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

Bankastræti club nightlife post COVID

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

See Also: Iceland Lifts All COVID-19 Restrictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 One-Metre Distancing Requirement for Seated Events

Harpa concert hall

Iceland’s Health Minister has lifted the requirement of one-metre distancing at seated events, such as concerts and performing arts events. The decision was made in consultation with the Chief Epidemiologist. Event organisers had complained that the rule was unnecessarily cumbersome and stricter than requirements in other types of venues, such as bars and restaurants.

“This is a big and important change,” Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson stated. “This changes the conditions for holding events as it will be possible to utilise all seats at events as long as there are not more than 500 people per compartment.” As previously, mask use is still required at all seated events.

Performing arts venues are still not permitted to sell alcohol during events. Some event organisers have protested that regulation, as alcohol sales are permitted at bars, clubs, and restaurants.

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: Regulations on Mask Use Amended

mask use social distancing

Icelandic authorities released a notice amending the COVID-19 regulations yesterday. The regulations took force at midnight last Saturday, setting a 200-person gathering limit and one-metre social distancing, among other rules meant to curb the spread of infection. Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions on June 26, but imposed them again last weekend after a rise in cases attributed to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The notice outlines two changes to the regulations. Firstly, the gathering limit of 200 will apply to children born in 2016 or earlier. The second change entails removing a clause about ventilation, which “proved somewhat unclear and therefore difficult to carry out.” The clause stated that masks were required in businesses and services where one-metre distancing couldn’t be carried out or there was inadequate ventilation. According to the amendment, business operators must decide whether it is possible to maintain one-metre distancing on their premises, and if not, masks must be worn.

More information about Iceland’s current domestic restrictions can be found here.

Icelandic authorities will hold a COVID-19 information briefing at 11:00 AM today, which Iceland Review will live-tweet in English on our Twitter page.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Mask Regulations and Gathering Limits Relaxed

A crowd in Hlemmur Food Hall

Loosened social restrictions took effect today in Iceland, where no new domestic COVID-19 cases were reported over the weekend. The new restrictions raise the general gathering limit from 50 to 150 people, reduce distancing to 1 metre for certain activities and remove the mask requirement in shops. The regulations will remain in effect until June 16, inclusively.

The new restrictions are as follows:

  • The general gathering limit is 150 people.
  • General 2-metre distancing between people who do not have a close relationship remains in effect at workplaces and other activities. Distancing of 1 metre is the general rule in schools, restaurants, and swimming pools as well as for recreational activities and at events with seated guests.
  • Masks must be used when distancing cannot be ensured, such as on public transport, in taxis, at hair salons, massage parlours, and other similar activities. They are also a requirement at seated events such as concerts. Mask use is no longer a general requirement in shops or workplaces.
  • Swimming pools, gyms, and ski slopes are open and permitted to operate at 100% capacity.
  • Restaurants and nightclubs with a liquor licence may remain open until 11.00pm. All guests must leave the premises by midnight. Patrons must be served at their tables; bar service is not permitted. Guests must be registered by name, ID number, and telephone number.
  • Children born 2015 or later are exempt from gathering limits and distancing regulations. Children born 2005 and later are exempt from mask use regulations.

Performing arts events, religious gatherings, and athletic events may host up to 300 seated guests with certain restrictions. More detailed information on the restrictions is available in English on the official COVID-19 website of the government of Iceland.

Icelandic authorities have outlined a plan to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in stages by late June as vaccination efforts progress. Vaccination schedules suggest 75% of the population will have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine at that time. The plan is contingent upon vaccine distribution schedules and the Directorate of Health’s vaccination schedule.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Social Restrictions Take Effect Today

Laugardalslaug Pool Reykjavík.

Iceland’s national gathering limit rose from 20 to 50 today, while regulations governing gym, pool, and business operations were also relaxed. Iceland’s government announced the changes last Friday after its busiest vaccination week, where 40,000 received a jab of COVID-19 vaccine. The restrictions will remain in effect until May 26.

As of today, swimming pools, gyms, camping sites, and ski slopes in Iceland may operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%. Regulations were also relaxed for shops, which can now admit up to 200 customers (space allowing) and performing arts and athletic events, which host up to 150 seated guests per section, registered by name and ID number (kennitala).

Opening times were extended by one hour for restaurants and bars, which can now remain open until 10.00pm. All guests must leave the premises by 11.00pm. Two-metre distancing remains in effect, as does mandatory mask use in shops, on public transportation, and in all situations where distancing cannot be ensured.

Regulations Unchanged in Skagafjörður

The relaxations do not extend to the regions of Skagafjörður or Akrahreppur in North Iceland due to a group infection that emerged there last Friday. Seven have tested positive for COVID-19 in the municipalities, where primary schools and preschools have been closed and sports and recreational activities have been suspended.

