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588 COVID-19 cases in Iceland: 23 March update

23.03.2020 - 14:58
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There are 588 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Iceland, 6,816 people are in home quarantine, and 14 are in hospital. A new, stricter assembly ban will see many services like gyms, hair salons, swimming pools, and bars close at the end of today.

The maximum number of people allowed to assemble together is being reduced from 100 down to 20 and the two-metre gap rule is to be more strongly enforced.  

  • Following an updated financial response package from the government that was introduced this weekend, finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has told RÚV he expects the virus pandemic could cause similar damage to the Icelandic economy as the financial crisis in 2008-9: a recession of some six or seven percent this year and a hundred-billion-króna deficit in the national budget. 
  • For at least the next two-and-a-half months, the Icelandic State will pay up to 75 percent of the wages of workers whose hours are cut due to the virus outbreak. Those earning up to 400,000 krónur a month will receive full pay, while others will receive up to 90 percent of their normal wages, up to a maximum of 700,000 krónur a month. Struggling companies are also being offered the chance to delay payment of tax and charges, possibly for as long as a year. 
  • Member of Alþingi Smári McCarthy has been diagnosed with COVID-19, as has a member of staff at the environment ministry. Minister for the Environment Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson is among those sent into home quarantine as a result. Viðreisn (Reform Party) leader Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir is also in home quarantine. Prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is in temporary home quarantine today while test results are awaited after a child in her son’s class tested positive for the virus. 
  • Alþingi is today debating and voting on the government’s financial assistance package and a bill on the legal responsibilities of public sector workers to provide essential services during times of national crisis. Members are not taking their seats, however, but rather watching online from a distance and entering the chamber one at a time to speak. 
  • The latest model predicts a total of 2,500 to 6,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iceland by the end of April. This is double the numbers predicted in the last forecast. It is still believed that the outbreak will peak in the country in the first half of April. 
  • Starting from midnight, no more than 20 people will be allowed to gather together, and gatherings of under 20 must ensure a gap of at least two metres between people. As a result of these challenging restrictions, many businesses and services will be closed from tomorrow. These include hair salons and beauty parlours, swimming pools (including the Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Natrure Baths) and gyms, museums and bars, and many others. Exemptions are being made to ensure food shops, pharmacies, buses, and taxis can continue to offer their services. 
  • Landspítali university hospital received 15 high-quality ventilators on Friday; a gift from un-named benefactors in the USA. Icelandic health authorities have a tender out for more ventilators and expect to have their hands on 40 or 50 of the life-saving machines shortly. 
  • Icelandair has made 240 people redundant and is reducing the hours of 92 percent of its remaining workforce. Those who remain in full-time employment face having their pay cut by 20 percent, senior managers by 25 percent, and the director and board members by 30 percent. The airline hopes to reverse all these measures as soon as possible, a statement says. 
  • Iceland’s health minister recommends only one householder enter supermarkets to buy food, rather than going shopping with housemates, partners, or children as normal. She also recommends people enter with a pre-prepared shopping list to help them make their shopping trips as speedy as possible. 
  • Accident & emergenchy ward staff in the photograph above are holding up signs saying: "We are here for you. Stay at home for us."

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