From Iceland — Finance Minister Breaks COVID Restrictions, Scandal Ensues

Finance Minister Breaks COVID Restrictions, Scandal Ensues

Published December 28, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Art Bicnick

It started with a somewhat innocuous announcement from the police blotter—and has now blown up into calls to disband the government.

Police were called to the Ásmundasalur museum on the night of December 23 after receiving word that a party was in full swing there that was in possible violation of current coronavirus restrictions.

“Food and drink service is in the meeting hall and is supposed to be closed at this time,” the police announcement read in part. “It came to light that there were between 40 to 50 people in hall, amongst them a minister of the Icelandic government.”

Immediately, reporters began calling Icelandic ministers one by one to find out who it was who attended an over-capacity, after hours party where many if not most of the guests were not even wearing masks. It came to light that the minister in question was Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson.

All apologies

In the wake of this reporting, Bjarni took to Facebook to issue an apology.

“As can be seen in the news, the police arrived and broke up the party,” he wrote in part. “And rightly so. Too many people had gathered there. I had been in the building for about 15 minutes and during that time, more guests arrived. The right response would have been to leave the museum as soon as I realised that the group had exceeded [social gathering] restrictions. I didn’t, and I sincerely apologise for that mistake.”

The matter did not end there, however, as calls for Bjarni’s resignation began.

Calls to end the government

This demand came mostly from the opposition, but also from the youth wings of both the Left-Greens and the Progressives, who added that the coalition comprised of their parties and Bjarni’s, the Independence Party, should be dissolved.

The Pirate Party went a step further, proposing a minority government comprised of the Left-Greens and the Progressives, with the support of the Pirates, and for new elections in the spring instead of next autumn.

“Look at the big picture”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bjarni does not believe his actions warrant resignation. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, while saying that Bjarni’s actions likely harmed trust in the government, added that she will not be asking for Bjarni’s resignation. Progressive Party chair Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson said that while Bjarni’s actions were “unfortunate”, it was important to “look at the big picture”, mentioning that vaccines were right around the corner.

For their part, the Reykjavík Area police have said that it was a mistake to have even disclosed that a government minister was at the party, saying that it goes against their work regulations to disclose personal information in the police blotter. They did not disclose if Bjarni is going to be facing any fines or other punitive measures for violation coronavirus restrictions.

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