All This Weekend’s Parties: Iceland Celebrates First Friday Out Since Lifting of COVID Restrictions

Bankastræti club nightlife post COVID

The lifting of all COVID-19 social restrictions on Friday, February 25 was big news for the nation, but particularly anticipated by stalwarts of the capital’s nightlife and clubbing scene, the weekly all-hours party known as the djamm. Friday was the first weekend evening since last summer that bars and clubs have been open without gathering restrictions or social distancing precautions. Vísir reports that police were prepared for an above-average number of callouts and disturbances and had increased their presence in downtown Reykjavík but say that there were actually fewer incidents than expected.

See Also: Iceland Lifts All COVID-19 Restrictions

“There were plenty of people downtown. People seemed to just be having a good time and there were only a few nightlife-related incidents that the police had to intervene in. So we’re just—the police are feeling good after the night,” remarked Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, superintendent of the capital-area police.

The lifting of restrictions in neighbouring countries has led to an increase in disturbances and incidents leading to police intervention, noted Ásgeir Þór, but that was thankfully not the case in Reykjavík on Friday.

‘It’s possible that after two years, another kind of culture has emerged’

“Compared to a typical party night before COVID, there were far fewer problems than we’ve had on a night like this,” Ásgeir Þór said.

It’s possible that Friday’s poor weather played a part in the relative quiet of the evening’s festivities, but police believe that there’s another explanation, namely that two years of on-and-off COVID restrictions has actually changed Iceland’s nightlife culture for good.

“It’s possible that after two years, another kind of culture has emerged. I don’t know,” concluded Ásgeir Þór. The police were planning to maintain increased vigilance downtown on Saturday evening, but at time of writing were hopeful that Saturday’s parties would go off without major incident.

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.

Cat Shelters Struggle to Keep Up as Owners Give Up COVID Pets

This cat is not Gunnlaugur

There’s been spike in the number of homeless cats taken in by Icelandic shelters this autumn, RÚV reports. The exact reason for this is unknown, but Arndís Björg Sigurgeirsdóttir, director of the Villikettir cat shelter, says that it may be a result of COVID restrictions relaxing: people who got pets during the pandemic are giving those animals up now that they aren’t stuck at home.

“We were really afraid of this during COVID,” Arndís remarked. “That people who were getting bored at home would get cats as cuddly pets.” An increasing number of former pets are now wandering the streets, she continued.

Exacerbating the situation was a popular rumor that there was a shortage of kittens available in Iceland during the pandemic. This led to some people adopting cats for the purposes of selling them.

Villikettir, whose name means ‘wild cat’ or ‘feral cat’ in Icelandic, has traditionally focused its efforts on caring for cats that were never domesticated as pets and had never lived in homes. Now, however, they are also trying to take care of stray cats that have been accustomed to living indoors and having regular food and care.

“I don’t know if people realized what a responsibility [cats are]. They’ve been chosen as pets because a lot of people think they just take care of themselves.”

If you’re interested in supporting Villikettir with donations, providing a foster home for a cat prior to its adoption, or assisting in many other ways, see the organization’s website (in Icelandic) here.

Reykjavík Marathon Hasn’t Run Out of Hope for 2021 Race

Organizers are considering what, if any, options they have for holding the Reykjavík Marathon this year in a way that abides by current COVID control measures, Vísir reports. The marathon was not held last year because of the pandemic.

The Reykjavík Marathon is the biggest race of the year in Iceland and is currently set to take place on August 21. About 15,000 people take part every year. However, current gathering restrictions are set at a maximum of 200 people.

Current COVID control measures will be in effect until August 13 and there’s a fair amount of uncertainty about what will happen after that.

Silja Úlfarsdóttir, information officer for the Reykjavík Sports Association (ÍBR), says that organizers haven’t given up hope of holding the race in some form this year. Staff is currently assessing the situation in consultation with civil defense authorities.

“We were pretty optimistic about being able to hold the race this year, but we’re taking a closer look at it. We’re still relatively optimistic, though.”

