Halli Aims to “Ramp Up” Europe – Beginning in Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson plans to build wheelchair ramps across Europe – beginning in Paris. According to a Tweet yesterday, the effort will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris.

A joint project between Reykjavík and Paris

Entrepreneur Haraldur Ingi Þorleifsson, known as Halli, posted a picture on Twitter yesterday in which he was shown attending a meeting with Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, Deputy Mayor of Paris Lamia El Araaje, and Mayor of Reykjavík Dagur B. Eggertsson. Beneath the picture, Halli wrote: “This may seem a bit wild but: We’re going to ramp up Europe!”

As suggested in his post, the effort to “ramp up Europe” – i.e. the building of wheelchair ramps to improve accessibility on the continent – will begin with a joint project between the City of Reykjavík and the City of Paris. As noted by RÚV, Halli and his collaborators have already built 500 ramps in Iceland through his Ramp Up Iceland project; the goal is to build 1,600 ramps in Iceland by spring 2026.

Read More: Staff writer Erik Pomremnke sat down with Halli earlier this year and discussed the selling of his company Ueno to Twitter; his Ramp Up Reykjavík project; among many other things.

Council of Europe to be Held in Reykjavík

Reykjavík pond downtown

The Council of Europe is to be held in Reykjavík in May of next year. The meeting is to be the fourth-ever meeting in the organisation’s 73-year history, taking place 16-17 May, 2023.

The Council of Europe, a distinct organisation from the European Union, is an international body tasked with upholding human rights and rule of law in Europe. Founded after the Second World War, its best-known body is the European Court of Human Rights.

Faced with new crises in Europe, from the war in Ukraine and the accompanying energy crisis to the economic disruptions of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the organisation has announced that it is time to redouble efforts to promote democracy and justice in Europe.

Some 46 nations are party to the Council of Europe

In a press release from the Council of Europe, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated: “It is a great honour for Iceland to be the host of the 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government. Iceland is convinced that the Council of Europe – the continent’s oldest and leading pan-European organization – has a critical role to play as the region’s guardian of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Together, we must continue to ensure that the Council of Europe is fit for purpose to meet current and future challenges as well as the expectations of future generations. We applaud the Irish presidency for their in-depth work on the role of the Council and look forward to working with all the Council’s Member States to reaffirm our common commitment to the Council’s core principles.”

Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić also stated: “The decision to hold a Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Governments is timely and right. I congratulate the Committee of Ministers on taking it. The Summit will be an opportunity for all our member states to recommit to the values that underpin democratic security in our fast-changing continent.”

Iceland Ranked Fifth Globally for Digital Public Services and Infrastructure

Iceland is among the top five nations in the world when it comes to digital public services and infrastructure. According to the United Nations’ annual digital government assessment, the eGovernment Development Index, Iceland is ranked fifth globally, out of 193 countries. This is up from the nation’s twelfth place ranking in 2020.

Denmark came in first place in the rankings, followed by Finland, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and then Iceland in fifth. The remaining top ten nations are: Sweden (sixth place), Australia (7), Estonia (8), The Netherlands (9), and the United States (10).

The UN’s bases its assessment on three main areas and indexes: digital services (Online Service Index); ingenuity (Human Capital Index); and technical infrastructure (Telecommunication Infrastructure Index). Iceland ranked particularly high in both ingenuity and technical infrastructure. The Icelandic government has made digitizing services a particular priority this term, with the goal of making all applicable applications, payments, and receipts for services accessible online.

Screenshot via island.is

“The government has set itself the goal of Iceland becoming a leader in digital public services, and surveys show that good progress is being made,” reads an announcement about the rankings on the government’s website. “Digital services are already simplifying people’s lives—saving time while improving service.”

The announcement also points to the European Commission’s eGovernment Benchmark 2022, in which Iceland ranked fourth amongst the 27 EU member states, as well as Norway, Switzerland, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey. The Benchmark compares how governments across Europe deliver digital public services by asking citizens from the participating countries to visit and evaluate local websites. Iceland rose three places in this assessment since 2021.

