Custody of Domestic Terror Suspects Extended Four Weeks

Terror plot

The two individuals suspected of planning a domestic terror attack will be held in custody for another four weeks. RÚV reports that the District Court of Reykjavík approved the District Attorney’s request for extended custody on Friday. The suspects’ lawyers have appealed the decision to the National Court.

The suspects have been held in isolation for three weeks, a decision that has been criticized by their lawyers. In his petition for extended custody, however, DA Ólafur Þór Hauksson did not request further isolation.

See Also: Judge Grants Extended Custody Over Domestic Terror Suspects

Four Icelandic men were arrested on September 21 suspected of “terrorist plots” against state institutions and civilians. Two of the suspects were immediately released; the other two have remained in custody.

According to the police, the suspects had hoarded numerous weapons – including dozens of semi-automatic guns and 3D-printed components – alongside a considerable amount of ammunition. The men, all of whom are in their twenties, had reportedly discussed carrying out an attack during the police’s annual celebration (which was held on October 1).

Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson told reporters that this was the “first investigation of its kind to be launched in Iceland.

COVID-Positive No Longer Required to Isolate in Iceland

mask walk outdoor covid

PCR testing for COVID-19 will no longer be available to the general public in Iceland. People with COVID-19 symptoms are instead encouraged to undergo a rapid antigen test. Those who test positive on a rapid test will not be obligated to isolate for five days, though it is recommended. The use of PCR tests for COVID-19 will be limited to those with severe symptoms or underlying illnesses, on the recommendation of doctors.

The changes were announced in a notice from Iceland’s Directorate of Health. According to the notice, the healthcare system’s testing capacity was surpassed some time ago, and the wait for PCR test results has gone from as little as six hours to 2-3 days. In order to reduce strain on testing, the general public will not longer be offered PCR tests when they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, they will have access to rapid antigen tests. Such tests can be booked through the Heilsuvera website for those with an Icelandic kennitala (ID number), as well as through private companies, who offer the tests for free thanks to a government contract.

Isolation still recommended

Those who test positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test will not be required to isolate for five days, but health authorities nevertheless recommend they do so. Those who have little or no symptoms may go to work, but practice infection precaution measures. These include avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people and using a mask when around others outside of the household.

According to the current regulations, those who test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test are still required to isolate for five days. While PCR tests are no longer available to the general public, they will remain available to those who require a PCR certificate for travel abroad, for a fee.

As of the time of writing, Iceland’s cabinet is meeting to discuss recommendations for changes to domestic COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities have previously announced a plan to lift all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 this Friday, February 25. An announcement from ministers is expected shortly.

COVID-19 Isolation to Shorten to Five Days

Iceland’s Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson announced to media today that mandatory isolation for COVID-19 positive individuals will be shortened from seven days to five. Willum made the announcement in a radio interview this morning. The new regulations are to take effect this Monday, February 7.

“The illness varies among people so people must of course show caution and take care of themselves,” Willum stated, underlining that patients must be symptom-free to be discharged from isolation. Asked when mask regulations would be lifted, Willum stated: “I think that’s coming soon, everything is on our side.”

Icelandic authorities announced a plan to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March, including isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19. The country has been reporting around 1,500 daily cases in recent weeks – nevertheless, the number of patients in hospital due to COVID-19 has dropped over the past week. Local data shows that around 90% of COVID-19 cases in Iceland are due to the Omicron strain, which has lower rates of hospitalisation and serious illness than the Delta strain of SARS-CoV-2. Isolation was shortened from 10 days to 7 in December of last year and quarantine regulations were significantly relaxed in January.

Quarantine Hotels Prepare to Scale Down

Fosshotel quarantine Reykjavík COVID-19

The number of people isolating in government-run quarantine hotels in Iceland has decreased in recent days, RÚV reports. The Iceland Red Cross, which oversees the operation of the hotels, expects to close some in the near future.

“One week ago the average was between 50 to 60 per day, but yesterday just over 20 people requested to stay [in a quarantine hotel],” Gylfi Þór Þorsteinnson, director of the quarantine hotel program, stated. “Currently we have 230 guests, which is fewer than we’ve had recently.” Gylfi added that quarantine hotel staff will soon begin preparing to vacate the hotels, as the need for them has decreased.

