National and University Hospital on Alert Phase

The National and University Hospital announced that it was going into Alert Phase on Friday afternoon, Vísir reports. The hospital’s preparedness committee made the decision in collaboration with pandemic authorities. The Alert Phase entails visitation curtailments and other restrictions, the better to free up hospital staff to work with COVID patients.

When the hospital goes on Alert Phase, operations such as minor procedures, interventions, and outpatient services are curtailed. This frees up staff who can then be moved to cover COVID wards.

An announcement on the hospital Facebook page states that an increased number of recent COVID-19 infections will result in an uptick in admissions in the coming week. The length of stay for unvaccinated patients and those who require intensive care is longer than for those who are fully vaccinated. This makes it difficult for hospital management to predict what patient flow will be. A good in- and outflow of patients is key to having enough beds for admitted patients on any given day.

“There are currently 1,082 patients under observation in the COVID ward,” reads the Facebook post. “Three patients are in intensive care, all of whom are on ventilators and one of whom is on heart and lung support. The infectious disease ward now has 13 patients, and is quickly approaching its capacity. We’ve begun moving patients from the pulmonary ward to create space for COVID patients, but we expect to have at least three admissions every day for the next few days.”

As of midnight Friday, there is a ban on all hospital visitors. As per previous visitation bans, department managers can make exemptions on a case by case basis.

Inpatients will only be allowed leave privileges if such are thought to be necessary preparation for discharge and/or part of their rehabilitation. Permission will be contingent on the patient only meeting with a very few people and only visiting one external location while on leave.

All meetings held by hospital staff will be conducted virtually.

The hospital also stressed the importance of continued mask use and a 1-metre [3 ft] distance between individuals within the hospital. When taking off masks to eat, individuals must observe a social distance of 2-metres [6 ft]. Staff members are also encouraged to seek booster shots, as data shows that this significantly improves antibody response and helps combat the Delta variant of the virus.

School Dances, Larger Events, And Longer Opening Hours For Bars Tomorrow

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Bars can remain open an hour longer, schools can have student dances, and events requiring rapid testing can now accommodate up to 1,500 people, according to new infection prevention regulations taking effect at midnight tonight. To further facilitate rapid testing, the government will now participate in costs for tests taken by private companies. The fourth wave of the pandemic continues to subside but Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason urges caution and slow lifting of restrictions.

The minister of health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has introduced new relaxations of infection prevention restrictions at the government’s meeting this morning, according to Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s suggestions. The new regulations will take effect at midnight tonight and be in effect until October 6.

General gathering limits will increase to 500 people and events requiring rapid testing will be able to accommodate up to 1,500 people. Rapid testing events will also be able to host standing guests if they keep a distance of 1 m or wear a mask. When seated, guests will not need to keep a distance of 1m or wear a mask. Otherwise, a general requirement of a social distance of 1 m or mask use will be in place. Special authorisation for Elementary or secondary schools with no social distancing or mask use for up to 1,500 will also be in effect.

Opening hours for bars and restaurants will be extended by one hour, so they will be able to serve guests until midnight, but all guests must have left the premises an hour later.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórolfur Guðnason noted that since Jul 30, when the current wave peaked, the pandemic has been slowly subsiding and in the past few days, few people have been hospitalised. The situation at the National University Hospital is not as dire as it was earlier in this wave and children and teenager vaccinations have been a success, as well as booster shots for people with underlying illnesses. He notes that in light of the experience of lifting all domestic restrictions in June 2021, he believes we should relax restrictions slowly.

Changes to Pandemic infection prevention regulations from September 15 to October 6 include:

  • A general gathering limit of 500 people. Children born in 2006 or later will be exempt from gathering limits and will not need to be counted in that number.
  • A gathering limit of 1,500 people for events requiring guests to take a rapid test before entering.
    • These events will allow for standing guests keeping a distance of 1m or using a mask.
    • Seated guests will not be required to keep a distance of 1m or use a mask
    • Guests will need to be registered upon entry but not their seats.
  • No changes to the requirement of a social distance of 1m except for seated events and school events.
  • Mask need to be worn indoors if the social distancing requirement of 1m cannot be met.
  • Restaurants licensed to sell alcohol can remain open until midnight. Guests will have to have left the premises by 1am.
  • Elementary and secondary schools will be authorised to host events for students including up to 1,500 guests, on the condition that they present a negative result from a rapid test no older than 48 hours. Masks or social distancing won’t be required but all guests must be registered.

