Additional Relief for Struggling Restaurants On the Way

The Icelandic government is promising additional relief subsidies for suffering businesses in the restaurant sector, RÚV reports. It is hoped that the measures—which include tax relief as well as extensions of existing subsidies—will be implemented within the next few days.

The announcement comes in the wake of tightened domestic restrictions as COVID cases soar in Iceland and authorities scramble to ensure that the health system does not become overwhelmed. As of midnight on Friday, the general gathering limit is now 10 people and bars and clubs will be closed. Events and performances will also not be permitted. The current regulations will be in effect until February 2.

See Also: Iceland Tightens Domestic COVID-19 Restrictions

Restaurant and bar owners have repeatedly requested stronger governmental support to help weather financial insecurities created by the pandemic. On Friday afternoon, the government announced that it intends to allow restaurants to postpone paying tax and social security contributions. Relief grants will be extended. These measures are expected to be implemented right after the weekend. Closure subsidies are also expected to be extended and special subsidies for restaurants in distress should also be available.

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, who is acting Minister of Finance in the absence of Bjarni Benediktson, said that there isn’t much work left to be done on the proposal and she hopes that it will be on Monday’s parliamentary agenda. She noted that the relief measures come as a result of conversations with people in the events, tourism, restaurant, and cultural sectors.

“What we’re doing right now is primarily focused on restaurants,” she stated. “[…] But we need to be mindful of the economy as a whole remaining strong. As such, we need to be smart about directing this targeted support to those who really need it.” Þórdís Kolbrún estimated that the government would spend over ISK 1 billion [$7.78 million] on these measures.

Additional Government Aid for Businesses and Artists

Katrín Jakobsdóttir forsætisráðherra

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir says the government is working on further relief measures for companies and artists who are suffering financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vísir reports. On Friday, the government agreed to extend and increase subsidies to companies that have had to close due because of stricter virus control regulations.

See Also: COVID-19 in Iceland: Stricter Measures Take Effect in Reykjavík Area

Capital-area businesses such as gyms, bars, nightclubs, hairdressers, and tattoo studios have had to close as authorities attempt to get a recent spike in COVID infections back under control. Per the government’s decision on Friday, businesses will receive ISK 600,000 [$4,352; €3,678] for each employee, every month they have to remain closed. Katrín says this is in response to criticism of the government’s previous COVID subsidies, which primarily benefited small businesses. This new initiative would also benefit large companies as well.

See Also: Moment of (Radio) Silence for Self-Employed Musicians

Katrín estimates that if businesses have to remain closed for a month, the initiative could cost the government somewhere in the range of ISK 3-400 million [$2.22.9 million; €1.8-2.5 million]. Tourism-dependent companies obviously make up a large proportion of those that are currently suffering due to reduced international travel and closures. However, Katrín says that the government is also preparing relief packages for musicians and performing artists, the terms of which will be clarified later in the month.

Moment of (Radio) Silence for Self-Employed Musicians

The country’s biggest radio stations took a collective moment of silence during the morning commute on Friday to raise awareness about the contributions that self-employed musicians make to Icelandic society, Vísir reports.

Self-employed musicians have been hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic. Gathering ban restrictions have necessitated the cancellation of numerous events and concerts, meaning that self-employed artists can’t depend on live shows for income. Unemployment for these artists has, predictably, been high and there are few, if any, state resources they can turn to for relief.

Radio stations Bylgjan, FM957, X977, Rás 1, Rás 2, K100, and Suðurland FM paused their regularly scheduled programming at 8:45am on Friday in a demonstration coordinated by the Association of Self-Employed Musicians (FSST). FSST was founded in August primarily to address the challenges currently faced by self-employed musicians; its inaugural board includes chairman Helgi Björnsson, Selma Björnsdóttir, Guðrún Ýr Eyfjörð (DRN), Guðmundur Óskar Guðmundsson, and Bubbi Morthens. Páll Óskar Hjálmtýsson and Sigríður Thorlacius serve as alternate board members.

The association welcomed the broad participation in the moment of silence, issuing a statement that said self-employed Icelandic musicians “will continue to stand with their nation, lighten its mood, and do their part.”

“Musicians who make their living from live performances have suffered terrible financial losses and the future is uncertain where events and other gatherings are concerned,” continued the FSST statement. “Self-employed musicians in the Icelandic music industry work in variable and seasonal markets, pay taxes and other fees, but by the very nature of their work, fall outside of the mutual insurance safety net when crises like this occur. As such, self-employed musicians have not been able to take advantage of the government’s temporary resources or any of the economic relief measures that have been introduced.”

The association is calling for relief measures to mitigate the economic losses suffered by its members. “FSST members do not work in a vacuum,” it noted, pointing out that these artists have symbiotic relationships with “music venues and cultural houses, both public and private, equipment rentals, stagehands, lighting and sound technicians, hairdressers and makeup artists, photographers, designers, advertisers, and countless others. Self-employed musicians are an important link in the value chain in many areas of society. The profession is in a grievous situation, our members are fighting the banks and can’t wait any longer.”

Without immediate aid, says the FSST, the Icelandic music industry could be facing “serious and maybe irreversible consequences,” running the risk that a significant number of its musicians will leave the profession and that it will be harder to convince new artists to enter the industry in the future.