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.

New Quarantine Hotel Opened for COVID Patients

red cross iceland

The Red Cross has opened new facilities for people with COVID-19 as the current quarantine hotel is at capacity. RÚV reports that the National and University Hospital of Iceland’s Epidemic Committee has also tightened mask-wearing requirements at all of its sites. These measures have been taken in advance of an anticipated increase in positive COVID-19 cases in the coming days.

Forty-four positive cases were diagnosed on Tuesday, 38 of which were domestic and six of which were diagnosed at the border. This is the highest number of cases to be diagnosed in a single day so far this year. There are now 163 people in isolation and 454 in quarantine and these numbers are expected to go up presently.

See Also: Uptick in infections marks “a new chapter in the fight”

A statement on the website of the National and University Hospital explains that in light of widespread infection and many isolated events that are directly connected to the hospital, the Epidemic Committee sees no other option but to immediately tighten mask-wearing regulations within its facilities. Hospital employees are now only allowed to take off their masks when eating.

The same rules apply to hospital visitors and others with business at the hospital. Inpatients are not required to wear masks, however, unless they are leaving their wards for tests or procedures.

Increased measures to stem the uptick in infections are also being taken elsewhere. For one, capital-area police have begun to wear masks when on the job. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to require all travellers to Iceland to present a negative COVID test before entering the country. Residents and people with connections in Iceland are also advised to get tested in Iceland upon arrival in the country, even if they don’t present any symptoms.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Regulations Relaxed Today

skiing ski lift Iceland

Updated COVID-19 regulations take effect in Iceland today, raising the gathering limit from 10 to 20 people and allowing gyms and skiing grounds to reopen. The new regulations are set to remain in effect until February 17. Icelandic authorities are investigating whether stricter border regulations such as mandatory testing for arriving passengers are supported by Icelandic law.

While the COVID-19 pandemic grows in most of its neighbouring countries, Iceland has managed to keep domestic case numbers at a minimum. Total active cases have hovered around 150 for several weeks and Iceland currently has the lowest incidence rate of all countries reported on by the European Centre for Disease Control. In a briefing on Monday, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated it was time to relax domestic restrictions, while expressing concern at the risk presented by the high number of cases diagnosed at the borders.

Changes to Domestic Restrictions

As of today, the national gathering limit is 20, up from a record low of 10 which has been in effect since October 31. In addition, various activities and events have been granted exceptions to this general gathering limit. Gyms are permitted to reopen at 50% capacity with certain restrictions in place. Skiing grounds may also reopen. Athletic activities for adults and children are also permitted with a maximum of 50 participants and with certain restrictions in place. Athletic competitions are also permitted without a live audience.

In performing arts, up to 50 people may rehearse and perform together for up to 100 adults and 100 children in the audience. Audience members must have assigned seating and wear masks, and no intermissions are permitted during performances. Performers are also required to wear masks whenever possible.

Funerals are also excepted from the national gathering limit and may have up to 100 guests present (children born 2005 or later are not counted within this limit). Masks are mandatory. Funeral receptions may not host more than 20 people, however.

Mask use remains mandatory in shops, on public transport, and in all situations where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained. The two-metre social distancing rule also remains in effect. Bars and clubs remain closed.

Changes to Border Restrictions

One change to border restrictions also took effect today: children returning to the country from abroad are now required to quarantine along with their parents or guardians. Children were previously not required to do so, even while residing with others in travel quarantine. Children born in 2005 or later remain exempt from border testing, barring exceptional circumstances.

All travellers entering Iceland may choose between 14-day quarantine without testing, or a border test, five-day quarantine, and a follow-up test. While the vast majority of travellers opt for double testing, there have been indications of individuals in 14-day quarantine breaching regulations. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has expressed concern that travellers arriving from abroad could spread the virus into the community, leading to a surge in domestic cases.

As a result, Icelandic authorities are considering making border testing mandatory for all travellers, or requiring those who refuse testing to serve their 14-day quarantine at government-run facilities. It remains unclear, however, whether Icelandic law supports such regulations. Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir has stated that a conclusion on the matter will be reached by the end of the week.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Cases Drop as Hospitalisations Rise

Domestic COVID-19 case numbers appear to be dropping in Iceland, though strain on the healthcare system continues to increase, particularly in North Iceland. Those were the main messages from a pandemic briefing held by Icelandic authorities in Reykjavík this morning. Tighter restrictions took effect in Iceland on Saturday, halving the national assembly limit to 10 and instituting wider mandatory mask usage.