Additionally, the minister of Health introduced a plan to make rapid tests for COVID-19 more accessible, with the goal of offering them in more places than now. The government will participate in the cost of rapid testing for private companies as well as the healthcare centres and public healthcare institutions. Private enterprises will also be added to the Chief Epidemiologist’s certificate system so that they can issue the same standard confirmation of results following a test as the public healthcare system.

COVID-19 In Iceland: Restrictions Remain Largely Unchanged

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has issued new infection prevention regulations which go into effect tomorrow. The restrictions will remain largely unchanged except for further regulation on event registration and buffets and will be in effect until April 9.

According to the new regulations, all guests at all events, such as religious events, cultural or sporting events, conferences, or other comparable events must sit in numbered seats and event holders are required to register each guest’s name, personal ID number, and phone number. Selling or offering refreshments during intermission will not be allowed and people should stay in their seats. If the audience is compartmentalised, event organisers should make sure there are no more than 50 people in each compartment and that the audience does not move between compartments.

The regulations are based on  Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations, differing only slightly in that he suggested buffets shouldn’t be allowed. The regulation stipulates that you can have buffets but guests should disinfect their hands both before and after partaking, wear a mask, and keep a social distance of two metres.

Restrictions were relaxed slightly on January 13, February 8, and February 24. A 50-person gathering limit is in effect and a two-metre distancing rule is in effect in all regions of the country for those who do not have a close relationship. Mask use is mandatory in shops and on public transportation. Shops may admit 5 customers per 10 square metres of space, up to a limit of 200 customers. Mask use is mandatory in shops. Bars, clubs, and restaurants are open but may not operate later than 11.00 pm and may not accept new guests after 10.00 pm. Swimming pools and gyms are open but may not operate at over 75% capacity. Performing arts and sports events are permitted with up to 200 adults in the audience (children are exempt from gathering restrictions). All guests must be seated and wearing masks and a 1-metre distancing applies. No alcohol may be served at performances.

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: Border Regulations and Mask Use Key to Domestic Freedom

Víðir and Þórólfur COVID-19

Icelandic health authorities will relax domestic COVID-19 restrictions this week, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík today. Þórólfur’s recommendations are being reviewed by the government, which is expected to issue updated restrictions in the coming days. The Chief Epidemiologist declined to discuss the details of his recommendations but stated tightened border restrictions, which now require arriving travellers to undergo three tests and quarantine, have given authorities room to relax domestic restrictions.

Iceland has not reported a single domestic case of COVID-19 out of quarantine since February 1, and only 10 cases in quarantine this month. Nevertheless, authorities stressed the importance of keeping up individual infection prevention to stave off a new wave in the case that domestic infections do pop up.

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 11.03am. On the panel: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases yesterday and 1 at the border. Total active cases: 25. 9 are in hospital. 10,530 have been fully vaccinated, or 2.9% of the population.

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by going over statistics regarding the border and travel from abroad. The average number of travellers arriving from abroad has been decreasing over the past months, Víðir says. In the last few weeks, the number has been around 170-180 per day. Víðir says new border regulations have gone smoothly, most passengers arriving presented a PCR test certificate as required, or a vaccination certificate or certificate of an antibody test.

Þórólfur takes over. Over the past week, 12 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed at the border, 8 with an active infection. There were 2 new domestic cases diagnosed over the past week, both in quarantine. There is one patient with an active case of COVID-19 in hospital: they were admitted last Friday. No one is in the ICU with COVID-19, 8 are in hospital recovering from COVID but no longer have active infections.

