From Iceland — Mixed Messages About Having To Mask Up On The Bus, Questions Over Mask Prices

Mixed Messages About Having To Mask Up On The Bus, Questions Over Mask Prices

Published July 31, 2020

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Yesterday’s announcement that Iceland will once again be tightening up restrictions to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has caused considerable confusion in at least one aspect: whether or not one is obliged to wear a mask on city buses. It turns out, you are, but not before some mixed messages on the subject were given. (See update further in the article.)

In other news, masks themselves are selling up quickly, and questions have arisen over how the prices of masks have changed.

Amongst the new restrictions announced yesterday was that wearing masks will, from noon today, be mandatory on public transport, including flights both international and domestic ferries, and in spaces where maintaining a two-metre distance between others is not possible.

However, both Víðir Reynisson of Civic Defense and the organisation’s spokesperson, Jóhann K. Jóhannsson, went on the record later yesterday that “public transport” did not include Strætó, the bus service for the capital area. They added, however, that Strætó could choose to enforce a mask rule of their own, and that this would likely help increase safety from the virus.

As it turns out, that is exactly what Strætó has decided to do. Starting at noon today, all passengers—with the exception of children aged 15 and younger—will be obliged to wear a mask if they want to board a bus. Passengers are furthermore encouraged to use bus cards rather than money, to always wash their hands, and to not get on the bus at all if they suspect they may be ill.

In other words: if you do not mask up for the bus, you will not be allowed to board. UPDATE, 15:50: Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, the managing director of Strætó, now tells RÚV that they are encouraging, but not requiring, passengers to wear masks. The official site has updated its regulations for bus use—do read them before heading to the stop.

Single-use masks can be bought at most pharmacies, but one should pay special attention to what sort of masks they are buying. Fréttablaðið reports that one Icelander bought two 20-packs of single use masks, 23 minutes apart, but with a price difference of over 5,000 ISK in the interim.

The customer in question posted photos of the two receipts to Facebook, accusing the pharmacy Lyfja og heilsu of jacking up the prices, but a closer look at the receipts show that they are two different products. However, there have been demonstrable instances of the prices of masks increasing dramatically over the past 24 hours.

Fréttablaðið points out that the price for a 50-pack of disposable masks from Varnir.is went by 1,000 ISK within a matter of hours yesterday afternoon. Halldór Andri Árnason, the managing director of Streymir, which operates Varnir, told reporters that the price increase was due to the need to have more masks sent by express delivery from abroad.

All this being the case, ordering a reusable mask from any of the many online shops available—and wearing disposable masks in the meantime—would probably be the best bet, both in terms of public health and cost.

For more information on Iceland’s COVID-19 response, go to covid.is.

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