A number of socially distanced running initiatives were launched last year when the marathon was cancelled and gyms had to be closed. One was ‘Run Your Way!’ which encouraged would-be marathoners to run on their own and collect money for charity. Another was ‘Let’s Run Around the World,’ which allowed participants to participate in a virtual relay race around the world.

Silja says that there are a lot of ideas on the table, but can’t comment on which direction race organizers are leaning just yet. “The dream, of course, is to be able to hold the marathon, because the [donations collected] are so important for all the charities.”

She says that participating runners have been understanding about the uncertainty: “I think people have just gotten pretty used to this and know that people just need a little time to make decisions about these things.”

ÍBR will announce its decision about this year’s Reykjavík Marathon in the coming days.

Westmans Postpone Þjóðhátíð

Þjóðhátíð, the festival held in the Westman Islands every Merchant’s Weekend and one of Iceland’s biggest multi-day events, has been postponed, although organizers still hope to hold it later this summer. This was announced by festival committee chair Hörður Orri Grettisson on the Þjóðhátíð website on Monday.

The postponement comes as a result of tightening restrictions aimed at stemming the exponential rise of recent COVID-19 infections, including a ban on gatherings of more than 200 people. Previous Þjóðhátíðs have drawn as many as 16,000 attendees—nearly four times the population of Heimey, the island the festival takes place on. As recently as last week, organizers said they had no intention of cancelling the festival, and that “precautions with personal infection control” and regular sanitation would be sufficient.

See Also: Domestic Restrictions Reimposed in Iceland

Organizers have asserted that the festival, funds from which support ÍBV [the Westman Islands football club] is vital to not only ÍBV’s youth programming but also the Westmans’ local economy. They have, as such, not given up on the idea of holding the festival this year. “It is our belief that it will be possible to hold the festival in some form later this summer. A decision will be made no later than August 14.”

In the meantime, those who bought tickets have three options: they can receive a refund in August, donate the price of their ticket to ÍBV, or transfer their ticket to next year’s festival in 2022.

A slimmed-down and virtual version of the festival will also take place. The Sunday night program, which includes performances by the band Albatross and a performance of this year’s official festival song, will be streamed online and viewable from anywhere in the world. Tickets for the online event are being sold on tix.is.

 

No Plans to Cancel Þjóðhátíð

There are no plans to cancel this year’s Þjóðhátíð, a festival held annually on Merchant’s Weekend on Heimey Island in the Westman Islands, RÚV reports.

In spite of a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases around Iceland and tightening measures to prevent a more serious outbreak, authorities have yet to impose any gathering bans that would prevent organizers from holding the festival, which is one of the biggest multi-day events in Iceland. In past years, it’s drawn as many as 16,000 attendees—nearly four times the population of Heimey.

“We are determined to put on this Þjóðhátíð,” said chair of the festival committee Hörður Orri Grettisson. “From here out, just as up until now, this all depends on us. We have to take precautions with personal infection control, sanitize often, and do it well. This is how we’re going to prevent ourselves from getting infected.”

Hörður says that ticket sales and planning, which have been underway since the start of the year, have been successful thus far. Organizers are assessing the situation on a day-by-day basis in meetings with Westman Island police and civil defense authorities, he continued.

But if the festival had to be cancelled for the second year in a row, it would have serious economic consequences for Westman residents and businesses, Hörður said. “It would, naturally, be a devastating blow, particularly for ÍBV [the Westman Islands football club]. This is by far their biggest fundraiser. All their work with children and teens depends on this festival going well.”

The financial consequences would also extend to companies based in other places around Iceland, Hörður continued. (Indeed, among other things, the weekend necessitates an uptick in both ferry crossings to the Westmans and short flights booked with tour companies to the island.) “Tourism, restaurants, etc—many of them live or die with this weekend. People have probably booked in for the weekend and such. So [cancelling] would just be a devastating blow.”

