COVID-19 in Iceland: Free Rapid Tests Possible Key to Looser Restrictions

Harpa concert hall

Public health insurance will cover the cost of rapid antigen tests as of September 20, including those required by private organisations such as concert venues. The aim is to increase the public’s access to rapid antigen tests and enable more parties to offer testing free of charge. Current domestic COVID regulations allow events of up to 1,500 guests provided attendees undergo rapid testing. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told Fréttablaðið that rapid tests could be the key to a more open society in the coming weeks.

When the pandemic began, Icelandic health authorities at first used exclusively PCR tests to screen for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Rapid antigen tests were approved for use much later and have only come into general use in recent weeks for border testing and for individuals who are not required to quarantine but may have been exposed to the virus.

In support of culture

New domestic regulations came into effect on September 15, raising the general gathering limit from 200 to 500 people. Events with up to 1,500 guests are permitted if all guests supply negative rapid test results. “In order for the introduction of rapid tests to serve its purpose of increasing people’s opportunities to attend a variety of events and pursue cultural activities, it is important to have easy access to rapid tests and that their cost is not cumbersome,” a government notice states.

The capital area healthcare service has offered rapid testing at Suðurlandsbraut 34 in Reykjavík, and other public healthcare centres offer rapid testing in various regions of the country. Private providers currently offer rapid tests at BSÍ, Kringlan, and Kleppsmýrarvegur in Reykjavík; Aðalgata 60 in Reykjanesbær; and the University of Akureyri in North Iceland.

The regulation comes into effect on September 20 and is valid until the end of this year.

“The story continues:” Historic Iðnó Reopens Tomorrow

Iðnó Iceland Airwaves 2019

One of Reykjavík’s most historic buildings, theatre and event space Iðnó, will reopen tomorrow, putting an end to a closure that lasted nearly one and a half years. The venue’s new managers promise it will stay open from morning till night and welcome locals and visitors of all ages. The venue was forced to close in May 2020, around two months after the COVID-19 pandemic reached Iceland.

Iðnó reopens with a bang tomorrow, September 18, offering a full program of children’s events during the afternoon and live music in the evening. Iðnó (or Iðnaðarmannahúsið as it is rarely called), was built in 1896 and was first home to the Reykjavík Theatre Company, one of the country’s oldest cultural organisations still in operation. The building has been a hub of cultural activities for decades and has housed many a historic event, including a party for Christian X, King of Denmark, when he visited Iceland in 1921.

The venue’s new management has freshened up the building, including removing carpets to reveal original flooring and putting on a fresh coat of paint. Guðfinnur Karlsson of Prikið, Iðnó’s head manager, told Vísir the venue’s doors will be open to all. “It’s not just for members of Parliament. This is the house of the people, and never more so than now.”

The Reykjavík International Literary Festival Begins Today

The Reykjavík International Literary Festival (RILF) begins today, Wednesday, September 8 and continues through Saturday, September 11. International authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Saša Stanišić, and Leïla Slimani will be among the attendees, as will some of the most exciting emerging and established voices on the Icelandic literary scene.

RILF has been held every two years since it began in 1985—this is its 15th installment. It brings local literati together with authors, agents, and publishers from all over the world. This year’s opening remarks will be given by American journalist and writer Barbara Demick, who will address the subject of writers combating authoritarianism. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche will give the Keynote Address on Friday. On the last day of programming, First Lady Eliza Reid will take part in a conversation on “Icelanders’ Self-image in Literature and a Different Perspective.”

All programs are free and open to the public; most are in English. See the full schedule of events on the RILF website here.

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

face mask

Stricter COVID-19 measures took effect this morning in the Reykjavík capital area, including reinstating of the 2-metre rule and the closure of swimming pools and hair salons. The new measures are a further tightening of nationwide restrictions imposed by Icelandic authorities just two days ago. Iceland reported 99 new domestic cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the highest number since the third wave began around September 15. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says it will take at least one to two weeks for the new restrictions to affect daily case numbers.

Closures and Two-Metre Distancing

The Health Minister approved the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations for further restrictions in the Reykjavík area yesterday and the measures went into effect at midnight last night. The restrictions are as follows:

  • The two-metre social distancing rule has been reinstated and applies everywhere, including all schools, except in the case of children born in 2005 or later.
  • All businesses whose services require close proximity have been ordered to close, including hair salons, beauty parlours, massage parlours, and tattoo parlours. (Healthcare services are exempt from this regulation but masks must be worn at all times.)
  • Swimming pools have been closed, though swimming classes for children born 2005 or later will continue.
  • Indoor athletic activities requiring close proximity or contact between individuals or shared equipment are not permitted.
  • Outdoor athletic events may take place. Audience members may not exceed 20 in each separate section, must sit in numbered seats and are required to wear masks.
  • Audience members may not exceed 20 in theatres, movie theatres, at concerts, and at all similar events, and must sit in numbered seats and wear masks.
  • Bars and clubs shall remain closed. Restaurants that are permitted to remain open must close no later than 9.00pm.
  • Customers are required to wear masks in stores where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained.

The regulations will remain in effect until October 19 at the earliest.

Events Cancelled for Coming Weeks

Following recommendations from authorities, many other institutions have postponed or cancelled events scheduled during the next two weeks. The National Theatre and the Reykjavík City Theatre have cancelled all performances in the next 14 days. The National Church has also sent a memorandum to its staff recommending that in-person services, as well as music rehearsals, be cancelled for the month of October but encouraged staff to continue providing services and organising events via online streaming.

Outside of the capital area in Iceland, measures remain somewhat milder. Swimming pools and salons remain open and a one-metre distancing rule is in effect. The same 20-person gathering limit is, however, in effect across the country, as well as the closure of bars and clubs and restaurants’ mandated closing time of 9.00pm. Residents of the capital area have been asked to refrain from leaving the region as much as possible.