See the full rankings and Iceland’s full eGovernment Development assessment, in English, here.

Iceland European Champion in Group Gymnastics

Icelandic gymnastics national team

Iceland became the European group gymnastics champion in Portugal on Saturday when the women’s team won gold with a score of 57,250 points, narrowly beating the Swedish team. The team won the competition’s highest score in floor exercises in the women’s category with 22,300 points.

This was the first year Iceland also sent a men’s team to the competition, and they took home silver medals for their performance. The Icelandic youth team also won silver and bronze in the competition.

Björn Björnsson, one of the team’s coaches, told RÚV he hopes the men’s silver award encourages young men to train in gymnastics. “I think it can do nothing but increase the number of great boys in gymnastics. The next competition is coming up, in nine months, and we need more great boys.”

New Icelandic Airline PLAY Launches Ticket Sales

PLAY airline

Icelandic low-cost airline PLAY launched ticket sales this morning and will fly its inaugural flight between London and Reykjavík on June 24. The airline has scheduled flights between Iceland and seven European destinations. PLAY plans to expand its route network to North America in early 2022.

“It’s brilliant to be able to open up Iceland to UK travellers and offer competitive fares now that international travel has resumed,” states Birgir Jónsson, CEO of PLAY. “We are looking forward to providing safe effortless travel, and great value to people in the UK.” Birgir added that UK visitors will undoubtedly look forward to seeing the ongoing volcanic eruption on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula.

Customers can now book flights with PLAY between Iceland and Alicante, Tenerife, and Barcelona in Spain; as well as Paris, London, Copenhagen, and Berlin. PLAY’s fleet this summer will consist of Airbus A321neo aircraft, with 192 economy seats each. The first aircraft commences operation on June 24, with the second and third slated for delivery in July. The aircraft are leased from AerCap.

Read More: Play Obtains Air Operator’s Certificate

Play’s inaugural destination is well-chosen: Iceland was just added to the UK’s green list of destinations. This means that travellers arriving in the UK from Iceland currently do not need to quarantine upon arrival. A pre-travel test is nevertheless required of passengers, as is a follow-up test two days after arrival in the UK.

Iceland’s COVID-19 Situation No Longer Red, But Orange

Map of Europe with regions marked with different colours according to the COVID-19 development

Iceland is no longer marked as red in the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s risk assessment maps in support of the European Council’s coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement. The country is now marked as orange, while most of Europe is still in the red. From November 14, travellers from Iceland to the UK will no longer have to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival.

The colour scheme is based on the countries’ 14-day notification rate, testing rate and test positivity and a new map is published every Thursday. Today’s numbers put Iceland’s 14-day cumulative number of COVID-19 cases per 100 000 at 87,8. While the current wave of the pandemic seems to be subsiding in Iceland, the numbers are still high in most of Europe. According to the ECDC’s daily update, most European countries’ 14-day number is in the hundreds, with a few countries surpassing 1,000.

Areas are marked with orange if the 14-day notification rate is lower than 50 cases per 100 000 but the test positivity rate is 4% or higher or if the 14-day notification rate is between 25 and 150 cases per 100 000 and the test positivity rate is below 4%. If if the 14-day notification rate is lower than 25 cases per 100 000 and the test positivity rate below 4%, the country is marked as green but the only areas currently marked as green are Greenland and a region of Finland. The majority of Europe is read, meaning that the 14-day notification rate is 50 cases per 100.000 or higher and the test positivity rate is 4% or higher, or the 14-day notification rate is higher than 150 cases per 100 000.

Iceland reported 8 new domestic cases yesterday, the lowest daily number of new cases since September 14. Total active cases continue to drop and are now 447. 61 are in hospital and two in ICU.

European Film Awards in Reykjavík Postponed to 2022

The European Film Awards will take place in Reykjavík in 2022, not this December as originally planned, due to COVID-19. A press release from the Icelandic government announced the decision to postpone the event. A digital ceremony will, however, be streamed live from Berlin on December 12, 2020.

