COVID-19: extending visas and continuing disputes

22.05.2020 - 13:51
Mynd: Magnús Atli Magnússon / RÚV
Expired visas and residency permits are being extended during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, while argument continues over relaxing quarantine rules, how to save Icelandair and whether unions should relinquish on workers’ rights.
  • No new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Iceland on Wednesday or Thursday and the active number of cases in the country is now just two.  
  • Expired visas and residency permits are being automatically extended until 1st July after a previous extension until 1st June. The extensions are in response to travel difficulties faced by people wishing to leave Iceland during the crisis and apply to foreign nationals from outside the EEA who were in Iceland legally on 20th March, when travel restrictions were imposed. The legal provision does not cover people who were in Iceland illegally in March and is worded to call on affected individuals to leave Iceland as soon as possible, and not later than 1st July. 
  • As previously reported, assembly restrictions in Iceland will be further relaxed this coming Monday, with 200 people allowed to gather and bars and gyms among the establishments allowed to re-open. The date will also see the official State of Emergency cancelled and civil protection heads Alma Möller, Víðir Reynisson, and Þórólfur Guðnason will give their final scheduled press briefing. 
  • Þórólfur, the country’s chief epidemiologist, has responded to ongoing criticism of the decision to allow testing instead of quarantine to people entering Iceland from 15th June, saying that a working group will present recommendations to the health minister on Monday and that his own dealings with that group indicate its members generally agree with his assessments. The law is clear that the chief epidemiologist must work closely with the health minister in imposing travel restrictions during a pandemic and, while somewhat less clear in law, should be involved in removing them again. He says that Iceland must open up to international travellers again and do so without suffering a second wave of infections. These conditions will apply regardless of of whether restrictions are eased now or in the future. 
  • As it is today, there are extremely few flights into and out of Iceland. So few, in fact, that Magnús Atli Magnússon was granted permission to take the remarkable footage above at Keflavík International Airport. Flying drones over international airports is usually strictly prohibited. 
  • Icelandair will not meet the requirement of agreeing new wage and conditions contracts with all remaining staff before the investors’ meeting later today aimed at refinancing and therefore rescuing the company. The cabin crew members’ association rejected the final offer and Icelandair head Bogi Nils Bogason said other ways will be looked into; adding candidly on Wednesday that he did not know exactly what those ways might be. 
  • Bogi sent all Icelandair cabin crew members an email yesterday evening sharing in great detail the deal rejected by their union. Bogi wrote that his email was in accordance with Icelandair’s commitment to communicate openly with its staff. The head of the cabin crew members’ union disagreed, saying he broke the law on confidentiality between negotiating parties in wage disputes. She called on members to not believe the corporate spin and instead to wait for the union negotiating committee’s own assessment, expected at a meeting today at the same hotel as the Icelandair shareholders’ meeting. 
  • The airline intends to ask investors to put up around 30 billion krónur in extra funding and the head of one of the country’s biggest pension funds, and biggest Icelandair shareholders, says it looks likely the refinancing will happen anyway—while adding that it is not yet clear whether or not the pension fund in question will directly participate. 
  • In other union news, the governor of the Central Bank of Iceland has said that Iceland’s trades unions could be doing more to help companies survive the crisis, and landlords could also be charging less rent. Government money should be the last on the table, he claims. In times of crisis, companies need to be able to negotiate with their banks, with their landlords, and also, to a certain extent, with their employees. 

    Drífa Snædal, head of the ASÍ Confederation of Icelandic Labour, unsurprisingly disagrees, calling the governor’s words "unbelievable". She asks whether he is seriously suggesting the Icelandic worker be left to take an even harder hit in this crisis than they are already suffering. 

  • State police civil protection chief Víðir Reynisson has said that even if assembly restrictions can be relaxed as fast as possible, he would not want to see any gatherings of over 2,000 people at any time this summer. People must therefore get used to the fact that this summer is definitely going to be different when it comes to festivals and other large gatherings. Many summer festivals are already cancelled. Þjóðhátíð on the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago is one of several exceptions, however, and it usually attracts nearly all the islands’ 4,000 inhabitants and many thousands of visitors. It is not yet clear how organisers plan to make sure they adhere to emergency restrictions. 
  • The so-called B-quarantine provision is now in effect and is being used by around 150 foreign visitors in Iceland at this time. The provision allows entry to professionals on work-related trips to Iceland and restricts them to only their hotel and their workplace during the duration of their stay. 370 people have entered mandatory 14-day quarantine in recent days—nearly all of whom arrived in Iceland by plane.

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