Breaking: Iceland Drastically Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions

mask use social distancing

Icelandic authorities have announced a drastic tightening of COVID-19 regulations that takes effect at midnight tonight and will last for at least three weeks. The national gathering limit will drop from 50 to 10, with bars, swimming pools, gyms, and schools being closed as of tomorrow. At a press conference in Reykjavík this afternoon, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed her hope that immediate, drastic measures would minimise the spread of the virus and shorten the time it took the wave of infection to pass.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review‘s live-tweeting of the briefing. 

 

Stay tuned for a live-tweeting of Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefing beginning shortly at 3.00pm UTC. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is expected to announce tighter restrictions following an uptick in cases over the last few days. 12 of the recently diagnosed cases are among children following a group outbreak at a Reykjavík elementary school.

The Prime Minister as well as the Ministers of Health, Education, and Finance are ready to begin the briefing in Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson are also present. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir starts by introducing the ministers and health authorities in attendance. “We’re not bringing happy news,” states Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir. Our methodology of testing and contact tracing has brought us success so far. For the past three months, we’ve had more freedom than other countries in Europe but now there are red flags we have to respond to.

We’ve been monitoring these new strains of the virus carefully. They’re more infectious and some might hit children harder than previous strains. Today, we will be announcing tighter restrictions but vaccination efforts are ongoing and many people are already protected. It is important to remember the fact that we see the end of this battle ahead. At a cabinet meeting, it was decided to act quickly with harsh restrictions to catch the situation before it has a chance to spread. Decisive, immediate action should mean that this will pass faster than if we had acted otherwise.

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir takes over to present the new regulations. The new rules take effect at midnight tonight across the entire country. The gathering limit will be lowered from 50 to 10 and all schools will close until after Easter break, which begins next week. The group infections have all been caused by the British variant of the virus, which is more infectious and causes more serious illness. The restrictions will now apply to all children born 2015 and earlier as the new variant affects children more harshly than others. As of tomorrow, religious gatherings can have up to 30 in attendance. Swimming pools and gyms will close.
Athletic training will halt. Bars and clubs will be closed. Restaurants remain open but must close by 10pm at night (one hour earlier than currently). Two-metre social distancing is mandatory in shops and there are limits on customers. Hair and beauty salons can remain open. Theatres and cinemas will be closed. These are the same regulations that took effect on October 30 last year and helped to curb the third wave of the pandemic. Schools will close today and remain closed until April 1.
They have the option of returning to remote learning or to prepare for how they will deal with the situation.

Vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume again and this time individuals 70+ will receive that vaccine. The message is clear. We will take charge of this situation quickly and securely.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson takes over, stating that it’s a disappointment to have to take these actions but that experts agree that it’s better to stop the spread quickly with harsh restrictions than to let it spread and take longer to die down. Some companies will feel the effect of the tightened restrictions, but Bjarni mentions that the closure grants for businesses are still available and will be extended. Support loans will also be extended. Other response initiatives for businesses such as postponement of taxes and reduced employment ratio benefits also remain in effect. We hope that this step will deal with the situation that has arisen and help fight it.

We’re fighting a pandemic that is unpredictable but we’re seeing the continued effect of vaccinations. We’ve gotten to know the virus at this point and we’ll continue to trust in the experts who are leading the effort and in the solidarity of the nation that has managed to curb the spread of the pandemic up until now. We’ll have to make an extra effort for the next three weeks at least.

The panel opens for questions. The Prime Minister says these measures will affect companies who are forced to close once more (bars, gyms, pools), as well as athletic clubs and the arts but we hope that by stepping in early, we can stop the spread fast. Asked about border restrictions, Katrín reiterates the success of the current regulations.

The changes to border restrictions introduced yesterday will remain in effect and no new restrictions at the border are being introduced today. Most notable in the border regulations that have taken effect: children will now also be tested upon arrival, as they’re more susceptible to the British variant than earlier variants.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson: When dealing with a global pandemic, and the deepest recession in 100 years, you can’t erase all its effects with government actions. The tourism industry is among the hardest hit but we’ve responded with actions intended to help that sector. We’re trying to minimise the effect of the pandemic, not trying to give unrealistic promises that it won’t affect anyone.