Despite relatively steady infection numbers, Gylfi says the number of people who request to stay at the quarantine hotels has dropped, and those that do have milder symptoms than before. “Most are in pretty good shape when they arrive and even better shape when they leave.”

New deCODE Data Supports Relaxing COVID Regulations

deCode Genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson

According to research from deCODE genetics, at least 20% of Icelanders under 40 have already contracted COVID-19 and as many as 135,000 may have already had it. The company’s CEO Kári Stefánsson has called for abolishing all domestic restrictions in Iceland, including isolation and quarantine, in light of the low rate of serious illness caused by Omicron infections. “We have to respond to the data and I think the data is telling us that now is the time to see whether we can’t live a fine life without using quarantine or isolation,” Kári stated.

As elsewhere in the world, the Omicron variant has led to Iceland’s biggest wave of COVID-19 infection since the start of the pandemic. While the domestic infection rate remains high, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has begun falling. Local data shows the rates of hospitalisation due to Omicron infection are much lower than the rates associated with the Delta variant (0.2-0.3% for Omicron versus 2% for Delta).

Chief Epidemiologist: we must proceed slowly

When asked to comment, the Chief Epidemiologist did not oppose Kári’s thoughts on lifting domestic restrictions, including quarantine and isolation, but stressed the importance of proceeding in stages. “I think it’s wiser to proceed slowly rather than go too fast and then have to take a step backwards,” Þórólfur stated. “It would be a little tricky and difficult to do that.”

Iceland’s current domestic restrictions are valid until February 2. They include a 10-person gathering limit, mandatory mask use in shops and public transport, and the mandated closure of all bars and clubs. Þórólfur says he plans to submit recommendations to relax domestic restrictions next week. Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has given indications that he would be willing to relax them even sooner.

Steps taken to relax quarantine and isolation regulations

Þórólfur Guðnason, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, will submit a memorandum to the Health Minister today that recommends relaxing the regulations on COVID-19 quarantine. According to Þórólfur, the recommendations allow for more people to be exempt from having to quarantine in the case of possible exposure to COVID. Þórólfur states that conditions are in place to relax social restrictions in Iceland, but it is important to do so in stages.

“What we are working on now with the [Health] Ministry and the Minister is to simplify quarantine rules and simplify testing. And I think it’s wise to start there,” Þórólfur stated. Authorities have already taken steps to relax quarantine and isolation restrictions, including by shortening mandatory isolation from 10 to seven days and exempting triple-vaccinated individuals (and double-vaccinated individuals who have recovered from COVID) from mandatory quarantine in the case of potential exposure. Regulations on isolation have also been relaxed, allowing individuals to leave their place of isolation for walks.

Iceland Relaxes Isolation Regulations, Permitting Outdoor Walks

mask walk outdoor covid

COVID-19 positive individuals who are in isolation in Iceland are permitted to take up to two walks per day, according to new regulations that have been implemented by the country’s health authorities. Individuals who are in special infection precaution (a lighter version of quarantine) are no longer required to undergo testing at the start and end of the precaution period.

Special precaution (smitgát) is an infection prevention measure imposed by authorities when an individual has been possibly exposed to COVID-19 but quarantine is not considered necessary. According to current regulations, people who have received three doses of COVID-19 vaccine, or who have received two doses and have recovered from COVID-19, are not required to quarantine following potential COVID-19 exposure, rather only take special precaution. Individuals in special precaution may leave their place of residence to attend work and school and to run necessary errands. They are, however, asked to skip events and avoid crowds as well people in high-risk groups.

Only 1% have tested positive in special precaution

Of the 16,488 people who were placed in special infection precaution between December 1, 2021 and January 16, 2022, only around 1% tested positive for COVID-19. In light of that data, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist recommended lifting the testing requirements for people in special precaution, and the Health Minister has now implemented this change. The measure is hoped to alleviate strain on Iceland’s COVID-19 testing centres.

