99 days of closure in past year
Now that Icelandic border controls are stricter than ever, the country’s leaders have felt comfortable relaxing the rules domestically—most recently on 24th February. Iceland has managed to all-but irradicate the coronavirus in recent weeks, with a tiny number of new cases each day, if any at all.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Iceland’s shores at the end of February last year, the Minister of Health, Svandís Svavarsdóttir, has issued 18 sets of new rules to try and contain its spread. As well as this, she has tweaked rules already in place, set special rules for schools and border posts, and even issued special rules for specific parts of the country.
The first restrictions package went into force on 16th March 2020. It was a milestone day, with restrictions placed on people’s right to assemble imposed for the first time in the history of the Republic of Iceland, as Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir worded it at the time.
Since then, nearly a year has passed (well, closer to 340 days), and Icelanders have lived all of them with assembly limits and a variety of other anti-contagion rules in place.
The rules: a timeline
Here, you can see how the past year has developed, in visual form, set up as a sort of timeline. The timeline contains information on restrictions placed on bars and nightclubs, swimming pools, gyms, and beauty parlours, hair salons, and massage parlours; as well as the general assembly limit at each time.
All this is overlaid onto the bar-graph that Icelanders are so familiar with: the number of new daily coronavirus cases.
We have labelled the timeline thus:
Assembly limits are market with this symbol and the number of people allowed to gather together:
The first wave
The first COVID-19 infection was confirmed in Iceland on 28th February last year. The number of new cases proceeded to grow for around two weeks before the authorities imposed the first set of restrictions: a ban on gatherings of more that 100 people. The rules did not include any other forced closures or restrictions apart from the new two-metre rule and a recommendation that people wash their hands and sanitise regularly. The rules were supposed to stay in place until 12th April.
When the number of new cases took a large leap on the 17th March and following days, it became clear further measures were needed. New rules were imposed and bars and nightclubs, swimming pools, gyms, beauty and massage parlours, and hair salons were forced to close. At the same time, the assembly limit was tightened to 20 people.
These stricter rules brought results and the number of new cases started to drop, until there were just a few every week.
By the end of May, only a tiny handful of cases had been recorded in the previous weeks and the opportunity was taken to lift the assembly limit to 200 people and allow people to get their hair cut and their aching limbs massaged.
It was okay to go to bars and enjoy the nightlife—though only until 23.00. Swimming pools and gyms were also opened; though with restrictions to start with. For the purposes of this review, restrictions are when a location or type of business is specifically mentioned in the regulations. Restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather continued for all locations and businesses, however.
Restrictions on swimming pools and gyms would only last for three weeks, though, until 15th June, when they were derestricted and the general assembly limit went up to 500.
By the end of July, the number of cases was rising again, after a period since May when several days would pass without any new diagnoses. New, stricter rules were imposed on 31st July, when only 100 people were allowed to gather. The only other change made on that day was that Icelanders were now required to wear face masks in certain places for the first time.
To start with, face masks were only required in places the two-metre rule could not be enforced—such as at hair salons, beauty parlours, and on public transport. Later, on 20th October, the rule was tightened and face masks became compulsory in shops and other public indoor spaces. In this review, the mask requirement is marked alongside beauty parlours.
Swimming and gym facilities could remain open, but with extra restrictions.
Around the middle of September, the authorities made an attempt to raise the assembly limit again—this time to 200 people. The two-metre rule was also changed, and people could stand one metre apart in queues at shops, for example. At the time, the infection rate had not gone up by much, and the number of new cases each day even went down here and there.
Not many days into the 200-person assembly limit, the virus started gathering pace and Iceland’s official third wave of infection began. New rules were imposed on 5th October, two weeks before the current rules were supposed to expire, and hard restrictions were back in force.
No more than 20 people could gather together, though not at the gym, and certainly not at bars or out on the town. Swimming pools could stay open; though with restrictions.
The one-metre rule persisted for a while, but was widened back to two metres at the same time as the face mask rule came in on 20th October. Gyms were allowed to re-open, with restrictions, at this time. Though the joy was short-lived, as gyms, pools, and beauty parlours all closed completely barely a week later.
And then came the ten-person assembly limit.
By now, caution was the watchword and restrictions would not be eased without long consideration. For this reason, it took 17 days for beauty parlours and salons to open again, and 38 days until pools could re-open, with restrictions.
The ten-person assembly limit was the longest assembly limit so far—in place, unchanged, for 71 days, until 13th January.
In the New Year, the infection rate was dropping and it was clear Icelanders had largely stuck to their ´Christmas bubbles’ and respected the restrictions in place.
20 people were allowed to gather together from 13th January and gyms were allowed to open under strict conditions. It was around a month later than bars were allowed to open again, also with strong restrictions.
The rules in Iceland were further relaxed on 24th February after border restrictions were tightened further on the 19th. The assembly limit is 50 people, gyms and pools can accept up to 75 percent of their registered maximum capacity, up to 200 can attend events such as concerts and sports matches (with restrictions), and bars and restaurants can open until 23.00 instead of 22.00. The current rules are set to run until 17th March.