Our goal is to discourage people from gathering. A gathering limit of 10 will affect workplaces. Þórólfur takes over to discuss travel over Easter. Authorities are encouraging people to stay at home and not to travel. Vaccination efforts are ongoing and the Ministry of Health is continually looking into new ways of acquiring vaccines to achieve herd immunity as fast as possible, says Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Svandís states that she knows that people are impatient for updates to vaccine distribution schedules and dates of larger vaccine shipments and that she is impatient as well.

Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir: We need flexibility and courage to react in this way. The Ministers are giving individual interviews and the briefing has ended.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Gathering Limit Upped to 50

bar beer alcohol

Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions for swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, and bars will take effect in Iceland tomorrow. The current gathering limit of 20 will also be raised to 50. The changes were announced by Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir following a cabinet meeting this morning.

Iceland reported no new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday and total active COVID-19 cases in the country number just 17. The nation’s incidence rate is by far the lowest in Europe, and the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced that the domestic success in containing the pandemic warranted a relaxing of restrictions within the country. It’s a different story at the borders, where last week Icelandic authorities tightened regulations. All travellers arriving from abroad must present a negative PCR test certificate before departure in addition to undergoing double testing and five days of quarantine upon arrival.

Up to 200 May Gather for Sports, Performing Arts

“Probably the most important thing that stands out is that we’re raising this general gathering limit from 20 to 50,” Svandís told reporters after the cabinet meeting. “We still have the two-metre rule and masks and these general precautionary principles. We expect to allow up to 200 in certain activities, there we’re talking about museums and the like, but also performing arts and sports events where it is possible to ensure that there is one metre between unrelated parties and where it is possible to register information on each person. That is in order to ensure contact tracing if necessary.” Sports events may have up to 200 audience members, subject to the same seating and distancing conditions outlined above. Audience members at sports and performing arts events are required to wear masks.

Restaurants and Bars Open Later

In addition to being able to welcome more guests, restaurants and bars may remain open one hour longer starting tomorrow: until 11.00pm instead of the current 10.00pm limit. No new customers may be admitted after 10.00pm, however. All customers must be seated and served at their tables. Bar service is not permitted. Swimming pools and gyms will also see relaxed restrictions starting tomorrow. Both may operate at 75%, up from the current 50% limit.

Restrictions are further relaxed in schools, where up to 150 people may gather together and the general distancing guideline is one metre rather than two. Adult visitors will be once again permitted to enter primary and preschools.

The updated regulations will be valid for three weeks, though conditions are regularly reviewed by authorities. This is the third time general restrictions have been relaxed in Iceland since the beginning of the year. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stressed the importance of maintaining personal infection prevention such as handwashing and mask use to prevent another spike in infection if new domestic cases emerge.

COVID-19 In Iceland: Police Investigate Gathering Ban Infractions at Reykjavík Catholic Church

Landakotskirkja, Reykjavík Catholic Church

The police had an extensive presence at a six pm mass at Landakotskirkja Catholic church, following the 1 pm Mass, which was attended by more than 50 people, RÚV reports. That goes against infection prevention regulations in place, which state that a maximum of ten people is allowed to gather. The police are currently investigating alleged infection prevention regulation infractions at the church.

The police were called to Landakotskirkja church when a Polish Language mass started at 1 pm. At that point, two services had already taken place over the day. Another Polish-language mass was scheduled for three pm, a Rosary Prayer session at 5. 30 pm, an English-language mass at 6 pm and yet another mass at 7 pm.

This is the second time in a short period that brings news of alleged infection prevention regulation infractions in the church. Around 50 people were allegedly there on Christmas Eve. According to gathering bans currently in place, no more than 10 people can gather. That also applies to religious services, excluding funerals, where up to 50 people are allowed to gather.

No funeral was scheduled at 1 pm at Landakotskirkja. According to RÚV’s count from recordings on location, you could see at least 70 people over the age of fifteen.