Iceland reported 26 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday and 6 from border testing. Active case numbers are at 905 and have been dropping for several days. The number of people hospitalised due to COVID-19 is, however, at a record high of 72, with 3 of those in intensive care. Patients have also been hospitalised in Akureyri, North Iceland, though none of the cases there are currently serious.

Growth in Cases in North Iceland

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that while community-spread infections appear to be trending downwards there are fewer tests conducted during the weekend. Numbers over the next few days will show whether the trend will continue. There continue to be small group outbreaks, particularly in North Iceland. Of yesterday’s new domestic cases, 25% have a legal residence outside the capital area. No new strains of the virus have been detected and for now Iceland is not seeing exponential growth in case numbers, in contrast to many nearby countries.

Update to Border Regulations

Current border regulations, which allow travellers the option between double-testing and five day quarantine or 14-day quarantine without testing, are in effect until December 1. Þórólfur stated that he will be submitting his recommendations for continued border regulations to the Health Ministry soon. He noted that current regulations have prevented a large number of active cases from spreading into the community and expressed his support of implementing mandatory testing for all travellers entering the country.

Outbreak Response Team Established

According to National University Hospital Director Páll Matthíasson, the group outbreak that began at the hospital’s Landakot location nearly two weeks ago seems to have been contained. Director of Health Alma Möller announced that an outbreak response team had been put together over the weekend that can react quickly in the case of such outbreaks at healthcare institutions. The team is able to respond to such events across the country.

Stores and Schools

The tightened regulations that took effect on Saturday made mask use mandatory in stores across the country. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson expressed bewilderment that there had been cases of customers refusing to wear masks in stores and even threatening employees who were often young people simply trying to direct customers. “It’s such a load of nonsense that I can’t believe we are dealing with it,” he stated.

Víðir said authorities had received hundreds of requests from businesses asking for exemptions from the tightened COVID-19 regulations. He urged the public and companies to stop requesting exemptions and follow the rules for the next two weeks.

Regarding criticism of tightened regulations that take effect in schools tomorrow, Þórólfur stated the regulations, which give more freedom to younger students, aimed to strike a compromise between infection prevention measures and keeping schools operating as normally as possible.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.00am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: New School Regulations Take Effect Tomorrow

Borgarfjörður eystri

Tightened COVID-19 restrictions for schools take effect tomorrow, including mandatory mask usage for students in grade 5 and above. Tightened COVID-19 restrictions took effect in Iceland on Saturday, October 31, including a gathering ban on groups over 10 and mandatory mask usage in stores for everyone over the age of five. Preschools, primary schools, and music schools are closed today in the Reykjavík capital area in order to plan the implementation of the new restrictions. They will reopen tomorrow, November 3.

The regulations from primary schools (grades 1-10) are listed below.

  • Grades 1-4: Students are exempt from the 2-metre rule and are not required to wear masks. Up to 50 students may be in the same room. The same rules apply to after-school centres for students in grades 1-4.
  • Grades 5-10: No more than 25 students may be together in a single room. Both students and staff are required to keep a 2-metre distance from each other and use masks when distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Primary School Staff: No more than 10 staff members can be together in a single room. Staff are permitted to move between groups. Staff must maintain two-metre distancing between each other and from students in Grades 5-10. Where two-metre distancing is not possible, staff members are required to wear masks.
  • Gathering Limits and Group Separation: Students in primary schools and after-school centres shall be kept in the same groups which will remain separate. The gathering limit may be broken and group mixing is permitted in the school’s common areas as long as staff and students in grades 5-10 wear masks.
  • Athletics: Organised athletic activities and recreational programming for youth, including community centre programs for primary school children is not permitted.