Infections at the border are few, possibly because there are fewer travellers. Around 1% of travellers has been testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Procedures at the border have gone well. We’ll have to watch carefully what happens in the next few days, says Þórólfur. The conditions for further relaxing restrictions domestically are that we stay vigilant at the border, says the Chief Epidemiologist.

Þórólfur has sent his suggestions to the Minister of Health for relaxing restrictions and presumes they will take effect in the middle of this week, although that’s subject to the Minister’s approval. Þórólfur declines to discuss the details of his recommendations at this time. Þórólfur has also sent new recommendations for school restrictions but won’t disclose the details of these relaxed restrictions either, as the government will have to discuss them first. Regarding relaxing restrictions, Þórólfur states there will always be some among the public who think authorities are going too fast and others who think we’re going to slow. The key is to keep up individual infection prevention to stave off a new wave, in the case that domestic infections do pop up.

Vaccinations are ongoing, and 6,000 are scheduled to receive their first or second dose this week. There are no updates regarding vaccine shipment schedules for April or the second quarter. Þórólfur: Despite uncertainty in vaccine distribution schedules, I consider it likely that we’ll receive vaccines more rapidly but we’ll have to be prepared for the possibility that it will go slower than we hope.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is pressed to reveal details of his recommendations for relaxed restrictions. Þórólfur won’t disclose more details regarding his recommendations but states that we have to be very careful with relaxing restrictions on bars and clubs as that was where the last wave started.

Asked about mask use, Þórólfur states that it surprises him how emotional people can get when discussing masks. At this point, he won’t recommend that we stop using masks, and polls show that people are largely positive towards mask use. We’ll reach a point where masks won’t be mandatory anymore but people who want to are free to use them.

Þórólfur is hopeful for the summer. If no new vaccine-resistant variants of the virus present themselves, vaccinations proceed according to schedule and until then, we keep the border clear, there’s nothing to stop us from having a looser rein this summer, he says. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason: what’s important is not the regulations prescribed by authorities, rather how individuals behave.

Víðir states that the vast majority of people are behaving well, both in the capital area and the countryside where many are currently travelling on winter vacations. Þórófur states that even though we haven’t really had community spread of infections in February, there’s still a danger of new infections entering the country and spreading into the community. On the other hand, we have much stricter regulations at the border now so the situation is different from last summer. There’s always a chance that the pandemic can rear its head again but that’s something we’re going to have to live with, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur will not speculate on how border restrictions may chance once a majority of the nation is vaccinated, it also depends on how the pandemic progresses in the countries around us. From May 1 authorities hope to lift quarantine restrictions for arriving travellers from low-risk areas. Asking people for a negative PCR test certificate before arrival and testing them again at the border is not really an encumbering restriction, says Þórólfur. Víðir adds that some of the restrictions at the border are set in co-operation with countries around us, for example in the Schengen Area.

“Will there be fewer briefings now that things are going well domestically?” Víðir says briefings are to continue twice weekly for the time being, as long as restrictions are being updated regularly. Víðir adds that it might be superstitious, but authorities are a little hesitant to have fewer information briefings: the last couple of times they did, it wasn’t long before infection rates went up.

Asked about his health, Víðir says he is still recovering from his bout of COVID-19. He hasn’t regained his full strength or his sense of taste and smell. Víðir: “I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.”

Þórólfur is asked about confirmation parties, traditionally held in spring, and sports tournaments. As usual, he won’t disclose details of planned restriction relaxations or speculate for the coming weeks and months.

Regarding border restrictions, Þórólfur’s position is that we should keep on doing what’s been working for us, only making changes with caution.

When asked about the possibility of a future need for annual COVID-19 vaccinations, Þórólfur states that the virus could develop to be similar to flu or cold viruses, that spread without causing serious illness. He stresses that he doesn’t know, nor does anyone at this point.

Updated school regulations will be presented to school authorities as well as the public in the next few days.

“If another wave of the pandemic occurs, is there a benchmark, such as number of cases, that authorities will use to decide restrictions?” Authorities’ reactions will be based on how and where the wave happens. They’ll use the knowledge gained from the third wave.

