Never More Strain on Hospital, Chief Physician Says

Emergency room

New rules took effect today at Iceland’s National University Hospital of Iceland due to increased strain and an outbreak of respiratory infections. Mask use is once again mandatory for outpatients and visitors, and visiting hours have been reduced. Chief Physician of the Infectious Diseases Ward Már Kristjánsson told RÚV it is “the most strain that we have ever seen the hospital under.”

Mandatory mask use

Mask use is mandatory in all interactions with patients as of today, January 4. Inpatients are not required to wear masks, but outpatients and their chaperones are required to do so. Visitors and others entering the hospital are also required to wear surgical masks. In departments where COVID-19 outbreaks occur, staff are required to wear fine particle (FFP2) masks.

Visiting hours have been shortened and will be between 4:30 and 7:30 PM on weekdays and 2:30-7:30 PM on weekends. The hospital recommends guests come one at a time and wash their hands upon entering the hospital.

Exceptions may be granted

Sibling visits to the children’s hospital are only permitted in consultation with the children’s ward staff. Exceptions to all of the new infection prevention regulations can be granted by department or shift managers.

Read more about the National Hospital’s persistent problem of patient flow.

Iceland’s COVID Restrictions Relaxed at Midnight, Lifted in Four Weeks

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

Iceland’s domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be relaxed at midnight tonight, and all remaining domestic restrictions are set to be lifted in four weeks, the country’s health authorities have announced. As of midnight, the general gathering limit will be raised from 500 to 2,000, mask use requirements will be lifted, and bars will be permitted to remain open one hour longer. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced the changes following this morning’s cabinet meeting.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist had sent the Health Minister a memorandum outlining three possible scenarios after the current domestic regulations expire: the first was to maintain the current COVID-19 restrictions, the second to relax restrictions in stages, and the third to lift all restrictions. The Health Minister and Prime Minister had previously sent the Chief Epidemiologist a memorandum that outlined the reasoning other Nordic countries had used in lifting all domestic restrictions. Those countries had determined that a majority-vaccinated population faced little risk from COVID-19 as a whole. Three-quarters of Iceland’s population, or 75%, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Svandís stated that if all goes well, all domestic COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in Iceland on November 18, 2021. Iceland maintains COVID-19 travel restrictions at its borders.

There are currently 562 active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, with seven people hospitalised due to the illness and zero patients in ICU.

Breaking: Domestic Restrictions Reimposed in Iceland

A 200-person gathering limit, one-metre distancing, and restricted opening hours for bars and nightclubs will be reimposed in Iceland just four weeks after all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 were lifted. The restrictions are based on recommendations from Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and were decided on at a lengthy cabinet meeting today. At a briefing in Reykjavík yesterday, Þórólfur stated that COVID case numbers were rising at an exponential rate despite the country’s high vaccination rates.

On June 26, Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19, one year and four months after the very first social restrictions were imposed due to the pandemic. The country also loosened border restrictions on July 1, allowing travellers with proof of vaccination or previous infection to enter the country without testing or quarantine. Infection rates have risen over the past two weeks, and Iceland now reports 371 active cases, up from 60 cases just eight days ago.

Restrictions, gathering limits, and masks

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir announced the new restrictions at 7:00 PM tonight following a three-hour cabinet meeting in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland. They include a 200-person gathering limit, mandated closing time of midnight for bars and nightclubs, and a general one-metre distancing rule between individuals who do not have a close relationship.

Swimming pools and gyms will remain open but may not operate above 75% capacity. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that mandatory mask use will also be reimposed for certain activities that will be announced later. Katrín stated that the restrictions decided on by the cabinet were for the most part in line with the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations.

The restrictions take effect tomorrow (July 24) at midnight and will remain in place until August 13.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Social Restrictions Take Effect Today

Laugardalslaug Pool Reykjavík.

Iceland’s national gathering limit rose from 20 to 50 today, while regulations governing gym, pool, and business operations were also relaxed. Iceland’s government announced the changes last Friday after its busiest vaccination week, where 40,000 received a jab of COVID-19 vaccine. The restrictions will remain in effect until May 26.

As of today, swimming pools, gyms, camping sites, and ski slopes in Iceland may operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%. Regulations were also relaxed for shops, which can now admit up to 200 customers (space allowing) and performing arts and athletic events, which host up to 150 seated guests per section, registered by name and ID number (kennitala).

Opening times were extended by one hour for restaurants and bars, which can now remain open until 10.00pm. All guests must leave the premises by 11.00pm. Two-metre distancing remains in effect, as does mandatory mask use in shops, on public transportation, and in all situations where distancing cannot be ensured.

Regulations Unchanged in Skagafjörður

The relaxations do not extend to the regions of Skagafjörður or Akrahreppur in North Iceland due to a group infection that emerged there last Friday. Seven have tested positive for COVID-19 in the municipalities, where primary schools and preschools have been closed and sports and recreational activities have been suspended.