Secondary Schools, Universities, and Music Schools

  • The general 10-person gathering limit applies, as well as mandatory 2-metre distancing and mask usage for universities, music schools, and secondary schools. For first-year mandatory subjects in secondary schools, groups of up to 25 students are permitted, as long as 2-metre distancing is maintained.
  • Mixing of students between groups is not permitted, but staff and teachers may move between groups. The gathering limit may be broken and group mixing is permitted in the school’s common areas as long as masks are worn.
  • Practical teaching, art, and clinical studies may be held outdoors with the same 10-person limit even when 2-metre distancing cannot be maintained. Mask use is, however, mandatory.

Teachers Oppose Exceptions for Young Students

The Primary School Teachers’ Association released a statement urging authorities to reconsider the regulations issued for schools. The statement argues that the decision to allow students in grades 1-4 to be in groups of up to 50 without requiring 2-metre distancing or the use of masks “seriously undermines” the objective of tightening COVID-19 regulations.

The association says it is not disputing research that shows children are less likely to contract and spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It points out, however, that the general regulations that took effect on Saturday are meant to apply to everyone born before 2015.

Mask Use Mandatory on Reykjavík Buses

straeto covid-19

All passengers and drivers on Reykjavík’s public bus system Strætó are required to wear face masks as of today. Mask use remains mandatory on Strætó’s long-distance bus service throughout the countryside. Children born in 2005 or later are exempted from this rule.

The mask requirement is in line with tightened COVID-19 restrictions which took effect across the country today. “Customers in the capital area and in the countryside who do not wear face masks will therefore not be allowed to use public transport,” a notice on Strætó’s website reads.

Buses are exempt from the newly-imposed gathering limit of 20, perhaps one reason why mandatory mask use has been implemented inside the vehicles. Customers are responsible for providing their own face masks and are reminded to avoid travelling by bus if they have flu symptoms.

Shopping Malls Emphasise Mask Use

Both Kringlan and Smáralind shopping malls are placing additional emphasis on mask use in their operations, Vísir reports. Kringlan administration has suggested all stores in the shopping mall institute a mandatory mask policy for staff. Smáralind authorities have also recommended the use of masks wherever possible.

Mask use is mandatory in Iceland for all services where one-metre distancing cannot be maintained, such as at hair salons and massage parlours. As of today, it is also mandatory for audience members in theatres.

Masks Required in Secondary Schools and Universities

face mask

Students, teachers, and other staff in secondary schools and universities in the capital area will be required to wear masks within school buildings and during all school operations, according to the Ministry of Education’s recently updated guidelines. The updated guidelines are based on the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestion to the Minister of Health. Masks were delivered to schools early this morning.

The masks will ensure the continued operations of schools and universities. The notice from the Ministry of Education reveals that mask use in schools outside the capital area will be subject to circumstances, each school’s situation and the local spread of contagion.

The guidelines urge that masks be used correctly, a social distance of 1 metre and personal hygiene be respected, and outside visitors limited as much as possible.

 

Sales Boom in Material for Homemade Masks

face mask

The owner of the sewing workshop Sauma has sold material for over 8,000 homemade masks recently. A new shipment of material is expected to arrive shortly. Owner Sveinn Dal Sigmarsson says that people are more likely to sow during a recession, and that the handiwork might be an alternative source of income for some. Such was the demand that Sveinn got his mother to assist with the store.

“We’ve already sold 400 metres of this fabric. Each metre can give 20 masks, so it’s around 8,000 masks that have been pre-sold,” Sveinn told Vísir.is. He expects that number to increase to 15,000 or 16,000 next week. “There was a boom following the Merchant’s Weekend. We started to sell elastic material in the thousands per day, and all of our material was sold out. People lose their jobs during recessions, so they try to find ways to get an income. So they take out the sewing machine, make things, and sell them on Facebook.”

The material is not classified as a medical instrument but has been tested, and is only a good option for people in good health in certain conditions. “The material has been tested by the French army is probably a fine material,” said Ása Atladóttir, a project manager in disease control at the Directorate of Health. She points out that those making masks at home should make sure that they are three-layered in order to provide enough protection.

Here are instructions for the use of face masks from the Icelandic Directorate of Health.

The instructions point out that it’s preferable to use single-use masks, but that multi-use masks made from linen can be used, provided that they are washed daily, at the least. The Directorate does not recommend the general use of face masks in public, however.