Petrol Bombs and Threats of Retaliation Following Knife Attack in Downtown Club

police lögreglan

Reykjavík and capital-area police are investigating a series of crimes believed to be connected to the knife attack that occurred at Bankastræti Club in downtown Reykjavík on Thursday night. RÚV reports that in the wake of the attack, which left three young men hospitalized, petrol bombs have been thrown into houses, windows broken, and suspects’ families subjected to harassment. There have also been posts on social media, encouraging retaliation for the attacks. Police believe that the incidents possibly herald the beginnings of a gang war, although this but one possible explanation.

Police still searching for over ten suspects; two have fled the country

A group of almost thirty people, all dressed in dark clothing and masks, barged into Bankastræti Club on Thursday night and attacked three men, all of whom were in their twenties, stabbing them repeatedly before fleeing the scene. The stabbing victims have since posted on social media, seemingly unruffled by the incident, and two of them were also interviewed on FM957 on Saturday. In the interview, they said that one of them had been stabbed a total of seven times, but was feeling pretty good, all things considered, or “like a king,” as he put it.

As of Saturday, fourteen of those involved in the attack had been arrested and nine had been sentenced to two weeks in police custody. Police were still searching for over ten of the remaining suspects, although their identities were believed to be known. Two suspects have fled the country.

Over the weekend, police called for anyone involved in the incident to come forward, but only one person did. A search of suspects’ phone data is also underway, but police say this will be an extensive and intensive process.

Stress on prison system

The scope of the incident and the number of people remanded into custody is already straining the local prison system’s capacity, as it is unusual for so many people to be held at once. Halldór Valur Pálsson, director of the Icelandic prison system, says that while prison officials in no way anticipated an incident of this scope and with this many detainees, Icelandic prisons still have enough capacity to deal with the situation at present. But things could become serious, he says, if a gang war is, in fact, underway.

“It absolutely threatens the safety of the staff and other prisoners as well, if this kind of conflict is going on,” he said. “If there are gang conflicts happening out in society, they also find their ways into the prisons in the end.”

The capacity issue is not just a question of being able to hold suspects while the police investigate, however. It also has a knock-on effect for those waiting to serve a prison sentence. New measures have been introduced in recent years that allow convicted individuals to serve their sentences outside of prison walls, for instance by means of electronic surveillance or community service. But there is still a waiting list for those who are actually required to serve their sentences in prison. These individuals must wait to serve their sentences until a facility has room for them. There are currently 317 individuals waiting to serve their prison sentences.

Stabbing may be linked to motorcycle fire

Police say that the investigation is progressing well, considering its scope. The inciting incident has yet to be confirmed, but it’s possible that the stabbings were related to two motorcycles that were set on fire in Álftamýri on the east side of Reykjavík last Wednesday night.

Government Approves Pandemic Grants for Bars and Restaurants

bar beer alcohol

Iceland’s government has approved measures in support of restaurant and bar owners that have experienced a loss of income as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, RÚV reports. Owners will soon be able to apply for a so-called “rebound” grant up to a maximum of ISK 10-12 million [$77,900-93,400, €68,500-82,200], Foreign Affairs Minister Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir stated following a cabinet meeting this morning.

“We’re doing this specifically for those parties who have a liquor licence and have experienced a loss of income due to [COVID-19] infection prevention measures,” Þórdís told reporters. Asked whether the grants would be enough to keep bars and restaurants running, the Minister stated that she could not be the judge, but she believed the initiative would make a big difference. The government has also postponed insurance and tax payment deadlines for restaurants in order to ease financial strain on the industry.

The rebound grants are expected to cost the government around ISK 1.5 billion [$116.8 million, €102.7 million]. Þórdís stated that the government was also considering measures in support of freelance and culture workers, other groups that have been hit hard by pandemic restrictions.

Icelandic authorities tightened domestic COVID-19 restrictions last week, closing bars and clubs and extending operational restrictions on restaurants as the country fights its biggest ever wave of COVID-19 infection. Some restaurateurs have criticised the closures and restrictions, pointing to the fact that schools remain open, despite being a source of infection spread. Bragi Skaftason, who operates three restaurants in Reykjavík, has stated that reintroducing partial employment benefits, a pandemic response measure the government has discontinued, would be more helpful to restaurateurs than the government’s current economic response measures.

Majority of Icelanders In Favor of Bars Closing Earlier

bar beer alcohol

The majority of Icelanders are in favor of bars and nightclubs closing earlier—even after COVID restrictions are lifted, Vísir reports. A recent survey conducted by Maskína showed that 63% of respondents were “very in favor” or “moderately in favor” of significantly reduced hours, while only 18% reported being “very opposed” or “moderately opposed” to tighter restrictions.

The opening hours of bars and clubs have fluctuated a lot since March 2020, but even after infections levels dropped recently, there has been some question as to whether permanently reduced hours might be for the better. Under normal circumstances, bars and clubs are permitted to stay open until 4:30 AM on weekends and 1:00 AM on weeknights.

Age had a significant impact on respondents’ feelings on the matter. Only 29.9% of people aged 18-29 were strongly in favor of shorter opening hours, and 18.9% were moderately in favor of it. Perhaps more surprising is that only 8.7% of respondents in this demographic reported being strongly opposed to shortening opening hours.