The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 information briefing on Thursday, February 25 at 11.03am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Bars, Churches, And Gym Changing Rooms To Reopen

Map of Europe showing 14-day notification rate, testing rate and test positivity by region, updated 4 February 2021

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has agreed to Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s suggestions for cautious relaxations of restrictions from February 8 on. Gatherings will still be limited to 20 people but exceptions will be more lenient. Bars and clubs will be allowed to reopen but a social distance of two metres will still be required, as well as masks when the distance can’t be kept.

Bars, clubs, arcades and slots machines will reopen under some conditions. Stage performance audiences will be limited to 150 seated guests instead of the previous 100 and religious services, including funerals, can have 150 seated guests in attendance as well. The number of customers allowed in shops will still depend on its size but may not exceed 150, and the same goes for museums’ exhibition halls. Gyms can reopen changing rooms and allow exercise in weight-lifting rooms, instead of limiting their operations to scheduled group sessions. The regulations will take be in effect from February 8 to March 3.

Previous infection prevention regulations were slated to last until February 18 but the Chief Epidemiologist’s memo to the Minister of Health stated that as the pandemic was slowing down domestically, he saw reason to relax restrictions sooner than originally intended. He still urges caution until COVID-19 vaccinations become more widespread.

Iceland has had success in curbing the last wave of the pandemic. For the past two weeks, only one case of COVID-19 has been detected outside quarantine, even with high rates and easy access to tests. Iceland is the only green country in the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s latest map indicating 14-day notification rate, testing rate and test positivity for COVID-19, pictured above.

Regulation changes:

Restaurants where alcohol is served, including restaurants, cafés, bars and clubs shall not remain open longer than 10 pm at night. The same goes for arcades and slots machines. Food and drink will only be served to seated guests and new patrons can not enter such establishments after 9 pm.

The following exceptions from the 20- people gathering limit will take effect Monday, although the two-metre social distance rule and rules on mask use will still be in effect. Children born 2005 or later are exempt from gathering limits, social distance and mask use.

Religious organisations: All religious services can have up to 150 in attendance.

Shops: Shops fulfilling the prerequisite square footage conditions can have up to 150 guests at a time.

Museums: Each space fulfilling the prerequisite square footage conditions can have up to 150 guests at a time.

Performance arts: Up to 150 seated guests.

Gyms and sports clubs: changing rooms can reopen and individual practice in weight-lifting rooms can resume, as long as there are no more than 20 people in each space who’ve registered beforehand. The number of guests can’t exceed 50% of the gym’s capacity according to their operational licence. All equipment shall be disinfected after use and staff should ensure people do not move between spaces.

Cerebral sports: Rules for sports training and competition will now also apply to chess, bridge, bingo and comparable cerebral sports and games.

 

COVID-19 in Iceland: Restrictions to Be Relaxed Further Following Domestic Success

Þórólfur Guðnason

In a briefing held in Reykjavík this morning, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason said he would submit his recommendations for relaxing restrictions to the Health Ministry this week. Iceland has not reported a domestic case out of quarantine since January 20. All residents of the capital area that are 90 years of age and older have been invited to receive COVID-19 vaccines tomorrow.

Iceland will receive 1,000 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine per week than previously expected and should receive its first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this month. Authorities maintain their hope that it will be possible to vaccinate all those 70 and older by the end of March.

 

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

On the panel: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. Special guest: Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, Director of Patient Care at Capital Area Healthcare Centres.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases yesterday and 11 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 41. 14 are in hospital, none in intensive care.

