Iceland to Lift All COVID Restrictions Next Week

On February 25, Iceland’s authorities plan to lift all remaining domestic restrictions due to COVID-19, the country’s Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has stated. This includes isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19, though those who are sick will still be encouraged to stay at home. Iceland’s National University Hospital continues to experience strain, particularly due to staff shortages caused by COVID illness.

Iceland reported 2,489 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, a national record. The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 is 54, with 3 currently receiving intensive care. As of this morning, 363 hospital staff members were in isolation due to COVID infection, a record for the hospital. Willum says authorities are considering lifting isolation requirements for hospital staff that is symptom-free. Iceland’s current domestic restrictions include a 200-person gathering limit and mask use when distancing cannot be ensured.

Responsibility shifts to individuals

Barring any unexpected changes, Willum says authorities plan to lift all remaining domestic restrictions on February 25, or Friday next week. This includes requiring those who are COVID-19 positive to isolate. “But then it’s important to remember, that just like in general when people get sick, you need to get better and be careful. The more we lift restrictions the more we appeal to the individual’s responsibility to take care of their health.

COVID-19 services transferred to local healthcare centres

COVID-19 healthcare services are also undergoing sweeping changes in Iceland. As of today, primary healthcare centres will take over most COVID-19 services and monitoring of COVID-19 patients, previously done by the National University Hospital’s COVID-19 ward. Individuals who are seriously ill due to COVID-19 and those in high-risk groups will still be serviced by the National University Hospital, however. Vaccination, which for capital area residents has been administered in a mass-vaccination centre set up in Laugardalshöll stadium, will also be moved to primary healthcare centres in two weeks.

No More Quarantine And Relaxed Restrictions Take Effect At Midnight

Following a government meeting this morning, Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson announced that considerably relaxed domestic infection prevention regulations will take effect at midnight tonight. Most notably, people will no longer be required to quarantine, meaning that close to 10,000 people will be released from quarantine. The new regulation will remain in effect until February 25, and barring any unexpected changes, the government hopes to lift all restrictions by the end of the month.

People already in quarantine will not be required to take a PCR test to be released from quarantine. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 will no longer be required to take special precautions, although it is still strongly advised. People with active COVID-19 infections will still need to isolate from others.

While infection regulations at the border will not change, the minister stated that a workgroup will introduce their suggestions for changes to border regulations “very soon”.

While new cases of COVID-19 in Iceland are increasing, hospitalisations have remained within a range of 25-45 since the beginning of the year. 38 are currently in hospital with COVID-19, 15 of which were hospitalised due to COVID-19 illnesses. Ten people have died from COVID-19 in Iceland this year, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Iceland to 54. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur GUðnason’s memorandum to the government stated that following recent restriction relaxations, there are strong indications that infections are increasing.

The Chief Epidemiologist notified the government that it is likely that following recent relaxation of restrictions, new cases of COVID-19 go unnoticed. Despite low hospitalisation rates (0.1% of infected people are hospitalised due to COVID-19 illness), an increase in infections can increase the strain on the hospital.

The changes to domestic regulations taking effect at midnight:

General gathering limits will be raised from 50 to 200 indoors. No gathering limits on crowds outdoors.

Shops no longer have gathering limits.

Events of up to 1,000 people will be allowed for seated events if everyone is wearing a mask. Intermissions will be allowed again, along with the sale of food and drinks during intermission.

Masks will be required if a social distance of 1 metre cannot be upheld.

Gyms, swimming pools, ski resorts, and spas will be allowed to operate at full capacity.

Sporting events and training are permitted with up to 200 spectators per compartment.

All restrictions on school operations lapse, making schools subject only to general gathering limits, with the option of further exceptions.

Elementary and upper secondary schools will be allowed to host events for their students with no infection prevention limitations.

Bars and restaurants are permitted to extend their opening hours by one hour. Establishments will be able to accept new guests until midnight, but all guests must have left the premises by 1:oo AM.

Health Minister to Relax COVID Restrictions Once Hospital Gives Go-Ahead

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

Iceland’s Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson is working on a plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions and hopes to present it by the end of this week, Vísir reports. Current domestic restrictions, including a 10-person gathering limit and closure of all bars and clubs, are valid until February 2. The situation at the National University Hospital is improving, with data showing COVID-19 illness is shorter and less severe than in previous waves.

“Thankfully the development in this pandemic has been and this wave that the numbers are working with us and we’re always looking at the healthcare system in particular in that respect, that we can handle the situation and are providing all healthcare services in the country,” Willum stated. New data shows that the hospitalisation rate and the average length of time COVID-19 patients spend in hospital have both reduced significantly. The average length of time the COVID-19 ward has to monitor patients isolating at home has also shortened.

