Minister Titles Finalised, Changes to Cost ISK 1.8 Billion

government cabinet

Is Jón Gunnarsson Iceland’s Minister of the Interior or Minister of Justice? It has been a difficult question to answer since Iceland’s newest government took power in November. The government has not only shuffled ministry appointments, but changed the number of ministries as well as their names and assignments, since last term. RÚV reports that the minsters’ titles have now been finalised by presidential ruling, and the changes are expected to cost the treasury ISK 1.8 billion [$14.1 million, €12.5 million] this term.

Six ministers have the same titles as those announced last November. Katrín Jakobsdóttir keeps the title of Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson the title of Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, and Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson the title of Minister of Infrastructure. Willum Þór Þórsson remains the Minister of Health, Ásmundur Einar Daðason the Minister of Education and Children, and Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson the Minister of the Environment, Energy, and Climate.

Ruling Changed Titles of Six Ministers

The other six ministers received a new title with the presidential rulings. Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, originally announced as the Minister of Science, Industry, and Innovation, will now be the Minister of Higher Education, Industry, and Innovation. Svandís Svavarsdóttir will no longer be known as the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, rather the Minister of Food. Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, originally the Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation, will simply be known as the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir’s title will also be shortened from Minister of Tourism, Trade, and Culture, to Minister of Trade and Culture. The same goes for Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, who will no longer be the Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market, rather simply the Social and Labour Market Minister. Jón Gunnarson, who was initially announced as Interior Minister, will be known as the Minister of Justice.

According to a recent response in Parliament, the cost of shuffling the ministries and changing the titles could cost up to ISK 1.8 billion [$14.1 million, €12.5 million] this term.

COVID-19 Update Expected at Government Press Conference

Iceland’s government has called a press conference at 4:00 PM this afternoon. It will be held on the Suðurnes peninsula in Southwest Iceland, where the cabinet convened at 10:00 AM this morning and will hold meetings all day. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that COVID-19 restrictions will be on the agenda. Current domestic restrictions expire on August 13.

“At our regular meeting I expect infection prevention measures to be discussed,” Katrín told Vísir. “The current measures run out in three days so we will discuss them.” Iceland reimposed domestic restrictions on July 24, including a 200-person gathering limit and one-metre social distancing, in response to rising COVID-19 case numbers. While health authorities have confirmed that vaccination is minimising instances of hospitalisation and serious illness in the current wave, they have also stated that the sheer number of cases is pushing infrastructure toward its limits.

Long-term COVID-19 policy will not be presented

A government notice stated that the press conference will also address “the progress of the projects in the government agreement and measures to support the creative industries.” The state council has met with various interest groups over the past two weeks in order to shape a long-term policy on tackling the ongoing pandemic. The Prime Minister stated, however, that a long-term COVID-19 policy would not be presented at today’s press conference.

“We’ve both been discussing this current wave and how we tackle it but also long-term measures,” Katrín stated. “We won’t present any long-term measures at this time. I can absolutely confirm that. The issue has not reached that stage.” She did, however, imply the government would present what measures, if any, would replace the current ones after August 13.

Iceland Review will live-tweet the press conference at 4:00 PM UTC.

Prime Minister and Health Minister Test Negative for COVID-19

COVID-19 tightening restrictions

Neither Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir nor Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir have COVID-19. Both ministers got tested due to experiencing flu symptoms. All of Iceland’s ministers have now had to be tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic began, RÚV reports.

Neither Katrín nor Svandís were in attendance at a cabinet meeting yesterday morning as they had both been experiencing flu symptoms. Katrín announced afterwards that she had tested negative for COVID-19, and that influenza was the culprit that had “knocked out half [her] household.” Svandís was also tested yesterday after experiencing flu symptoms.

Much of Iceland’s cabinet needed to get tested following a dinner at Hotel Rangá last month, after a staff member of the hotel had tested positive for COVID-19. All of the cabinet has been tested at least once for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In her Facebook post, Katrín encouraged all Icelanders to practice individual preventative measures. “We must all be careful, let’s remember to wash our hands, use hand sanitiser, keep our distance and do everything we can together to bring down this third wave of the virus.”