The new regulations also permit individuals in COVID isolation to leave their place of isolation for walks within their neighbourhood, health permitting. They must maintain a distance of two metres from others and may not visit crowded areas. Those in isolation can take up to two walks per day, at a maximum length of 30 minutes each. According to a government notice, it is not possible to offer adults isolating in government quarantine facilities daily outdoor exercise, but children isolating in such facilities will be offered outdoor time.

Self-Discharge and Staffing Support Ease Hospital Strain in Iceland Amid Hopes Current Wave Has Peaked

Emergency room

As Iceland continues to battle its largest wave of COVID-19 infection to date, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated he hopes the peak of infections has been reached. The healthcare system is experiencing strain both due to the number of COVID-19 patients that are requiring hospitalisation but also due to large numbers of staff being placed in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. The staffing shortage has forced authorities to reduce communication with COVID-19 patients. Those who have completed the mandatory seven-day isolation can now discharge themselves, provided they no longer have symptoms.

Steady daily infection rates

Iceland reported a record 1,553 domestic cases on December 30, and has been reporting around 1,000 daily cases over the past week. According to Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, steady daily infection rates over the past few days could mean that the current wave of COVID-19 infection has peaked. Þórólfur told RÚV that there was not much room to relax social restrictions, however, which include a general gathering limit of 20, mandatory mask use in shops, and two-metre social distancing. The current rules expire on January 12.

Hospital receives support

Private surgical office Klíníkin Ármúla has closed for three weeks while its staff are transferred to the National University Hospital to replace public healthcare staff in isolation or quarantine. Runólfur Pálsson, one of the directors of the hospital’s COVID-19 ward, says the Klíníkin staff will make a big and immediate impact. Runólfur added that much of the hospital’s staff is exhausted due to long-term strain. 

Recent changes to COVID-19 regulations should also help relieve some of the hospital’s strain. COVID-19 patients isolating at home have now been authorised to discharge themselves once their mandatory seven-day quarantine is complete, provided they no longer have symptoms. Previously, patients were required to stay in isolation until their discharge was approved by healthcare staff. Relaxed quarantine regulations for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted should also have a positive impact on staffing at the National Hospital and other workplaces in Iceland.

Parents May No Longer Be Required to Isolate With Their Children

school children

The families of children who are required to self-isolate may forgo isolation themselves if they have not been in direct contact with the infected individual, according to a new proposal on quarantine regulations being considered by the government. The authorities hope to reduce future social restrictions as far as possible, although long-term measures in the fight against COVID have yet to be laid out.

Reduce the number of people self-isolating

Speaking to RÚV this afternoon, the Minister of Health revealed that the government hopes to loosen quarantine regulations, intending to reduce the number of people required to isolate in the event of an infection. Among the measures that will be implemented in this endeavour are rapid antigen tests. Furthermore, the families of children who are made to self-isolate will not be required to isolate if they have not been in direct contact with the infected individual.

“We’ve decided, following the proposals from the Chief Epidemiologist, to reevaluate our quarantine regulations with the hope of steering individuals who’ve been in direct contact with an infected person into isolation; however, whenever we’re dealing with the outer circles, with people who are further removed from the infected individual, then we’ll recommend, among other things, rapid antigen tests,” Svandís stated. “We’re also considering whether to allow families of children who are isolating to forgo self-isolation themselves.”

Uncertainty surrounding social restrictions in the future

Although a long-term pandemic plan has yet to be formalized, the government discussed the Chief Epidemiologist’s long-term measures to fight COVID-19 in its meeting this morning. “We’re discussing future plans,” Svandís stated. “We know that we need to temper the pandemic so that it does not jeopardize the healthcare system.” As has been the case in the past, the authorities will need to take into account the progress of the pandemic. “We can’t make precise decisions about the state of things six months or a year from now, but we can state that we hope to reduce restrictions as far as possible, with the caveat that we don’t put the healthcare system at risk.”

Third Quarantine Hotel Opens in Reykjavík, Staff Needed

Fosshotel quarantine Reykjavík COVID-19

There are currently 320 guests at Reykjavík’s quarantine hotels and 145 of them are in isolation with an active COVID-19 infection, RÚV reports. The remaining guests have either been exposed to an infected individual or are completing travel quarantine. A third quarantine facility has been opened in Reykjavík and the director of the facilities says staff are sorely needed.

