Even harder covid restrictions
Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted his recommendations to the health minister yesterday in light of record pressure on the health system due to COVID-19. The government discussed the proposals at the cabinet meeting this morning and approved them. Eight ministers were present at the meeting and four were absent.
The existing rules were first extended on Tuesday until 2nd February, but have been strenghthened now, just three days later; also until 2nd February.
The number of covid patients in intensive care increased by two yesterday, to eight. The number in hospital overall went down by one. More than 1,200 people tested positive for the virus yesterday. One-in-five with symptoms tested positive, and one-in-ten people in quarantine and border testing.
- Four of the eight patients in intensive care are on ventilators. Five of the eight are not vaccinated. 140 Landspítali hospital staff are in isolation with active infection.
- Prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir explained that the situation is strange because Omicron is very contagious and generally less severe, but the healthcare system is nevertheless under enormous pressure -- particularly because Delta is still causing illness. The government is putting financial relief in place to compensate for the damage caused by the latest restrictions.
- Health minister Willum Þór Þórsson said the government has agreed to strengthen restrictions to support Landspítali, which is in crisis. More staff and more beds will also be made available he said; adding that everybody must participate in helping in the meantime.
- The general assembly limit will be ten from midnight, rather than the current 20.
- Casinos and bars will close outright. Those that serve food will be permitted to stay open, though subject to the new general restrictions. Bars will be compensated for their lost earnings, the prime minister said.
- The activity of schools and children's extra-curricular activities is unchanged. Asked why, Katrín explained that Iceland has been praised throughout the pandemic for having put the near-normal operation of schools at the top of its list of priorities, and that the country will continue to do so. This is not least an equality issue, she added; as when schools close, it is most often mothers who have to stay home.
- Current border procedures for people entering the country are not changing.
- Willum said that Landspítali has been strengthened with extra manpower from Akureyri, from search & rescue teams, the healthcare reserves team, and also from the Kliníkin private healthcare centre. "We are doing what is necessary to meet the increased pressure."
- Pools and gyms will remain open at a maximum of 50 percent capacity.
- It will no longer be possible to hold events for up to 500 people with rapid testing beforehand.
Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, Minister of Foreign Affairs, presented economic measures in the absence of Bjarni Benediktsson, Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs. Due dates for taxes and insurance wil be postponed for the hospitality industry. Tourism and event organizers have also been engaged in discussion. More measures will be announced next week. The Prime Minister said that a bill to postpone due dates would be discussed in parliament on Monday. At the same time, further measures are planned to assist the cultural sector and restaurants.
Willum said that the extra restrictions now are unfortunate but that the brighter predictions for the future remain unchanged. He hopes to announce relaxations to the rules for February.