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409 COVID-19 cases in Iceland: 20 March update

20.03.2020 - 11:33
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 Mynd: RÚV - Vilhjálmur Þór Guðmun - RÚV
There are now 409 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Iceland, 4,166 people are in home quarantine, and seven are in hospital. A nurse in the accident & emergency department at Landspítali university hospital has tested positive for the virus, and it is now thought likely that COVID-19 caused the death of a roughly 40-year-old Australian tourist in Húsavík on Monday.
  • The accident & emergency ward nurse infected with the virus has been sent into home quarantine, and others the nurse came into contact with will also be forced to follow suit. Four members of the hospital’s infectious diseases laboratory are also in home quarantine after a COVID-19 case was discovered in the department. 
  • Initial post-mortem results show that the Australian man who died shortly after arrival at the healthcare centre in Húsavík, northeast Iceland, on Monday had pneumonia. The man was later found to be infected with the coronavirus but his symptoms were not typical. Head of the Directorate of Health Alma Möller told a press conference the pneumonia probably means COVID-19 was the cause of death, despite previous claims to the contrary. The final post-mortem report is still not ready, however. If confirmed, it would be Iceland’s first COVID-19 fatality. 20 healthcare centre staff members and two police officers are in home quarantine following the incident. 
  • Both Alþingi staff members who were quarantined after their colleague was diagnosed with the coronavirus have now also tested positive. They do not work in the main Alþingi parliament building and the outbreak is not thought to have spread to other departments. Alþingi maintains offices and facilities in many different buildings in central Reykjavík. 
  • Several members of Alþingi and staff are self-isolating and parliament itself will only assemble to debate and vote on legislation directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic until at least the 20th April, it has been decided. 
  • A bill currently with Alþingi, that looks likely to pass, would permit the State to pay up to 50 percent of wages to employees on reduced hours as their employers struggle through the crisis. It is already accepted that the State’s contribution may quickly have to rise to 75 percent. 
  • Under the proposed new law, those currently earning up to 400,000 krónur a month would receive full pay while employees on higher wages would receive no more than 90 percent of their usual salary, up to a maximum cap of 700,000 krónur. The law would help people whose hours are cut by between 20 and 75 percent throughout the crisis.
  • The first games in the 2020 Icelandic football leagues were scheduled for the 22nd April, but KSÍ (the Icelandic football association) has now decided to postpone all leagues by at least one month. 
  • Optimistic projections predict that 1,000 people in Iceland will have contracted the coronavirus by the end of May, while pessimistic forecasts predict up to 2,000 cases by that time. It is believed the health service will be under peak strain in around mid-April. 
  • The European Commission has agreed to temporarily ban the export of protective medical equipment outside the bloc while demand at home remains at unprecedented levels. The Commission quickly amended the ban, however, so that the EEA countries of Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein can still import protective gear from the EU. 
  • In more positive news, volunteers are pulling together to bring food and essential supplies to those in quarantine around Iceland. ICE-SAR and Fjölsylduhjálp (Family Help) volunteers are working together to supply some 1,200 people in the capital region. These include people who regularly visit Fjölskylduhjálp for supplies. The charity has now closed its doors and will deliver supplies instead, thanks to search & rescue volunteers. Similar initiatives are running around the country, including in Siglufjörður, North Iceland, where search & rescue teams more used to roaming the mountains are now roaming the aisles of supermarkets and pharmacies on behalf of those in quarantine or self-isolation. 
  • Despite its 10 COVID-19 cases and 100 people in quarantine, Vestmannaeyjabær (the Westman Islands municipality) is emphasising the islands’ cultural life with daily social media broadcasts. The council hopes not only to entertain residents, but also to remind them that they live in a culturally and creatively diverse community—even in these strange and challenging times. 

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