The briefing has begun. Víðir has returned from a leave of absence to moderate the briefings. He contracted COVID-19 last year. Þórólfur starts by going over the numbers. No one tested positive yesterday domestically, though fewer tests were taken (as usual on the weekends). In the past week, 24 people have tested positive at the border, about half with an active infection. About 200-400 people arrive at the border every day. 55 people have tested positive for the British variant in Iceland, and 13 of them domestically. All those domestic cases were people with a close connection to people arriving from abroad that had tested positive for the variant.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason: We can say that we’ve been successful at keeping the pandemic at bay. Last week we had 10 domestic infections, all in quarantine. The last time someone tested positive outside quarantine was Jan. 20. Þórólfur is preparing a memorandum for the Minister of Health where he will recommend relaxing domestic restrictions but won’t disclose the details yet. He reminds employers not to put people arriving in the country to work until they’ve completed their two mandatory tests with a 5-day quarantine in between.

Vaccinations will continue this week and authorities are expecting another 2,300 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive this week. It was good to hear about the AstraZeneca vaccine receiving conditional marketing authorisation last week, says Þórólfur, and Iceland is expecting doses to arrive in February, although the shipping schedule is not yet available. We’ll be receiving more of the Pfizer vaccine than scheduled, about 1,000 more doses per week, says Þórólfur.

Everyone 90 years and older in the capital area are invited to come in for vaccination tomorrow. Most should have received an SMS. If not, there will be an open period where those born 1931 and earlier can show up (and are asked to bring ID). Those who can’t make it tomorrow will not miss their chance to be vaccinated – they can simply come in the next time the healthcare centres administer vaccinations.

The panel opens for questions. “Why aren’t we trying to eliminate the virus completely?” Þórólfur believes that strategy would be very hard to manage. Þórólfur reminds people that controlling the pandemic isn’t like playing a video game where you choose your strategy and complete it. He uses the example of Australia: while Australians have almost no domestic restrictions, when one case is detected, they return to a complete lockdown. Þórólfur is not sure that Icelanders would agree to such measures. Iceland’s strategy is to keep the virus at bay with the least restrictive regulations possible, says Þórólfur.

Vaccine shipment schedules are constantly changing and Þórólfur is not ready to give an update on long-term vaccination plans. Þórólfur will submit recommendations for relaxed restrictions to the Health Minister sometime this week. Þórólfur is asked about what kind of restrictions he would prefer to have in the country. His preferred situation, he says, is to have strict regulations at the border and somewhat relaxed conditions domestically. There’s talk of adding extra precautions at the border, of requiring a negative PCR test at the point of departure. We’re in as good a position as possible until herd immunity has been reached, says Þórólfur.

When asked about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine among senior citizens, Þórólfur clarifies that the vaccine has not been proved ineffective for senior citizens, it simply hasn’t been tested on that demographic so the data is not available. A decision has not been made about how to distribute the AstraZeneca vaccine, it’s possible that Iceland will only use it for younger demographics.

When asked why he is changing his mind and relaxing the restrictions before the projected date of February 17, Þórólfur states that he hasn’t changed his mind, he has always said that he is constantly re-evaluating the situation. The best way to handle this from an epidemiological perspective would be a complete lockdown, but there are other factors at play and Þórólfur isn’t so sure that strategy would be effective.

We’re receiving more vaccine doses than originally planned and it’s possible that everyone over the age of 70 might be vaccinated before the end of March, says Þórólfur. Asked whether groups such as athletes training for the Olympics will be given vaccine priority, Þórólfur responds that several groups are requesting priority and determining who gets vaccines first is a challenge. Everyone believes they are important and everyone is important, but prioritising people ahead of someone else, that’s another matter, says Þórólfur.

Vaccinated people will not be exempt from infection prevention regulations to begin with, but at some point in the future they will. How and when to exempt vaccinated people form infection prevention regulations is one of the things health authorities want to research in a herd immunity study, such as the one currently being negotiated with Pfizer (no more news on that front, however). It’s important that everyone keeps participating, we’re doing well so far.

Víðir takes over. We’ve been getting notifications that people are being less careful in places such as the hot tubs at the swimming pools and it’s completely unnecessary to be rude to staff trying to do their job and make sure people are following the rules, he says. Concerning travel abroad, border regulations in other countries are changing frequently with very short notice so we encourage people to avoid unnecessary international travel for the time being.