Iceland currently has 100 active cases of COVID-19. Vaccination is progressing according to schedule: 37.6% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 14.6% are fully vaccinated. Icelandic authorities have introduced a plan to lift all social restrictions by late June of this year, when a majority of the nation is expected to have received at least one dose of vaccine.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Regulations Relaxed Today

skiing ski lift Iceland

Updated COVID-19 regulations take effect in Iceland today, raising the gathering limit from 10 to 20 people and allowing gyms and skiing grounds to reopen. The new regulations are set to remain in effect until February 17. Icelandic authorities are investigating whether stricter border regulations such as mandatory testing for arriving passengers are supported by Icelandic law.

While the COVID-19 pandemic grows in most of its neighbouring countries, Iceland has managed to keep domestic case numbers at a minimum. Total active cases have hovered around 150 for several weeks and Iceland currently has the lowest incidence rate of all countries reported on by the European Centre for Disease Control. In a briefing on Monday, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated it was time to relax domestic restrictions, while expressing concern at the risk presented by the high number of cases diagnosed at the borders.

Changes to Domestic Restrictions

As of today, the national gathering limit is 20, up from a record low of 10 which has been in effect since October 31. In addition, various activities and events have been granted exceptions to this general gathering limit. Gyms are permitted to reopen at 50% capacity with certain restrictions in place. Skiing grounds may also reopen. Athletic activities for adults and children are also permitted with a maximum of 50 participants and with certain restrictions in place. Athletic competitions are also permitted without a live audience.

In performing arts, up to 50 people may rehearse and perform together for up to 100 adults and 100 children in the audience. Audience members must have assigned seating and wear masks, and no intermissions are permitted during performances. Performers are also required to wear masks whenever possible.

Funerals are also excepted from the national gathering limit and may have up to 100 guests present (children born 2005 or later are not counted within this limit). Masks are mandatory. Funeral receptions may not host more than 20 people, however.

Mask use remains mandatory in shops, on public transport, and in all situations where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained. The two-metre social distancing rule also remains in effect. Bars and clubs remain closed.

Changes to Border Restrictions

One change to border restrictions also took effect today: children returning to the country from abroad are now required to quarantine along with their parents or guardians. Children were previously not required to do so, even while residing with others in travel quarantine. Children born in 2005 or later remain exempt from border testing, barring exceptional circumstances.

All travellers entering Iceland may choose between 14-day quarantine without testing, or a border test, five-day quarantine, and a follow-up test. While the vast majority of travellers opt for double testing, there have been indications of individuals in 14-day quarantine breaching regulations. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has expressed concern that travellers arriving from abroad could spread the virus into the community, leading to a surge in domestic cases.

As a result, Icelandic authorities are considering making border testing mandatory for all travellers, or requiring those who refuse testing to serve their 14-day quarantine at government-run facilities. It remains unclear, however, whether Icelandic law supports such regulations. Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has stated that a conclusion on the matter will be reached by the end of the week.

COVID-19 in Iceland: New School Regulations Take Effect Tomorrow

Borgarfjörður eystri

Tightened COVID-19 restrictions for schools take effect tomorrow, including mandatory mask usage for students in grade 5 and above. Tightened COVID-19 restrictions took effect in Iceland on Saturday, October 31, including a gathering ban on groups over 10 and mandatory mask usage in stores for everyone over the age of five. Preschools, primary schools, and music schools are closed today in the Reykjavík capital area in order to plan the implementation of the new restrictions. They will reopen tomorrow, November 3.

The regulations from primary schools (grades 1-10) are listed below.

  • Grades 1-4: Students are exempt from the 2-metre rule and are not required to wear masks. Up to 50 students may be in the same room. The same rules apply to after-school centres for students in grades 1-4.
  • Grades 5-10: No more than 25 students may be together in a single room. Both students and staff are required to keep a 2-metre distance from each other and use masks when distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Primary School Staff: No more than 10 staff members can be together in a single room. Staff are permitted to move between groups. Staff must maintain two-metre distancing between each other and from students in Grades 5-10. Where two-metre distancing is not possible, staff members are required to wear masks.
  • Gathering Limits and Group Separation: Students in primary schools and after-school centres shall be kept in the same groups which will remain separate. The gathering limit may be broken and group mixing is permitted in the school’s common areas as long as staff and students in grades 5-10 wear masks.
  • Athletics: Organised athletic activities and recreational programming for youth, including community centre programs for primary school children is not permitted.

Secondary Schools, Universities, and Music Schools

  • The general 10-person gathering limit applies, as well as mandatory 2-metre distancing and mask usage for universities, music schools, and secondary schools. For first-year mandatory subjects in secondary schools, groups of up to 25 students are permitted, as long as 2-metre distancing is maintained.
  • Mixing of students between groups is not permitted, but staff and teachers may move between groups. The gathering limit may be broken and group mixing is permitted in the school’s common areas as long as masks are worn.
  • Practical teaching, art, and clinical studies may be held outdoors with the same 10-person limit even when 2-metre distancing cannot be maintained. Mask use is, however, mandatory.

