, women take on both more chores and more of the mental load involved in managing the household,” Sigurlaug told Iceland Review. “The app asks users a few questions about their home and how they manage it: how large the home is, how much and how often they want to clean, and then it creates a schedule.” Users then earn points for completing chores and can track what percentage of the household duties they are completing.

Alma Dóra and Sigurlaug attended primary school together and reconnected after they both moved to Boston. “We started talking about our shared interest in innovation and equality, and in August Alma pitched this idea to me and we decided to register for Gulleggið.” They got UX designer Birgitta on board to help develop the idea.

More than just a competition, Gulleggið offers workshops, training, and advice to participants over a period of six weeks, at the end of which they present their developed ideas to a panel of startup experts who name ten finalists and one winner. Heima’s first-place win comes with an ISK 1 million ($7,200/€6,100) cash prize, which Sigurlaug says will be used to develop the app further. Though it’s just in its early stages, the team aims to release Heima next year.

Sigurlaug says the trio has gotten lots of positive feedback on their idea. “It’s so good to get confirmation that it’s something that is really needed in the home, that has encouraged us in this process.”

A prototype of the app is available in Icelandic.

Icelandic Trivia App Off to Winning Start

Teatime Games, a startup based in Reykjavík, has won over trivia nerds around the world with Trivia Royale, its new “social gaming” app, Mbl.is reports. Teatime Games is the newest endeavor of CEO Þorsteinn B. Friðriksson, who cofounded the wildly popular QuizUp seven years ago. Trivia Royale builds on the success and basic format of QuizUp, but gives it a new, interactive twist.

Per the Teatime website, “Trivia Royale pits players from across the globe against 1000 opponents in thrilling tests of knowledge to become a ‘Royale’ and earn a coveted spot in the exclusive ‘Royale Lounge.’” Players do so by winning a series of five-question ‘duels’ against individual opponents in their bracket until they are ‘the last man standing.’ (If you lose a duel, you’re out.) This ‘royale’ structure is key to some of the most popular games in the world, says Þorsteinn, pointing to massively multiplayer games such as Call of Duty and Fortnite.

Personalised avatars are also one of the app’s big selling points – the app’s “augmented reality face filter” technology (called Gamesfaces) protects players identities while simultaneously using their camera phones to pick up their actual facial expressions. Paired with chat features, the Gamesfaces technology is intended to make the app more social and personal, or, as it says on the website, “Watching your opponent’s reaction when you deal the winning blow can be priceless.”

Screenshot, Teatime Games.

Teatime was founded in 2017, about a year after QuizUp was sold to a company in the United States. It currently employs about 20 people in its downtown Reykjavík office, not counting the question authors, most of whom are contractors based in the US, and the programmers, who are based all around the world.

Since its founding, the startup has launched several games “with mixed results,” says Þorsteinn. But each one has been a learning experience. “You’re always going up and down in this business,” he remarked. “It’s definitely always a roller coaster.” For now, however, Trivia Royale is riding high. The app was launched on Wednesday, and by Saturday, was already ranked the 17th most popular game in the US and was enjoying even more popularity in Europe. (Indeed, by Saturday, it was the #2 most popular trivia game in the US.)

But Þorsteinn isn’t resting on his laurels and is wary of “declaring victory right away. We’ll let a few days pass,” he remarked cautiously. “These are definitely good indicators and the game’s popularity is promising.”