From Iceland — COVID-19 Update: 588 Cases, Iceland Steps Up Response, MP Infected

COVID-19 Update: 588 Cases, Iceland Steps Up Response, MP Infected

Published March 23, 2020

Poppy Askham
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As the government continues to ramp up its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, here are the latest developments in the Iceland’s battle against the virus. It is Monday, March 23rd at the time of writing.

Today’s data

At the time of writing, there are 588 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, 14 of which have resulted in hospitalisations. 6,816 are currently in quarantine and 10,301 samples have been taken by deCODE genetics and the National University Hospital. 36 people have fully recovered from the virus.

Though infection numbers have increased considerably over the weekend, only 21 new cases were reported today. In fact, Iceland has seen one of the smallest rises in newly diagnosed infections across Europe. This hint that the government’s battle against coronavirus is working was highlighted in Sunday’s coronavirus press conference, as Kjarninn reports.

From midnight tonight there will be a ban on gatherings of more than 20 people in Iceland. Supermarkets, pharmacies, airports and international ports are exempt from this new restrictions and it remains unclear how the ban will be enforced.

New closures

As measures to suppress COVID-19 ramp up, several new closures have been announced. Swimming pools, fitness centres, libraries, museums, and even the STD clinic is all set to close for an undetermined amount of time. Hairdressers, nail salons and other businesses involving close physical contact will also close. Schools and public transport remain functional, but stricter measures are to be put in place to prevent further transmission of the virus.

The Blue Lagoon has also announced that it will be closed to visitors until at least the end of April. This closure also applies to the Silica Hotel, the Retreat and its restaurants and shops.

Coronavirus outbreak in government

One MP has tested positive for COVID-19. Smári McCarthy of the Pirate Party announced his diagnosis over the weekend. Thankfully Smári began self-isolation just before a meeting of the Pirate Party was due to take place. Six other parliament employees are also infected, with others in quarantine. Notably, Gumundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, the Minister of the Environment, has revealed that he is among those quarantined over the weekend.

The youngest son of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is also in quarantine after a member of staff at Melaskóli tested positive for the virus. In a post on Facebook, the PM clarified that her son and his father have moved out of the family home in order to self-isolate. She has been tested for the virus and is following all medical advice and staying at home as she awaits the results.

Medical swab shortages

Officials have revealed that Iceland faces a shortage of medical swabs required for coronavirus tests, as Frettabladid reports. An expected shipment of swabs was reduced from 5,000 to 2,000 before being cancelled entirely as suppliers struggle to keep up with sky-rocketing global demand. Þórólfur Guðnason, the national epidemiologist, has been unable to confirm when the National Hospital will receive the urgently needed supplies. It had been hoped that the swabs would arrive this week, but that is now highly uncertain.

Redundancies at Icelandair

240 people have been laid off at Icelandair and 92% of the remaining staff will face a 20% wage reduction, as Visir reports. This decision was “painful but necessary,” according to Boga Nils Bogasson, the company’s CEO. The airline has been hard hit by the dramatic drop in demand for flights and near-disappearance of tourism to Iceland in recent weeks.

These firings come just after Iceland announced that it would be participating in the EU’s travel ban. People from outside the EU and EEA will be unable to enter the country for at least a month. In the face of these new travel restrictions, things are set to get even more difficult for the tourist-dependent economy.

Ventilators gifted to Iceland

Finally, a little good news amidst all the darkness. The National Hospital has received a donation of 15 ICU ventilators from the US, RÚV reports. The equipment arrived last Friday as a gift from an anonymous benefactor. This potentially life-saving donation serves as a reminder that human beings are capable of great kindness even in times as desperate as these.

Tune into our daily COVID-cast for more on recent coronavirus-related developments in Iceland.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

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