Not all residents or visitors in Iceland have access to adequate facilities to quarantine or isolate in the case of COVID-19 infection or exposure. The Icelandic authorities and the Icelandic Red Cross provides such housing to those who need it at hotels in Reykjavík and elsewhere in Iceland. The third Reykjavík quarantine facility was opened yesterday and 15 guests are currently staying there, though Director of the facilities Gylfi Þór Þorsteinsson says he expects the number to increase in the coming days.

Most guests have mild symptoms

Currently, most of the guests at the facilities have mild symptoms. “Fortunately there are not a lot of symptoms now but there are always some among some of our guests,” Gylfi stated. “It seems to be the case that people start showing symptoms in the second week, maybe at the end of the first week symptoms begin to appear. Fortunately they pass quickly for most people, in maybe two or three days. But then there are always some who need more monitoring in hospital and unfortunately, at least two guests have had to be hospitalised for a short period.”

Just seven staff members were attending to 130 guests at the facilities, Gylfi stated in an interview yesterday. “We’re having a lot of trouble with staffing. We need staff and are advertising for it on Alfreð among other places. It is quite clear that this will only get worse in the coming days and not much else we can do than just attend to those who are staying with us as well as possible.”

Delta variant spreads despite vaccination

Icelandic authorities lifted all domestic pandemic restrictions on June 26, after a majority of the population had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Case numbers began rising a few weeks later, however, leading the government to reimpose a gathering ban and social distancing regulations. The country now reports 612 active cases of COVID-19, most among vaccinated individuals. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has stated that vaccinations are not proving as effective at stopping transmission of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 as experts had hoped. So far few have been hospitalised due to COVID-19 infection in this wave so there is evidence that vaccines are effective in preventing serious illness. However, as the current wave is still on the upswing, hospitalisations could still increase.

Hospital staff in quarantine and isolation

While there are just two individuals in hospital now due to COVID-19, the current spike in infection has caused some strain on the healthcare system in a different way. Staff of the National University Hospital as well as other healthcare centres have been placed in isolation and quarantine, creating staff shortages during the peak summer vacation season. Hospital administration has confirmed that so far staff members’ infections can all be traced to the community and there has been no spread of infection within the hospital.

Social Distancing and Gathering Restrictions to Be Tightened Again

Katrín Jakobsdóttir Bjarni Benediktsson Sigurður Ingi Ráðherra

Social distancing and gathering restrictions will be tightened again in Iceland, RÚV reports. This was the conclusion that the government came to after convening for a two-hour meeting on Saturday afternoon to review the recommendations of chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. It is expected that the new restrictions will go into effect on Monday.

Per the revised restrictions, gatherings will be limited to twenty people or fewer (with some exceptions), and bars, clubs, and gyms will close again. Swimming pools will remain open, but at a much lower capacity.

“We went over the chief epidemiologist’s memo, which he sent to the Minister of Health before noon today,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told reporters after the meeting ended. “He proposed very strict rules to combat the spread of the virus. And I think we were all shocked by the infection numbers today—they’re frightening.” At time of writing, 652 people were in isolation and 1,608 in quarantine. Thirteen people have currently been hospitalized and three are in intensive care. On Friday alone, 61 new COVID-19 cases were diagnosed and 39 of these individuals were not in quarantine.

“There’s also the fact that we’ve seen in recent days that far too many of those who are diagnosed [with COVID-19] are not in quarantine. Which tells us that this is a very widespread community infection. Which is why the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations to the Minister of Health are all about putting in place significantly tougher measures.”

“The most important recommendation was to lower the gathering limit considerably, which is to say to generally keep it under twenty people, although with some exceptions, which will be laid out in an announcement that the Minister of Health will be releasing,” Katrín continued.

The Minister of Health is expected to release the full list of regulations and exemptions to the gathering limit on Sunday. Special provisions will be made, for example, for funerals. Schools and daycare facilities will remain open, but with revised rules dictating their operation. These regulations will also be explained in tomorrow’s announcement.

It is presumed that the new restrictions will go into effect on Monday and will remain in place for at least two weeks.