Before relaxing restrictions, hospital must lower alert phase

Iceland’s National University Hospital declared an emergency phase on December 28 due to strain from COVID-19 cases among patients and staff. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management also declared an emergency phase earlier this month due to the pandemic. Authorities have since taken measures to ease strain on the hospital, including by negotiating a contract with a private healthcare clinic to address staffing issues.

Willum stressed that the Civil Protection Department and Hospital would need to lower their emergency phase before domestic restrictions could be relaxed. “As soon as we see that happen, then we can loosen restrictions,” he stated, adding that he expects the loosened restrictions to go further than raising the gathering limit to 20.

The Minister did, however, stress the importance of lifting restrictions in stages.

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.

Iceland Tightens Domestic COVID-19 Restrictions

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

Tighter domestic COVID-19 restrictions take effect in Iceland at midnight, Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced following a cabinet meeting this morning. The general gathering limit will be lowered from 20 to 10 people, and bars and clubs will be closed. Events and performances will not be permitted under the new rules – previously up to 200 guests could attend an event provided they presented a negative rapid test. The new rules will remain in force until February 2. 

At the press conference, Katrín Jakobsdóttir also announced that the government was preparing response measures to support tourism operators and event organisers. Insurance and tax deadlines for restaurants would also be postponed in order to ease financial strain in the restaurant industry. 

Iceland reported 1,113 new domestic cases yesterday and a total of 9,671 active cases. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that daily case number must be reduced to 500 in order to protect the healthcare system. There are currently 43 patients in hospital due to COVID-19, eight of whom are in intensive care. Some 140 hospital staff are in isolation due to COVID-19 infection. While Omicron has become the dominant variant in Iceland, the Delta variant continues to cause cases of serious illness, causing additional strain on the National University Hospital’s COVID-19 ward.

Swimming pools and gyms may continue to operate at 50% capacity as before. Regulations for schools and after-school centres will remain unchanged, although the Health Minister stated that authorities would monitor the situation daily and respond to changes as necessary. 

Ten Cases of Omicron Variant Confirmed

COVID-19 briefing Iceland Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Ten cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 were confirmed in Iceland as of Saturday afternoon. RÚV reports that contract tracing in these cases is going well.

The country’s first case of the omicron variant was diagnosed on earlier this week in the town of Akranes in West Iceland. The individual who tested positive with the variant did not recently arrive from abroad and had been fully vaccinated. He was admitted to the hospital with mild symptoms.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason said that all ten of the current omnicron cases are probably connected with Akranes. It is not unlikely, however, that the variant has spread further throughout Iceland.

Around 150 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed in Iceland in recent days. Þórólfur says that the current wave is slowly declining. “If you look at the curve in the long term, then it’s going down slowly.”

The current gathering restrictions expire on Wednesday. Þórólfur will be sending the Minister of Health a memo with updated proposals shortly.

“There is uncertainty around this omnicron variant. How it behaves, how it is transmitted, and how the vaccine protects against it. This definitely puts a spanner in the works. […] I need to take all these factors  into account when making my proposals.”

 

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.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Restrictions Extended

mask use social distancing

Iceland’s current domestic restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 will be extended for an additional two weeks. The restrictions, which include a general gathering limit of 500 people and one-metre social distancing, were set to expire tomorrow, October 6, but will now remain in effect until October 20, 2021. The Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir decided to extend the regulations on the recommendation of Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Current domestic restrictions in Iceland mandate a gathering limit of 500 and general social distancing of one metre. Distancing is waived at seated events, provided all guests are registered in their seats and wearing masks. The regulations do not apply to school events. Bars, restaurants, and clubs must close by midnight and all customers must have left the premises by 1:00 AM. Swimming pools and gyms are permitted to operate at full capacity. Masks are required in all situations where one-metre distancing cannot be insured, such as on public transportation and in service requiring contact (such as haircuts and massages).

Risky to relax further

Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions on June 26 after a majority of the population had been vaccinated. Two to three weeks later, the rate of COVID-19 infection began to increase as did the rate of serious illness and hospitalisation. Icelandic authorities reintroduced domestic restrictions in July, and has been slowly relaxing them as the wave of infection dies down.

While infection rates have lowered in recent weeks, the Chief Epidemiologist stated in his memorandum that he did not consider it advisable to further relax domestic restrictions in Iceland. “In light of the development of the pandemic abroad and Iceland’s experience of the full lifting of restrictions, I consider it risky to relax the domestic infection prevention measures further than those currently in force,” the Chief Epidemiologist wrote in his memorandum to the Health Minister.

Iceland is currently reporting between 30-60 cases of COVID-19 per day. The country has 361 total active cases and 8 hospitalisations. Over 75% of the population is fully vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

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.

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.