Awareness of Off-Road Driving Ban Lacking in Iceland

Off-road driving marks in the Central Highland

Three Italian tourists have pleaded guilty to off-road driving in Iceland’s Central Highland, north of Vatnajökull glacier. Off-road driving is illegal in Iceland and those who are caught must pay hefty fines. The director of the Travel Association of Fljótsdalshérað, East Iceland, says more must be done to ensure foreign tourists are aware of the ban.

Þórhallur Þorsteinsson has been working in tourism in East Iceland for decades. He posted pictures of the damage done by the three Italians on his Facebook page, calling the deep tire tracks among the worst he’s ever seen.

Þórhallur told Vísir he’s tired of seeing such damage and says tourism operators and the government must do more to get the message across that off-road driving is illegal in Iceland. Smyril Line, which operates the ferry between mainland Europe and Seyðisfjörður, East Iceland, as well as car rental companies, the Environment Ministry, and the municipality of Múlaþing, East Iceland, are a few of the parties Þórhallur mentioned as bearing the responsibility to educate tourists on the fragile environment they are visiting in Iceland, that takes decades to recover from damage caused by off-road driving.

When tourists lack awareness of the off-road driving ban, damage can lead to even more damage. “Then tourists come and see an old circle made off-road. Then they take a spin themselves; think about doing it themselves. ‘Why not me?’” Þórhallur explains.

In addition to tourism operators and local authorities, Þórhallur says the Icelandic government bears the largest responsibility to ensure off-road driving does not happen.

The three Italian tourists have been fined several hundred thousand Icelandic krónur, or thousands of euros, for the offence.

One Violation of Official COVID-19 Measures Per Day

Police officers in masks

Since the government’s current social restrictions took effect on July 25 and until August 4, eleven violations of official measures against COVID-19 have been registered with the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, Mbl reports. This amounts to an average of one violation per day for this fourth wave of the pandemic.

Act on Health Security and Communicable Diseases

From the onset of the COVID pandemic in Iceland – on March 1, 2020 – a total of 392 violations of the Act on Health Security and Communicable Diseases have been registered with the Icelandic police.

These violations include the flouting of mask mandates; the contravention of public-gathering limits; the violation of the one or two-metre rule respectively; the operation of bars, clubs, coffeehouses, or restaurants beyond lawful limits; and the disregarding of mandatory quarantine or self-isolation.

Fines issued to 22% of violators

Individuals who violated COVID-19 quarantine or self-isolation regulations accounted for 38% of the registered offences since March of last year, amounting to a total of 147 infractions, while 62% of the violations involved companies, restaurants, bars, etc. exceeding the limit for public gathering (totaling 245 infractions).

Of the 392 violations that have been registered with the police, 119 cases, or 22%, are currently being processed for fines; 35% of the violations are still being investigated; and 43% were not deemed serious enough to warrant fines.

Cases are considered in the “fine-process” if the police has decided to issue a fine, although cases may be in different stages of processing: the fine may have already been issued, may have already been received by the offender, or may have already been paid. 349 individuals and 64 companies are being fined and, in some instances, for more than one violation.

Over 100 new infections yesterday

103 new COVID-19 cases were reported yesterday, which is a third fewer than on the day previous (a record 154 new cases were registered on July 30). 3,41% of those individuals who were screened yesterday tested positive.

Authorities Investigate Extensive Airbnb-Related Tax Fraud

iceland real estate

With data from Airbnb in hand, the Directorate of Tax Investigations suspects that many Icelandic residents were guilty of tax fraud between 2015 and 2018, Fréttablaðið reports. Some of the offences are considered wide-ranging and serious, with fines, and in some instances, jail sentences being considered.

Billions of unpaid taxes

At the end of 2018, the Director of Tax Investigations sent a letter to Airbnb Ireland requesting information concerning payments made to Icelandic residents. Airbnb complied with the request in August of 2020, at which point the tax authorities began their investigation. Other enquiries have, however, served to delay the Airbnb probe.

According to Theodóra Emilsdóttir, appointed Director of Tax Investigations, the ongoing probe is proceeding well, although it remains unclear how many cases will be officially investigated. In addition to a reconsideration of tax payments, the Directorate may also levy fines and, in some instances, seek jail time. The most serious cases would be sent to the district attorney and could wind up in court, which would likely conclude with fines or jail sentences,” Theodóra remarked.

Airbnb paid an estimated ISK 25.1 billion to Icelandic residents between the years 2015 and 2018, with unreported earnings likely amounting to tens of millions of króna.