Solidarity has proven successful, but now we have to protect our success. Let’s not forget what happened last fall, says Víðir, referring to the wave of infection that peaked in mid-October. Víðir has also heard that people are letting their guard down concerning getting tested when they experience flu or cold symptoms. It’s vital that people go get tested for COVID as soon as they experience any symptoms, even if very few are testing positive for COVID these days. The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next briefing, scheduled for Thursday, February 4 at 11.03am.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Gathering Restrictions to Be Relaxed, Gyms to Reopen

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

From January 13 on, infection prevention restrictions in Iceland will be relaxed, if the pandemic’s spread continues to be at a low. According to a press release from the Ministry of Health, gathering limits will go from 10 to 20, and athletes and amateurs alike will be able to resume their sports training, albeit under strict conditions.

The maximum gathering limit will be 20 people, gyms and sports clubs will be allowed to reopen under strict conditions, and ski slopes as well. Sports training for children and adults alike will be allowed to resume as well, and competitions and tournaments can go ahead, although spectators won’t be allowed. For stage performances, 50 people can be on stage, with audiences of 100 adults and 100 children. The same applies to other cultural events. Gathering limits and opening hour restrictions for restaurants and bars will remain unchanged. These are the main changes to infection prevention regulations introduced at the government’s meeting today. The changes are set to be in effect from January 13 to February 17.

Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason suggests these changes to the restrictions, due to our success in fighting the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland. He points out that in several countries close to us the pandemic is growing, due to a strain of the virus that is yet to spread in Iceland. For that reason, he presents his suggestions with a proviso that the pandemic’s development won’t get worse. In order to preserve the success Icelanders have had in fighting the spread of the pandemic, the Chief Epidemiologist and the Ministry of Health are considering changes to border regulations making the double border testing mandatory or at least requiring the people who choose the 14-day quarantine over the free double test to remain at quarantine hotels for the period of their quarantine. The number of people choosing the 14-day quarantine is under 1 % of travellers through Iceland’s borders.

The main changes to the infection prevention regulations set to take effect on January 13.

  • A general gathering limit of 20 people.
  • Shops – Instead of the current tule allowing 5 customers per 10m2, the new regulations allow for one customer per 4m2, but no more than 100 customers in one space.
  • Gyms – Allowed to reopen under strict conditions. The number of visitors can’t exceed 50% of the gym’s operating license. If no number is specified in the operation license, the number of visitors can’t exceed 50% of the changing room’s capacity. Only group sessions are allowed, with a maximum of 20 registered participants. Changing rooms shall be closed. Children born 2005 or later will not be counted with the number of visitors. The Chief Epidemiologist will issue detailed instructions for infection prevention at gyms and sports clubs.
  • Sports training – Sports training of children and adults, with and without contact, will be allowed, indoors and outdoors. No more than 50 people can be in one space at a time.
  • Sports competitions – Sports competitions for children and adults will be allowed without spectators.
  • Ski Slopes – Ski slopes will be allowed to open with limitations. Solo skiers will not share ski lifts with others, a social distance of two metres shall be maintained, and the same rules apply to mask use as elsewhere.
  • Performance arts, cinemas, and other cultural events – Up to 50 people can be on stage during rehearsals and shows. Masks should be worn wherever possible, and a social distance of two metres should be kept whenever possible. Seated guests can be up to 100 adults and 100 children born in 2005 and later. Seated guests should be registered by name, and adults shall wear masks.

Catholic Church In Reykjavík Cancels Sunday Mass

Landakotskirkja, Reykjavík Catholic Church

All Sunday Mass and Saturday night vigils at the Catholic church in Reykjavík have been cancelled following reports of alleged infection prevention regulation infractions over the holidays. The Chancellor of the Catholic church’s Diocese in Iceland Jakob Rolland states that infection prevention regulations are necessary but that it’s not acceptable that the same rules apply everywhere, RÚV reports. He claims no infections have been traced to Masses at the church and that they may make changes to weekday religious services as well because of gathering limits.