The Catholic Bishop David Tencer had previously posted a notice on the church’s website stating that “A new regulation of the authorities on meeting restrictions will apply until January 12, 2021. The church life and catechism in each parish depend on the situation in the parishes and is, of course, carried out in accordance with all disease control rules.” It is not known if he was in attendance during the Polish-language mass yesterday.

A police officer counted the guests in the church. He also counted the ones exiting through the main doors, stating that they were 51. He also said some remained inside and that some church guests exited through a side door. “I myself was not at mass but a police officer told me that he counted 51 in the church”, Landakotskirkja parish priest Patrick Breen stated to a reporter after speaking to the police. “He told me that 10 is the limit. But I think that if we respect the two-metre-rule and people wear a mask, it’s ok to be up to 50 people because our church is so big.” When asked if he would consider allowing ten people to attend the next mass before shuttering the door, Patrick stated: “Ten, no. We would rather close the church. We’re not forbidding people to come to church. We won’t have a mass and only allow ten people inside, I just don’t think that’s an option.”

Just before the scheduled mass at 6 pm, several police officers were at the church. According to the Capital area police force, they will look into this alleged infraction this week along with other cases where they suspect infection prevention regulations were broken. A church representative will likely be asked to give a report on the incidents, following which they will decide if they will be charged.

Infection prevention regulation infractions were a hot topic over the festive period following reports of Iceland’s Minister of Finance Bjarni Ben attending a party over the gathering ban limits on December 23d.

When asked about the incident, Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson stated the first and foremost, the news made him sad. He told RÚV “everyone knows why we have these rules and what we’re doing. We’re trying to dispel a global pandemic. That’s why we have these regulations. If people don’t like and feel like they don’t apply to them, they can apply to the Ministry of Health for an exemption. That’s the correct procedure. Otherwise, everyone should be following the rules and in all but a very few cases, people do.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Restrictions Relaxed from December 10

Sundlaugin Laugardal

Social restrictions due to COVID-19 will be moderately relaxed in Iceland this Thursday, December 10. The country’s swimming pools will reopen at 50% capacity, while shops, schools, performing arts venues, and restaurants will also see moderately relaxed restrictions. The national gathering limit will remain at 10 people, though with several exceptions. The new regulations will remain in effect until January 12.

While Iceland saw a rise in new COVID-19 case numbers at the end of November, new domestic case numbers and overall active cases have been dropping in recent days. The country appears to have contained the current wave of cases.

Ten-Person Limit Still in Effect

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir just announced the updated COVID-19 restrictions that take effect this Thursday, December 10, following a government meeting that took place this morning. Current restrictions mandate a 10-person gathering limit across the country and bars, gyms, swimming pools are closed.

While the 10-person limit will remain in effect from December 10, several exceptions to the rule have been granted from that date. All shops will be permitted to take in 5 customers per 10 square metres up to a maximum of 100 customers. This regulation applies to non-essential shops as well.

Restaurants may take in up to 15 guests at a time (up from 10 previously) and may remain open until 10.00pm, one hour later than current regulations allow. They may, however, not admit any new guests after 9.00pm.

Performing Arts, Sports Permitted

Swimming pools may reopen on Thursday, though only at 50% capacity. Athletic activities for adults in the top league of the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland (ÍSÍ) will be permitted to restart. This applies to both contactless and contact sports.

Performing arts, currently banned, will be permitted again from Thursday. Groups of up to 30 performers are permitted to rehearse and perform together, and can entertain up to 50 seated, mask-wearing guests, though neither intermissions nor alcohol sales are permitted at performances. Funerals may have up to 50 guests.

Children born in 2005 or later will no longer be required to wear masks in schools, shops, or other locations. Preschools will no longer be required to keep classes separate.

Consensus Within Government

Svandís stated that the regulations are slightly different from Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations, though the changes were made in consultation with him. The Health Minister stated that there was consensus on the updated regulations within the government.

Asked whether the regulations would be sufficient to avoid a new wave after the holidays, Svandís stated: “If everyone follows the rules then they will be sufficient.” The regulations will be in effect until January 12.