Teachers Oppose Exceptions for Young Students

The Primary School Teachers’ Association released a statement urging authorities to reconsider the regulations issued for schools. The statement argues that the decision to allow students in grades 1-4 to be in groups of up to 50 without requiring 2-metre distancing or the use of masks “seriously undermines” the objective of tightening COVID-19 regulations.

The association says it is not disputing research that shows children are less likely to contract and spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It points out, however, that the general regulations that took effect on Saturday are meant to apply to everyone born before 2015.

Mask Use Mandatory on Reykjavík Buses

straeto covid-19

All passengers and drivers on Reykjavík’s public bus system Strætó are required to wear face masks as of today. Mask use remains mandatory on Strætó’s long-distance bus service throughout the countryside. Children born in 2005 or later are exempted from this rule.

The mask requirement is in line with tightened COVID-19 restrictions which took effect across the country today. “Customers in the capital area and in the countryside who do not wear face masks will therefore not be allowed to use public transport,” a notice on Strætó’s website reads.

Buses are exempt from the newly-imposed gathering limit of 20, perhaps one reason why mandatory mask use has been implemented inside the vehicles. Customers are responsible for providing their own face masks and are reminded to avoid travelling by bus if they have flu symptoms.

Shopping Malls Emphasise Mask Use

Both Kringlan and Smáralind shopping malls are placing additional emphasis on mask use in their operations, Vísir reports. Kringlan administration has suggested all stores in the shopping mall institute a mandatory mask policy for staff. Smáralind authorities have also recommended the use of masks wherever possible.

Mask use is mandatory in Iceland for all services where one-metre distancing cannot be maintained, such as at hair salons and massage parlours. As of today, it is also mandatory for audience members in theatres.

Masks Required in Secondary Schools and Universities

face mask

Students, teachers, and other staff in secondary schools and universities in the capital area will be required to wear masks within school buildings and during all school operations, according to the Ministry of Education’s recently updated guidelines. The updated guidelines are based on the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestion to the Minister of Health. Masks were delivered to schools early this morning.

The masks will ensure the continued operations of schools and universities. The notice from the Ministry of Education reveals that mask use in schools outside the capital area will be subject to circumstances, each school’s situation and the local spread of contagion.

The guidelines urge that masks be used correctly, a social distance of 1 metre and personal hygiene be respected, and outside visitors limited as much as possible.

 

Police May Now Issue Fines for Mask-Wearing Violations

face mask

Police may now fine individuals anywhere from ISK 10,000 – 100,000 [$74 – $737; €62 – €617] for not wearing a mask in a place where mask-wearing is required, Kjarninn reports. Newer, harsher fines for violations of social distancing and quarantine regulations went into effect on August 14.

Per the current regulations (in English, here), face masks must be worn:

  • On all international and domestic flights in Iceland.
  • On passenger ferries, if the 2-metre distance rule cannot be followed. (Note that there is no need for masks if passengers are inside their vehicles, on board the ferry.)
  • On other public transport if there are no measures taken to maintain the 2-metre distance between persons. It is especially important to use masks when travelling by coach from the airport after border screening and during longer travel in coaches. In city/local buses, however, where the journey normally lasts for less than 30 minutes, masks are not required. There primarily vulnerable persons should use a mask.
  • At services provided by hair salons, massage parlours, physical therapists, dentists, optometrists and visiting nurses.
  • In all other circumstances, numerical restrictions and the 2-metre physical distancing rule apply and face masks cannot replace these measures.

The new fining guidelines also allow for business operators and/or company representatives to be fined from ISK 100,000 – 500,000 [$737 – $3,683; €617 – €3,086] for not enforcing mask usage and/or a distance of two metres between clientele who do not share a home on their premises.

Fines remain in place for breaking quarantine and/or isolation regulations. Police may now also fine individuals for being present an event with more attendees than is legally allowed under current gathering restrictions.

As all of these fines are on a sliding scale, police are given discretion to decide how much to charge someone who breaks social distancing, mask, or quarantine regulations, depending on how serious the infraction is.

The first of such fines was levied in April. The individual in question was supposed to be in quarantine after returning to Iceland from abroad, but was discovered to be violating quarantine when he was arrested in downtown Reykjavík after acting belligerently and kicking cars. The man was fined ISK 50,000 [$368; €308].

Changes to Current COVID-19 Restrictions from Minister of Health

face mask

Current regulations regarding mask use and the number of customers in stores and swimming pools have been updated by Minister of Health Svandís Svarasdóttir. The Minister decided to make the updates to the current COVID-19 restrictions that took effect on July 31 following a recommendation from the Chief Epidemiologist. The updated restrictions will stand for the same duration, until August 13.

Mandatory Mask Use and 50% Capacity at Pools

Firstly, the updated regulations will make mask use mandatory for all trips on public transportation lasting longer than 30 minutes. There had been confusion on this issue recently following contradicting statements from Strætó representatives.

The changes also clarify how many customers are permitted in stores and swimming pools at one time, applying the same regulations used earlier this year. In addition to upholding 2-metre distancing, pools will not be permitted to operate at over 50% capacity.

The changes also ban the granting of exemptions for events that may encourage gatherings past 11.00pm, the time when bars and restaurants are currently mandated to close.