All official Sunday Masses and Saturday night Vigils at the Catholic church have been cancelled as they don’t comply with infection prevention regulations, according to a notice from David Tencer, the Catholic bishop of Iceland.

“We aren’t unhappy with the infection prevention regulations. It’s completely clear that such rules are necessary and that we need to comply. On the other hand, the same rules need to apply everywhere with similar conditions. We’re unhappy that there aren’t the same rules for restaurants, entertainment establishments, concerts and the church,” says Jakob. “the church isn’t more dangerous than any other place.”

Infection prevention regulations infractions have occurred twice in Landakotskirkja over the holidays, last on Sunday when the police were called during a Polish-language Mass. The police counted 51 people in the church but the gathering ban currently in place limits the number of people allowed to gather in churches to 10. Another infraction occurred on Christmas Eve when crowd sizes again exceeded 10.

Jakob told RÚV that the church’s priests didn’t have it in them to turn people away. People need to pray and get support from their congregation. “The world is in a serious condition. And the need to pray might be greater now than usual.”

He says that due to recent events, the church’s bishop decided to cancel weekend masses. If more than 10 people arrive at mass on a weekday, people will presumably be turned away or more services added to the schedule. “We will either have to turn people away or operate in such a way that no more than 10 people gather at a time,” says Jakob.

The media has reported that infection preventions in the church were lacking and that priests didn’t use hand sanitiser before distributing communion wafers. Jakob states that no infections can be traced to the church. “So I believe that we have at least as strict, if not stricter rules than most. Priests must also consider their ways and adhere more closely to the recommended rules.”

When asked if it was more important to pray in the church than to obey infection prevention regulations, Jakob replied. “God’s laws apply first and foremost, that’s obvious. But we must also follow infection prevention regulations. And the two can go together.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Locals Advised to Form Christmas Bubble

Laufabrauð.

Iceland’s Ministry of Health will issue updated COVID-19 regulations today or tomorrow, set to take effect this Wednesday, December 2. At a briefing in Reykjavík this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason declined to reveal details of the restrictions, though he did express his belief that there was not much room to relax the rules if Iceland wants to avoid another spike in cases. Iceland has seen growth in new domestic cases in recent days, following weeks of declining numbers. Growth remains linear rather than exponential, however.

Christmas Guidelines Issued

Authorities have now issued specific guidelines for the holiday season, both for Christmas gatherings and shopping. The guidelines emphasise what authorities called forming a “Christmas bubble,” as authorities put it at the briefing today: limiting one’s social circle during the holidays, as well as meeting online when possible. Shopping guidelines include having a list ready before heading out to shops, and buying online when possible.

When it comes to gatherings, authorities recommend sending invites well in advance so guests can limit their interactions leading up to the gathering. They also recommend avoiding buffets, using a mask when preparing food, and limiting unnecessary access to the kitchen. Locals are also reminded that they may not pick up travellers arriving from abroad at the airport. Further guidelines are available on the official COVID website.

Below is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason (pictured below) and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson. Special guest: Óskar Reykdalsson, Director of Health Clinics in the Reykjavík Capital Area.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. There were 8 new domestic cases diagnosed (3 in quarantine), 1 at the border. Total active cases: 187. 41 are in hospital and 2 in intensive care.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur says guidelines for Christmas gatherings have been published on covid.is. The guidelines will be reviewed regularly.

Þórólfur goes over the numbers from yesterday. While the number of cases is growing, the growth is linear, not exponential so far. The percentage of those testing positive (among all those tested) is decreasing. All those who tested positive yesterday are residents of the capital area. We’re still dealing with the same three strains of the virus, no new strains are appearing even though several cases have been caught at the border. This shows the effectiveness of border testing, says Þórólfur.

Only five of the COVID-19 patients at the National Hospital have an active case of the virus. No COVID-19 patients are in hospital in North Iceland. The number of people in quarantine has grown in the past few days, which correlates with the number of cases diagnosed in the past days. We’ve been able to trace most of the infections and most of them are spread in workplaces and at small gatherings. This is yet another reason to ask the public to be particularly aware of gatherings during the coming weeks.