“We were looking forward to welcoming our foreign guests this year and showing them everything we have to offer,” stated Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. “But this is the best option in the current situation in light of the pandemic.” Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir stated that the festival program will be “glorious and diverse,” “it will just not be this year.” She called the festival “a very exciting opportunity for Icelandic film culture and the film industry in this country,” adding that “we will make good use of it.”

The festival will be held in Harpa Concert Hall with the collaboration of national broadcaster RÚV.

Ischgl Authorities Ignored Warning from Iceland

Ischgl

According to correspondence and meeting minutes that news agency AFP has in their possession, the regional government of Tyrol in Austria ignored early warnings from Icelandic health authorities about the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the Austrian ski resort village Ischgl. The area later became a COVID-19 hotspot. Sixteen Icelanders are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus in the town. Mbl.is reported first.

More than 6,000 tourists reportedly contracted SARS-CoV-2 in Ischgl, many of them spreading the infection further in their home countries. Tyrol authorities have repeatedly stated that their response to the spread of the virus was adequate and sufficient based on the information available at the time. The documents in AFP’s possessions show, however, that they knew of likely infections at certain bars and downplayed this knowledge in messages to the public.

When Icelanders who had been in Ischgl tested positive upon returning to Iceland in early March, Icelandic authorities contacted Austrian officials to warn them of the possible spread of the virus in the resort town. Rather than heeding Icelandic authorities’ warning, Austrian officials decided to focus on the comments of two of these Icelanders, who stated they may have been infected on the plane ride home. These comments later headlined a press release from authorities.

Four Austrian officials are now under investigation for possibly endangering the public with their response to the virus. Several lawsuits have also been fined in connection with COVID-19 cases that have been traced to Ischgl.

Icelandair and airBaltic to Codeshare Flights Across Atlantic

icelandair airbaltic

AirBaltic has announced a partnership with Icelandair in which the two airlines will “codeshare” to provide flights between Europe and North America. The agreement means that both airlines can sell each others’ flights. The stated purpose is to provide both airlines’ customers convenient access to Iceland, North America, and the Baltics.

“By connecting Icelandair’s route network to airBaltic, we offer our customers more options when it comes to connections in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe,” stated Bogi Nils Bogason, Icelandair’s CEO. “On the other hand, airBaltic customers can take advantage of important connections to Iceland and across the ocean to a number of our destinations in North America. The collaboration strengthens Keflavík Airport as a connecting airport and supports an increase in tourists.”

CEO of airBaltic Marin Gauss stated the codeshare flights from Keflavík may connect to Budapest, Prague and Warsaw via Riga.

Icelandair has previously “codeshared” with US airlines jetBlue and Alaska Airlines.

Play Air to Fly to Six European Cities

When the operations of the budget airline Play get off the ground, its two Airbus planes will fly to six destinations in Europe: Alicante, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Paris, and Tenerife.

With reference to “confidential” documents from a presentation held by Íslensk verðbréf for investors last week, Kjarninn reported that the airline had already negotiated slots and service hours with airports in the cities and that it had also secured a deal on fuel with BP, with a fixed price for six months.

Play will be adding four more planes to its fleet in May of next year; two more planes, a year later; and in May of 2022, Play plans on operating a total of ten planes. More destinations will gradually be added (including four American cities next year).

Flights with Play will be sold as soon as the airline secures an operating license, which is expected to happen as soon as funding is completed. Play hopes to raise ISK 1.7 billion from private investors in Iceland. The airline has secured debt financing with the British investment fund Athene Capital to an amount of ISK 5.5 billion.

In an interview with Morgunblaðið yesterday, Play’s public relations officer María Margrét Jóhannsdóttir was not willing to confirm Kjarninn’s reports. María Margrét stated that the airline’s flight network would be introduced “very soon,” or as soon as it had been finalised: “We have not finalised anything; otherwise, we would have already made an announcement.”

As Iceland Review reported last Tuesday, Play – a new Icelandic airline – was founded from the bankruptcy of WOW air and will swap out WOW’s quintessential fuschia colour for red. According to Play’s CEO Arnar Már Magnússon, the colour red was chosen to represent passion as well as Icelandic nature. WOW Air was Iceland’s only budget airline.