Worth Ca. ISK 15 billion in 2017

In February of 2018, Statistics Iceland estimated that the total number of overnight stays in Iceland in 2017 had amounted to approximately 10,500,000, with the total number of overnight Airbnb stays amounting to approximately 1,700,00 (worth ca. ISK 14.7 billion, which was up from ISK 11.8 billion in 2016).

In 2019, Mbl.is reported that up to 70% of apartments in given streets had been registered on Airbnb, many of whom were being operated without the necessary permits.

Suspended Prison Sentence, 800K Fine for Defamation of Character

The Reykjavík District Court handed down a four-month suspended prison sentence for lewd conduct and significant defamation of character to a local man on Thursday, RÚV reports. The man has also been sentenced to pay his former fiancé ISK 800,000 [$5,792; €4,931] in damages.

Per the court ruling, in December 2018, the man sent his ex’s then-boyfriend messages saying that she was dishonest and repeatedly calling her names. He then sent a sexual video of the woman to her boyfriend and three other people. The District Court found that in so doing, the man had shamed, insulted, and degraded the woman.

The man openly admitted his offenses to the court and did not contest the charges made against him.

Three Tourists Arrested, Fined for Breaking Quarantine

Police officers in masks

Three foreign tourists were arrested in a downtown Reykjavík restaurant on Saturday for violating quarantine protocols after their arrival in Iceland, Vísir reports. Each of them were fined ISK 250,000 [$1,797; €1,545] and they were sent home on Sunday.

Authorities immediately suspected that the trio did not intend to abide by quarantine regulations when they arrived in Iceland on Thursday, although they have declined to explain what raised their suspicions. As such, the travellers were specifically reminded of the regulations at the airport and, just to be sure, members of the contact tracing team visited the residence where they were staying in town that evening to remind them of the rules. Another visit was made to the tourists’ residence on Saturday night, but none of them were there. Instead, police found them in a restaurant around 10pm.

The trio were not the only visitors found to be breaking quarantine on Saturday. Earlier that evening, another foreign traveller was arrested after he tried to pick a fight on Laugarvegur in downtown Reykjavík. The man had just arrived in Iceland and was also supposed to be in quarantine. He was arrested and will likely be fined as well, although his case has not yet been settled.

In a Facebook post accompanied by a picture of three officers wearing masks and protective jumpsuits, capital-area police urged people to take quarantine regulations seriously. “Breaking quarantine is a grave matter. Such irresponsible behaviour can endanger the lives and safety of others!” read the post. “Respect quarantine—it’s a matter of life and death!”

Chief Superintendent Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson also explained how time-consuming it is for officers to go on call-outs related to quarantine violations. Two teams had to be reassigned from their normal duties and dress from head to toe in protective gear in order to find and collect just a few rule-breakers.

Ásgeir Þór waved off the idea that a language barrier could have played a part in the tourists’ misbehaviour, saying that authorities make certain that people understand the terms of quarantine and “how they need to behave” upon their arrival to the country. “Whatever they say—this was intentional.”

English Footballers Fined for Breaking Quarantine in Iceland

English national football players Mason Greenwood (18) and Phil Foden (20) have been fined ISK 250,000 ($1,780/€1,510) each for breaking quarantine rules while in Iceland for a match with England’s national men’s team last weekend, Vísir reports. The players have both issued apologies for meeting two Icelandic women in their hotel, a violation of the “working quarantine” regulations visiting athletes are required to follow.

Foden, who has a girlfriend and one-year-old son, has issued an apology on his Twitter page. In the statement, he admitted to breaching COVID-19 protocols, calling it a “poor decision” that “didn’t meet the standards expected of [him].” Foden apologised to team manager Gareth Southgate, as well as staff, supporters, and his family.

Greenwood’s apology, issued via Manchester United, was more concise. “Having now had the chance to reflect on what’s happened, I can only apologise to everyone for the embarrassment I have caused,” it reads. “It was irresponsible of me to break the COVID-19 protocols which are in place to protect players, staff and the public.” Greenwood also apologised to Southgate and promised he would learn from the incident.

Women Express Regret

The two women who met with Greenwood and Foden have both expressed regret over the incident, stating they were not aware the players were in quarantine. Lára Clausen (18), one of the young women, posted a series of videos on her Instagram account last night taking responsibility for recording the videos of the players, which she says were leaked from her private Snapchat account. Lára called the meeting a “huge mistake and complete thoughtlessness” on her part. “I honestly had no idea how famous these boys were. I don’t follow football and never have and had no idea what I was putting on the internet.” Lára stated that the players did not tell the women they were in quarantine.  “If we had known better we would have never gone, knowing they were in quarantine.”