Partnered status also impacted responses: around 48% of single people support shorter bar and club hours, versus 66% of respondents who cohabitat with a partner.

Reykjavík Jail Cells Empty Last Weekend

police car

The closure of bars and clubs due to COVID-19 seems to have lightened the workload for police in the Reykjavík capital area last weekend. The region’s jail cells were all empty last Saturday night, a rare occurrence when the town’s watering holes are open for business.

A press release from capital area police sent at 5.00am on Sunday morning reported that jail cells were empty in the region and had been so since Saturday. On-duty officer Hallgrímur Hallgrímsson who sent out the notice stated that he could not remember another occasion when all the city’s jail cells were empty on a Saturday night.

Bars and clubs in the capital area have been closed for several weeks in an attempt to tackle the third wave of COVID-19. Measures appear to be having an effect, as active case numbers have been dropping since October 17.

Stricter COVID Restrictions Take Effect at Midnight

face mask

Stricter social distancing measures and limits on gatherings will take effect tonight, Sunday, October 4, at midnight, RÚV reports. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir released the full guidelines today, the biggest change being that the maximum number of people who can gather together is 20, with some exceptions.

In general, only twenty people will be allowed to be in a public space at once. Exceptions will be made, however, for secondary schools and colleges, where 25 students will be allowed in a classroom together. Funerals will be allowed to have 50 guests in attendance, and larger stores will be allowed 100 customers at once. Masks are required whenever it isn’t possible to maintain a distance of one metre between people who do not share a household.

Bars, clubs, slot machine parlours, and gyms will be closed. Pools will be allowed to remain open but must operate at half capacity.

Spectators will not be allowed at athletic events, but theatre performances will be allowed to continue in spaces with a maximum of 100 audience members and mandatory mask usage.

Infection numbers ‘are frightening’

“We went over the chief epidemiologist’s memo,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told reporters after a meeting with her ministers on Saturday afternoon. “He proposed very strict rules to combat the spread of the virus. And I think we were all shocked by the infection numbers today—they’re frightening.” At time of writing, 652 people were in isolation and 1,608 in quarantine. Thirteen people have currently been hospitalized and three are in intensive care. On Friday alone, 61 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed and 39 of these individuals were not in quarantine.

“There’s also the fact that we’ve seen in recent days that far too many of those who are diagnosed [with COVID-19] are not in quarantine. Which tells us that this is a very widespread community infection. Which is why the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations to the Minister of Health are all about putting in place significantly tougher measures.”

It is presumed that the new restrictions will remain in place for at least two weeks.

Capital-Area Bars and Clubs Closed Over Weekend

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

Capital-area bars and clubs will be closed from Friday to Monday, RÚV reports. The Minister of Health took the step of temporarily closing these venues on the advice of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, who has urged swift action in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. There’s been an uptick in COVID-19 cases this week, many of which can be traced to bars and clubs in Reykjavík.

Bars and clubs in Reykjavík, Mosfellsbær, Hafnarfjörður, Garðabær, Kópavogur, Kjósarhreppur and Seltjarnarnes will be subject to the four-day closure. Venues that have licenses to operate in capacities beyond just serving alcohol are allowed to remain open.

See Also: Patrons of the Irishman Pub Asked to Come In For COVID-19 Testing

Thirty-eight cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in the last three days. Roughly a quarter of those diagnosed were patrons of bars and/or clubs in the capital about a week ago.

In addition to recommending these temporary closures, Þórólfur also encouraged company managers and school directors to be more stringent in their infection prevention measures. This comes after several employees of the University of Iceland, including rector Jón Atli Benediktsson, had to go into quarantine after an employee who works in the university’s main building was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Þórólfur also urged individuals to take appropriate precautions and preventative measures, such as wearing a mask when it is not possible to maintain a one-metre distance between people who do not share the same household, frequently washing and/or sanitizing hands, and being tested for COVID-19 if one begins to show symptoms of the virus.

Fewer Sexual Assaults Reported Since Gathering Restrictions Went Into Effect

Fewer sexual assaults have been reported to police this year than were during the same time period in 2019, RÚV reports. Head of the capital area police department’s sexual assault unit Ævar Pálmi Pálmason believes it’s likely that this drop is related to current gathering restrictions and their impact on the local bar and club scene.

So far this year, there have been 80 reported cases of sexual assault in and around Reykjavík, as compared to an average of 170 reported for the same time period in the previous three years.

Reports of sexual assaults started going down in March, when gathering restrictions first went into effect in Iceland. “One has to consider that there is a connection there,” said Ævar Pálmi. “Reported offences went down in February, March, and April, such that we have to consider whether these measures and the consequences of this pandemic have caused this.” (Ævar Pálmi has not inconsiderable knowledge of the workings of transmission prevention efforts and their consequences; before heading up the sexual assault unit, he lead the police department’s contact tracing division.)

Since the gathering restrictions went into effect, ten to twenty sexual offences have been reported per month. There were ten reports made this July, as compared to 26 in July 2019.

Although it’s difficult to state with certainty that the limited opening hours of bars and clubs is directly related to this drop in reported assaults, Ævar Pálmi thinks it’s likely that there is a correlation.

It’s worth noting, however, that while reported sexual assaults have gone down during the time of COVID-19, reports of domestic violence have gone up 15%, or 70 more reported offences than there were during the same time period last year.