Harsher COVID rules in Iceland: further details

30.07.2020 - 12:29
Fundur ríkisstjórnarinnar 30072020
 Mynd: Hólmfríður Dagný Friðjónsd - Rúv
Government ministers and civil protection chiefs were this morning careful to emphasise that the harsher rules to prevent COVID-19 infection that will come into effect at midday tomorrow (Friday) are a “pull of the handbrake” and part of the strategy, rather than a sign the situation is out of control. The country is not returning to lockdown and nowhere is being ordered to close down. The rules will, however, affect everybody’s daily lives.

The situation as it stands 

With ten active COVID-19 infections diagnosed yesterday and the first person admitted to hospital since the spring, it is clear Iceland is experiencing a new coronavirus outbreak. There are 39 active cases as it stands and there are 215 people in preventative quarantine after contact tracing. 

Authorities are worried not specifically by the numbers of people involved, but mostly because they have so far failed to trace all the domestic infections and therefore fear the source is still at large. For this reason, the chief epidemiologist yesterday recommended harsher rules to hamper domestic infections. The government this morning agreed and the rules will come into force at midday on Friday. 

Police civil protection chief Víðir Reynisson told RÚV after the press conference that the reason Iceland was so successful in dealing with the first wave of infection this spring was because the country reacted quickly and decisively. The country never needed a full lockdown, and the same decisive response now will hopefully bring the situation under control again quickly.  

The rules will start tomorrow and run for two weeks. Depending on their success, on the 14th August, they could be extended, relaxed, or tightened still further. 

What is changing? 

Probably the biggest change is that the two-metre rule will return. This means shops, workplaces, swimming pools, bars, gyms, and all other communal spaces will be legally required to ensure two metres between people. Nowhere is being forced to close, but those unable to maintain the rule may need to do so. 

The current 500-person assembly limit will also go down to 100 people. Something of a moot point for most spaces, which would struggle to hold more than 100 people with at least two metres between individuals, it will present a challenge to large workplaces, for example. Some staff will likely start working from home again. 

Face masks will for the first time feature in Iceland’s civil protection strategy. They will be mandatory in all places where maintaining the two-metre rule is impossible; including on public transport, at gyms, hair salons, and at places of entertainment. All such places and transport providers will need to ensure sanitation of communal surfaces between users or else close down temporarily. 

COVID-19 testing at border posts and again four to six days later will be extended from Icelandic citizens and residents to all arriving passengers from high risk countries who intend to stay ten days or longer. 

What is not changing? 

The advice has always been to avoid hugs and handshakes and to wash hands and sanitise regularly. This is not changing, though most people have relaxed over the summer. It is time to take it seriously again, Víðir says. 

Children born in or after 2005 are exempt from the assembly limit. 

The six ‘safe’ countries (Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Germany, Greenland, Norway) will remain unchanged for the time being, and arrivals are exempt from testing or quarantine. Tourists from all other countries, who stay for less than ten days, will continue to be tested only once, at the border. They will continue to be required to quarantine for the first 24 hours, after which time they can assume their test was negative unless contacted directly. 

Border procedures could change if domestic transmissions continue and are found to be attributable to new arrivals in the country. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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