The biggest controversy shaking Iceland right now is the new quarantine hotel. That is, anyone coming to the country—whether tourists or Icelandic citizens—had to spend five days in an upscale hotel, with the room and food mostly covered by the state. This was done because asking those arriving in Iceland to quarantine themselves between COVID-19 screenings apparently wasn’t working, with some disregarding quarantine altogether. This new policy was, however, in a legal grey area, and has led to some Icelanders challenging the hotel quarantine in court. Lawyers representing these people have described this five-day hotel stay in terms like “worse than prison” and “gulag” and “North Korea.” Interestingly, none of these lawyers have said a word about asylum seeker shelters, which have been covered extensively by the media for years now as being demonstrably worse than Icelandic prisons. The challenge in Reykjavík District Court led to the court finding that the Icelandic government did not have the authority to put people in this hotel if they already had a legal address in Iceland, or otherwise had a place to quarantine in. Now Parliament must reconvene to make quarantine regulations clearer, and legal.
We probably wouldn’t need to worry so much about this if everyone received a COVID-19 vaccine, but shots have been rolling out much slower than expected. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir told reporters last February that some 190,000 Icelanders would be vaccinated by the end of June—”numbers we can stand by”, as she put it—yet at the time of this writing, only just over 24,000 people have been fully vaccinated (bearing in mind that “fully vaccinated” means a person has received both shots and a grace period of about two weeks has elapsed). At this rate, by the end of June authorities will only be about halfway to their goal. While authorities quietly updated their vaccination schedule, the public has taken notice, and opposition MPs have asked what the hold up is. Despite this, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has insisted the government fully intends to meet their stated goal. Only time will tell.
Oh yeah, the volcano in Geldingadalur is still erupting — in fact, two new fissures have opened up about 500m from the original eruption site — and the antics of people trekking to see the volcano has been worrying for Civic Protection and health authorities. Some visitors seem to think the hike to the volcano is a short, pleasant jaunt, rather than the hours-long hike through challenging conditions it is in reality. This has led to some minor injuries, and in at least one case, necessitating rescue. Civic Protection has reminded people to dress for freezing temperatures and wet weather, to equip their boots with spikes, pack food and to have a fully charged phone. You would also do well to remember that there is still a pandemic going on, so masking up and maintaining social distance is still a must. And if Civic Protection staff on the scene tell you that the dangerous volcanic gases have shifted and you must leave, by all means do so—evacuation is not an optional thing.
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