I’ve sent my recommendations to the Minister of Health and they are currently under review. It’s my opinion that there’s not much room to ease restrictions if we don’t want an uptick in infections, says Þórólfur. The updated regulations that take effect from December 2 should be issued by the Ministry of Health today or tomorrow. We have no new news of vaccinations but preparations are ongoing.

Óskar takes over. He wants to raise awareness of the indirect long-term effects of the pandemic. He mentions mental health and economic stress but also the reduced number of diagnoses of serious illnesses, such as cancer. While cancer diagnoses have gone down in other countries, Iceland’s healthcare centres haven’t had as extensive closures as in other countries. However, Óskar still urges people to contact their local health care centre if they are at all concerned about their health. It’s best to call first if you need assistance, but don’t hesitate to do so.

Óskar reminds the public of the most common symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Contact your healthcare centre, or register for a test online and get tested. It’s better to get tested more often than not, even if your symptoms are mild, because if we catch the virus early, we minimise the risk of spreading it. Test results are usually available in a few hours but we remind people that if they go for a test, they should stay at home until they have their result and avoid contact with others. If you’re sick, even if it’s not COVID-19, stay at home, you don’t want to spread other illnesses either at this time.

Healthcare centres are preparing for different vaccination scenarios, depending on the amount of doses they get, says Óskar. They aim to administer the vaccinations as fast as possible, but will also pay attention to infection prevention at vaccination sites. Personal infection prevention is key, says Óskar: “It’s number 1, 2, and all the way up to 10.”

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur declines to comment further on his recommendations for updated restrictions until the government is ready to present their regulations.

Most new cases are being diagnosed in the capital area. Will regional restrictions be considered over Christmas? Þórólfur says he will not rule out regional regulations.

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, now COVID-positive, has been criticised for having many visitors over a single weekend. How important is it that you as authorities follow the rules you issue? Þórólfur answers that it’s very important. They’ve always said that the virus is the enemy and infection shaming is not helpful, it can happen to everyone. While the pandemic response team follows their own guidelines, they have families whom they interact with as well, and when you interact with others, there’s always a risk of infection.

When asked about the predictability of the authorities’ actions, Þórólfur states that he’s sympathetic to the plight of people trying to plan ahead, but unfortunately the virus’ trajectory is not predictable and he won’t provide false hopes in that respect.

Is there a reason fewer people are getting tested? Óskar says he hopes it is because fewer people are experiencing symptoms. It is clear that fewer people seek out testing over the weekend. It’s so important for the community that people get tested as soon as they suspect even minor symptoms so that cases are caught early, says Óskar. Óskar stresses that people should seek out testing no matter the day of the week.

When asked again about Víðir’s infection and the people who visited his home, Þórólfur addresses the basic guidelines of infection prevention regulations: a gathering limit of 10 is in effect and the two-metre rule. We’re not asking everyone to stay at home and not meet a single person, that would be a lockdown. We’re asking people to maintain personal hygiene, disinfect surfaces frequently, and social distance, as well limiting gatherings to 10 people. If people stick to those rules, there’s still a risk of infection but it’s minimal. It’s a problem when people don’t follow these basic rules.

Þórólfur is asked about gathering rules in other countries. He says that every country is tackling this differently and nobody knows the perfect way to deal with the virus. The most important thing is to stick to the rules in place.

How many people are allowed in a “Christmas bauble?” are family Christmas parties out of the question? Þórólfur underlines the regulations in place (2-metre rule, 10-person limit, mask use when distancing cannot be maintained). There are safe ways to celebrate Christmas.

When asked about the possibility of opening swimming pools before Christmas, Þórólfur declines to comment until the Ministry has presented the updated regulations.

Is it acceptable to attend several 10-person gatherings over a single day or several days? Þórólfur says that wouldn’t be in the spirit of the infection prevention guidelines.

Rögnvaldur ends the briefing by underlining the importance of personal preventative measures such as hand washing and disinfection.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ briefings every Monday and Thursday at 11.03am UTC.