What Are Icelanders Talking About?: Coronavirus, Efling Strike, And More

What Are Icelanders Talking About?: Coronavirus, Efling Strike, And More

Published March 7, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

One of the more concerning news stories of late has been the arrival of the coronavirus to Iceland. An Icelandic man in his forties was diagnosed on February 28th and was quarantined at the Landspítali Infectious Disease Department in Fossvogur. In the days following that first confirmed case of COVID-19, several more Icelanders were diagnosed with the virus, which first emerged in China in late 2019 and has since spread to 70 countries, with roughly 90,000 cases and 3,000 deaths being reported. At the time of this writing, 37 Icelanders have been diagnosed. All of the diagnosed Icelanders are confirmed to have recently returned from Austria or Northern Italy, which has become a hub for the virus in Europe. Almost 400 Icelanders are currently being quarantined in their homes.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management announced an “Alert Phase” in response to the emergence of COVID-19 in Iceland, and the Directorate of Health is regularly updating information about the virus on their website. Their recommendation for the general public is to focus on good hygiene, washing hands with soap and water, using alcohol-based hand sanitisers, and coughing or sneezing into your elbow.

The weather continues to be a hot topic in Iceland, as it seems we’re hit with a yellow or orange warning from the Icelandic Met Office one or two times a week now. There have, in fact been two cyclones since late January, with violent storms closing roads, shuttering schools, cancelling air travel, and generally making everyone miserable. This is especially the case in the countryside, where the woefully outdated infrastructure has meant power outages for many communities during these storms, sending electrical workers scrambling to get the juice back on. No one is looking forward to summer as much as we are right now.

Strikes have also been a topic of great contention in the news lately, regarding two unions in particular: Efling, a union comprised of some of the lowest-paid workers in the country, and BSRB, comprised of municipal and state employees. Negotiations between Efling and the City of Reykjavík are at an impasse at the time of this writing, which has affected play schools, elderly care, and even garbage collection. Meanwhile, BSRB workers are slated to begin striking on March 9 if no collective bargaining agreement can be reached. Could be dark times ahead for the city if they can’t make a deal with these unions.

Finally, the case of a trans teen and his family, seeking asylum from Iran has been hitting many Icelanders hard. The family is slated to be deported to Portugal, their last point of departure within the Schengen area, on the grounds of the Dublin Regulation—a controversial and arguably obsolete agreement that gives the Icelandic government the power to deport people without looking at their cases if they were registered in an EEA country on their way here. Maní, the trans teen in question, has a lot of supporters, ranging from the National Queer Organisation to the Bishop of Iceland herself, and the case has even attracted the attention of international news outlets. The immigrations Appeals Boartd is now reviewing the case, and so the deportation has been postponed for the time being, but the family isn’t out of the woods yet.

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