Iceland currently has 100 active cases of COVID-19. Vaccination is progressing according to schedule: 37.6% of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and 14.6% are fully vaccinated. Icelandic authorities have introduced a plan to lift all social restrictions by late June of this year, when a majority of the nation is expected to have received at least one dose of vaccine.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Swimming Pools and Bars Reopen

sundhöll

New domestic regulations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 take effect in Iceland today, a slight relaxing from the regulation of the past three weeks. The general gathering limit has been doubled from 10 to 20, while gyms, bars, and swimming pools are permitted to reopen. The relaxed domestic restrictions, recommended by the country’s Chief Epidemiologist and approved by Iceland’s cabinet on Tuesday, will remain in effect until May 6.

The main changes that took effect today are as follows:

  • Gyms and pools are permitted to reopen and operate at 50% capacity.
  • Sports competitions and athletic activities with or without contact will be permitted among adults and children. The maximum number of adults in such activities is 50. Children are subject to the same gathering limits as in school activities. Athletic activities can host up to 100 seated guests.
  • Performing arts activities, including choral activities, are permitted with up to 50 performers and maximum 100 guests in each separate section.
  • All shops can accept up to 5 guests for every 10 squared metres of space up to a maximum of 100 people, in addition to 20 employees in the same space.
  • Nightclubs, pubs, and slot machine venues may operate under the same conditions as restaurants. They must close by 9.00pm.
  • Driving and flight lessons are permitted to restart.
  • The general distancing rule for schools will be reduced from two metres to one metre. Preschool and primary school children will be permitted to engage in sports and recreational activities.

Iceland currently has 83 active cases of COVID-19 and one of the lowest infection rates in Europe. Two patients are currently in hospital due to COVID-19. A total of 67,158 have received one or both doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 18.2% of the population.

No changes have been made to Iceland’s border regulations, which are in effect until May 1.

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.

Criticism of Finance Minister After He Breaks COVID-19 Regulations

Bjarni Benediktsson kynning fjármálafrumvarp 2021

Opposition MPs have called for Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s resignation after he broke COVID-19 regulations by attending a gathering of 50-60 people on December 23. While several government ministers have expressed disappointment with Bjarni’s actions, none have suggested it warrants the dissolution of the governing coalition.

In the early hours of December 24, media received logs from Reykjavík Capital Area Police describing how officers had broken up a large gathering in downtown Reykjavík the previous night. The gathering was at a public venue and occurred after the mandated closing time of 9.00pm. “Between 40-50 guests were gathered in the hall, and one honoured Minister of the Icelandic cabinet among them,” the log stated. Iceland’s national gathering limit is currently 10 individuals and social distancing of 2 metres is mandatory in most public situations.

Guests Drinking and Kissing

“There was considerable drunkenness at the gathering and most of the guests had alcohol in hand. Police noticed that none of the guests wore face masks. Policemen stated that distancing regulations were barely respected by anyone.” Police then notified the event organisers that the incident would be reported and ordered the guests to leave. “Many guests took leave of each other with hugs and some with kisses. One of the guests was dissatisfied with the police intervention and compared us to Nazis,” the log concluded.

Minister Apologised for Not Leaving Immediately

Though police did not identify which minister was at the gathering, it came to light soon after that it had been Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, who is also Chairman of the Independence Party. In a Facebook post published on the morning of December 24, Bjarni stated that he and his wife were downtown the previous evening and received a call from some friends asking them to stop by the venue in question and say hello. “When we came in and went up into the hall last night I should have realized that there were more people there than rules allow.” Bjarni stated that he had been at the gathering for 15 minutes when police arrived to break it up. “The right response would have been to leave the art gallery immediately as soon as I realised that the crowd was above limits. I did not do that and I sincerely apologise for that mistake,” the Minister concluded in his post.

Á heimleið úr miðborginni í gærkvöldi fengum við Þóra símtal frá vinahjónum, sem voru stödd á listasafninu í…

Posted by Bjarni Benediktsson on Thursday, December 24, 2020

 

Parliament Responds

Several government ministers have responded to the incident. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated that Bjarni’s attendance of the event damaged trust in the government, but did not call for his resignation. Transport Minister and Progressive Party Chairman Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson called the incident “unfortunate,” and stated that it did not set a good example, but added that it would not affect co-operation in the three-party coalition government.

The Chief Epidemiologist also responded to the incident, saying: “It is just very bad when the nation’s leaders don’t follow these rules,” adding that it was “a shame” that the incident had happened.

While opposition MPs and others outside of Parliament have called for Bjarni to resign, Political Scientist Eiríkur Bergmann believes such a move to be unlikely. Eiríkur also stated it is unlikely the incident would lead to a dissolution of the governing coalition. He speculated that it was more likely to have a negative effect on the coalition’s Left-Green Movement than Bjarni’s own Independence Party, as Independence Party voters were more likely to forgive the Minister for his actions.