A round up of the latest developments in Iceland’s COVID-19 outbreak:
The Icelandic government’s latest financial aid package has been released today. The measures are expected to cost around ISK 60 billion, Visir reports and they are designed to provide protection from the potential economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Special emphasis has been placed on supporting tourism businesses and promoting innovation and an active labour market. The package’s key features are as follows:
Businesses: Loans will be granted to small and medium-sized enterprises and companies that were forced to halt operations due to the pandemic will be offered ‘closing grants’. The estimated cost of these measures is over ISK 30 bil. Tourism-related companies are expected to be the main recipients of these loans, given the current dire state of tourism sector. The government will also be promoting ‘innovation’ by increasing contributions to investments in start-up companies.
Support for the vulnerable: There will be investment in mental health services and in efforts to combat domestic violence and social exclusion of the elderly and disabled. Funds will also be available to help low-income families participate in leisure activities.
Tourism: In addition to accessing business loans, tour companies will be permitted to issue credit certificates for cancelled operations instead of cash refunds.
Artists: Funds totalling ISK 250 million have been set aside to supplement the wages of Icelanders involved in creative industries such as music and art.
Media: ISK 350 million will be used to provide operational support private media companies that have suffered from a loss in marketing revenue in an effort to promote ‘pluralism and diversity in the media market’.
Students: Up to 3,500 Summer jobs and internships will be created to help students increase their employability, there will be special focus on promote entrepreneurship and innovation.
Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in a press conference today that this would not be the last COVID-19 action package and the next measures will need to be put in place by late May/early June.
Care Home Resident Dies
The death of a 90-year-old woman with COVID-19 on April 19th has been announced by the Westfjords Health Institute, bringing the virus’ death toll in Iceland to ten. The woman was a resident of the Bergi nursing home in Bolungarvík in the Westfjords. The Bergi care home has been facing a severe COVID-19 outbreak. Gunnsteinn Svavar Sigurðsson, another elderly resident died on April 5th. A large number of staff and residents are either ill or isolating and back-up carers have been flown in from Reykjavik.
Five new COVID-19 cases were detected in Iceland yesterday, April 20th, according to the covid.is website. April 19th saw the number of cases rise by just two, the lowest daily increase since March 1st. There have now been 1,778 infections in the country and almost 80% of those who have tested positive for the virus have recovered. The number of hospitalised cases has also fallen in recent days. On April 12th, 40 patients were hospitalised, now there are just 25, only five of whom require intensive care.
Possible Travel Restrictions
Þórólfur Guðnason, the chief epidemiologist, has reiterated his advice that everyone who arrives in Iceland should be required to complete a two-week quarantine, Visir reports. If implemented, the short-term measure is likely to last until at least May 15th. Þórólfur also clarified that people coming to Iceland to perform important tasks may obtain an official exemption. Until now only Icelanders returning home have been required to quarantine themselves, but the exemption of tourists has drawn much domestic criticism.
Iceland is still waiting for official confirmation of these new travel measures, but the government is convening tomorrow to consider Þórólfur’s recommendations that were submitted to the health minister last week. The Icelandic government has followed public health authorities’ guidance to the letter for the most part thus far, so it is high likely the policy will be passed in the next dew days.
National COVID-19 Survey Results
The latest results from Gallup’s national COVID-19 survey reveal that 96% of Icelanders believe the Icelandic authorities’ response to the pandemic has been successful, Fréttablaðið reports. This is the highest approval rating in the world according to Gallup’s data. By contrast, only 19% of Thai people and 50% of Americans believe their government’s efforts have been successful. Iceland also has the lowest proportion of people who believe the virus’ threat has been overblown. Just 7% of Icelanders think the impact of the pandemic has been exaggerated.
The survey also showed that 85% of Icelanders fear they themselves or a relative could have been infected with the virus. This is a relatively high proportion of the population in comparison to other nations. Of the participating nations, only South Korea, Argentina and the Philippines have a higher percentage.
As ever, those looking for more information or advice should go to the Icelandic Government’s excellent COVID-19 help page.
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