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.

COVID-19 in Iceland: One Metre Rule Takes Effect

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Less stringent COVID-19 regulations took effect today in Iceland. The 2-metre social distancing rule has been relaxed to 1 metre, and the maximum size of gatherings has risen from 100 to 200. Other changes include a rise in the maximum number of guests at swimming pools and gyms: both may now operate at 75% capacity, a rise from the previous 50%.

Physical contact is now permitted in sports activities, stage performances, and other cultural events. Audience members at these events must, however, maintain a 1-metre distance from each other. The latest closing time of bars, clubs, and restaurants (venues with a liquor licence) will continue to be 11.00pm.

The one-metre rule does not apply to individuals that have a close relationship.

These regulations will be in effect until September 27. Iceland currently has 76 active cases of COVID-19 and the number has been dropping steadily for several days.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Two Metres Reduced to One

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland will likely reduce its two-metre social distancing rule to one metre and double the national assembly limit to 200 people from September 10. Masks will still be required in situations where that distance cannot be maintained, for example in hair salons and massage parlours. The double testing and five-day quarantine required of arriving travellers will remain unchanged for the time being.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced the changes in a briefing in Reykjavík today. He will also propose further changes to COVID-19 regulations to the Minister of Health, who makes the final call on their implementation. The changes include allowing swimming pools and gyms to operate at 75% capacity and permitting theatre performances with up to 200 participants and one-metre distancing. The regulation requiring bars and clubs to close at 11.00pm will remain unchanged.

Active Cases at the Border Rising

Since August 19, all travellers entering Iceland have been required to undergo testing at the border, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Þórólfur says the number of active cases detected at the border has been rising despite a drop in the number of travellers. This means the percentage of active cases among arriving travellers is rising significantly, which Þórólfur says reflects the spread of the virus abroad.

Of 100 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the border, 84 did so in their first test and 16 in the second. The proportion of those who received a false negative in their first test is higher than expected, according to Þórólfur, and therefore shows the importance of testing those arriving from abroad twice. Around 60% of those who have tested positive at the border are Icelandic residents, who are considered more likely to spread the virus locally than tourists. Around a third have been tourists.

Border Screening Re-evaluated Next Week

Iceland’s current border regulations concerning COVID-19 are valid until September 15. Þórólfur will decide next week whether changes to the measures will be made, but stated he does not expect to recommend any fundamental changes. The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that it was more logical to loosen measures within the country before doing so at the borders.

A total of 220 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Iceland since June 15. A majority of recently diagnosed cases, or around 60%, were among people who were already in quarantine. Iceland currently has 96 active cases of COVID-19 and a domestic incidence rate of 17.7 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

Two-Metre Rule Relaxed in Iceland as Gyms and Bars Reopen

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Groups of 200 may gather together and gyms and bars may reopen today in Iceland as the second stage of lifting COVID-19 restrictions takes effect. The state of emergency declared on February 28 has been lifted. The two-metre social distancing rule, in effect since March 13, will also be somewhat relaxed in public spaces. Only six people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland since May 1, even as widespread testing continues.

Gathering ban loosened

Icelandic authorities instituted their first gathering ban due to COVID-19 on March 16, limiting gatherings to 100 people or less. At its most strict, the ban was tightened to groups over 20. As of today, groups of up to 200 may gather together.

Gyms and bars may reopen today as well, though they may only admit guests up to half the capacity stated on their operating licence. The same applies to swimming pools, which reopened one week ago to the delight of locals. Bars and clubs may not be open later than 11.00pm.

New definition of two-metre rule

Since March 13, Icelandic authorities have encouraged two-metre social distancing whenever possible, and that encouragement still stands. As of May 25, however, people may sit or stand close together, but venues must make it possible for patrons to maintain a two-metre distance from others if they so desire. Theatres and movie theatres must, therefore, offer “at least a few seats” that allow for this distance to be maintained, according to a memorandum from the Chief Epidemiologist. This also applies to public spaces such as shops, restaurants, swimming pools, gyms, health clinics, workplaces, public buses, and schools, all of which must endeavour to maintain the two-metre rule “when possible.”

Currently only three active COVID-19 cases

Since Iceland’s first case on February 28, 1,804 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland. Of these, 115 were admitted to hospital, and 30 to intensive care. Eighteen required the assistance of a ventilator and in total ten have died. As of the time of writing, Iceland only has three active cases of COVID-19.

Iceland to Further Loosen COVID-19 Restrictions on May 25

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland is set to enter its second stage of loosening COVID-19 restrictions on May 25, three weeks after the first stage began on May 4. Despite widespread coronavirus testing, no new cases have been confirmed in the country for the past three days. Over 97% of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland have fully recovered.

May 25: Gyms Open, Larger Gatherings Permitted

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced in authorities’ daily COVID-19 briefing that COVID-19 restrictions would be further loosened on May 25, slightly earlier than had been previously suggested. As of May 25, gyms will be permitted to reopen and the ban on gatherings of over 50 people will be loosened further. Gatherings of groups larger than 50 people will be permitted, though authorities have yet to decide on a specific number of individuals. Þórólfur stated, however, that the number would likely be 100 or more. Swimming pools are set to reopen on May 18, one week earlier.

Þórólfur added that he hoped the public would be understanding about the need to lift restrictions in stages over a long period. He underlined the importance of maintaining individual preventative measures such as hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, being aware of where your hands are, and the 2-metre distancing rule.

Chief Epidemiologist Clarifies Two-Metre Rule

Earlier this week, Þórólfur told reporters that he believed the two-metre social distancing rule should apply at least until the end of the year. Musicians and others whose work depends on public gatherings expressed disappointment and concern at the news. Þórólfur has since clarified his statement to explain that the two-metre distancing rule is a request rather than a command and that concerts would be permitted from May 25 onward. At such public events, stated Þórólfur, “it will certainly not be possible to maintain the two-metre rule at all times, but there may be a requirement [for event organisers] that individuals can have the rule fulfilled, especially vulnerable groups.”