Nadía Sif Líndal, the other local who met with the players, posted several Instagram stories insisting that she did not know the players were in quarantine and did not record the Snapchat videos or leak them to the media. Both girls have faced harassment on social media due to the incident. Politicians Hanna Katrín Friðriksson and Helga Vala Helgadóttir are among several public figures that have denounced the vitriol. “Raise your hand if you’ve never done anything stupid,” Helga Vala wrote in a Facebook post about the incident. “Shouldn’t we give them a bit of a break?”

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].

First Fine Issued for Quarantine Violation

Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Víðir Reynisson

The first fine for a quarantine violation was issued in the capital area on Friday, RÚV reports. The fine recipient recently flew into Iceland from abroad but was not abiding by the mandatory 14-day quarantine that all Icelandic residents must observe upon arriving in the country, regardless of where they travelled from. The person was fined ISK 50,000 ($350/€320).

Fines related to social distancing regulations were instated in late March. Fines can be issued for violating mandatory quarantine or isolation, attending a gathering of more than 20 people, or organising such a gathering. The fine amounts depend on the severity of the infraction. The highest possible fine for not staying in quarantine for the mandatory 14 days is ISK 250,000 ($1,740/€1,600).

RÚV has confirmed that police were working on the first gathering ban fines last week, but was unable to confirm the number of citations or the fine amounts. (Anyone who attends a gathering of 20 or more people can be fined ISK 50,000 ($360/€320), while the organiser of the event can be fined up to ISK 500,000 ($3,590/€3,240).

Civil Protection and Emergency Management Division manager Víðir Reynisson told reporters that reports of gathering ban violations did not increase after authorities announced that COVID-19 infections are on the decline in Iceland, and yet, he said, it still seemed that many people are “behaving like cows in springtime.”

Steep Fines for Gathering, Quarantine Violations

Director of the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Víðir Reynisson

Violations of Iceland’s current quarantine and gathering ban regulations will now be punishable with fines of ISK 50,000-500,000 ($360-3,590/€320-3,240). The new penalties were announced on Friday in an order issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The fines will be levied throughout Iceland “for violations of the Minister of Health’s rules related to the gathering ban, the closure of public meeting places and activities, as well as on the isolation of those infected [with COVID-19] and quarantine.”

The amount of the fines issued will depend on the severity of the infractions. Fines for those who are supposed to go into or stay in quarantine but do not can range from ISK 50,000-250,000 ($360-1,790/€320-1,620), while those who do not abide by isolation mandates can be fined as much as ISK 500,000 ($3,590/€3,240). Anyone who attends a gathering of 20 or more people can be fined ISK 50,000 ($360/€320), while the organiser of the event can be fined up to ISK 500,000 ($3,590/€3,240).

“We’re just going to have to have bad hair for the next few weeks”

While the regulations on large gatherings have mostly been observed, police say not everyone is taking them seriously enough. “There are way too many reports about people in quarantine who are going out to the shops,” remarked Víðir Reynisson, the Manager of the Police Commissioner’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management Division, during a press conference on Friday. Proper distancing protocols are not always being followed in shops, either, he continued, and they have indication that individuals in certain service professions, such as hairdressers, have continued to cut hair from their homes.

“Come on – we haven’t put this ban in place for no reason,” Víðir sighed. “We’re just going to have to have bad hair for the next few weeks. We just have to live with it.”

“Society’s on hold for now”

Víðir closed the press conference by urging people to really consider the circumstances before applying for an exemption from the gathering ban. “This gathering ban and these limitations are in place to save lives,” he said. “We see the situation in the intensive care unit right now. This is why we’re doing this. Don’t apply for exemptions for activities that can wait. We all know that society is basically on hold for now and will be even more so in the up-and-coming. We just have to adjust to the circumstances. There’s a better time ahead, summer’s coming – we just have to work together until then.”

Drivers Face New Fines for Children Not Wearing Seat Belts

Route 1 Iceland

As of this weekend, Suðurnes police in South Iceland will be issuing tickets to drivers traveling with children in their vehicles who are not in car seats or wearing seat belts, RÚV reports.

Police spent part of last week at preschools in the Reykjanesbær municipality, monitoring the child safety measures that drivers had in place in their cars. According to a post on the Suðurnes police Facebook page, the “situation was…not good.” In fact, police found that one in ten children encountered during their rounds were neither wearing seat belts nor in car seats.  As such, police have decided to “take a different approach” and fine drivers who are not in compliance with existing child safety laws.

Police were adamant that it didn’t matter if the car trip was a short one, or if parents were running late. No matter the reason, their post read, “[n]ot putting children in the safety equipment required by law is not okay, and having examined this issue and seen the state of things over the last few days, we’ve got to put our feet down and apply sanctions.”

The new fine for not putting a child in a car seat or seat belt in a car is ISK 30,000 ($250/€217).