Èric Lluent / Reykjavík
Photo: Èric Lluent
The new number of infected by Covid19 in Iceland right now is 330. Yesterday, this number was 250. Two days ago, 199. In the meanwhile, Icelandic government has decided to keep welcomeming tourists from all the high-risk areas around the World, keeping kindergarten, primary schools, swimming-pools, bars, restaurants and hotels open -with social distancing measures and the ban of gatherings over 100.
Criticism on how Iceland is handling the Covid19 crisis is usually underestimate by a local population that highly trusts in national medias and government measures. For the last week, the foreign community living in Iceland has been reporting in social media on the situation in their countries of origin, like Germany, Poland, Spain, Italy, France and so on. Instead of taking advantage of the multiculturalism of this society, listening to people whose families are living in the epicentre of the pandemic, there has been a common attitude versus these foreign voices pointing them as ‘panicking people not understanding the Icelandic way of facing crisis’ or, at least, ‘not well informed’. Does someone here in Iceland think that patriotism, the idea of strong and brave vikings facing all sort of problems will help at all against Covid19?
Angela Merkel yesterday stated that her country is facing the greatest challenge since the World War II. In Spain the whole government is in quarantine. Italy is totally locked down. France is implementing social policies as never seen before. UK, finally, is accepting reality. And here in Iceland we are still welcoming tourists and wishing them a nice stay. Even today, when new quarantine rules were stablished for all residents returning home from abroad, Chief Epidemiologist, Þórólfur Gudnason, according to mbl.is, insisted that these measures do not target tourists. Authorities are trying to negotiate with Donald Trump administration the reopening of air traffic with the US, a country with an awful and unjust health care system, where Covid19 will have enormous consequences. One of the arguments supporting this strategy is that, for now, new infections are not related to visitors, but Icelanders returning home. First, are we sure that the 32,73% of infections considered of ‘unknown’ origin have nothing to do with tourists? Second, even if the situation was like is said, does that mean that infected visitors, by the grace of the Old Gods, will never entry the country?
Some readers, of course, might point that I am not an expert. No, I am not an expert on epidemics. I am a worker from Barcelona living in Iceland, and two weeks ago I heard experts in Spain saying exactly what Icelandic experts are saying today. Now, Spanish health care system is collapsing and health care workers living the hell on Earth.
When reading Icelandic medias, there is a key information missing -at least in front pages-. In Iceland we have the highest infection rate in Europe per capita. Yes, I know, we are 357.000. But, are we acting accordingly to the fact that we have the highest infection rate in the continent? If a mid-size city of 357.000 people in any European country registers 350 cases, the city is considered immediately a high-risk area.
Now, let’s talk clear.
It is more important to save Icelandair and Tourism Industry than the health of general population and, specifically, workers in tourism sector?
Until now, luckily, there has been not so much spreading within elderly in this island. But without very strict measures, this can happen very soon. The idea of a controlled spreading of the virus, as if it was a common flu, didn’t work anywhere. Are we pretending we are so cool in Iceland that we can teach the whole World how to handle this situation while welcoming tourists and saving big companies?
I know I am just a foreigner working here, so my influence on the decisions that are taken by the government of Iceland is zero, but this is a last call for common sense and strict measures. And, no, I am not panicking. I am pretty good, thanks. I just can’t believe what the Icelandic government is doing.
All my family and friends back home are in mandatory quarantine, in Barcelona. The effort other European citizens, from much poorer countries than Iceland, is outstanding and they will face real hardships, meaning sometimes not having enough money to buy food or being evicted in countries where thousands live in the streets or in extremely precarious conditions. If they are being responsible, not thinking just about their personal or national economic interest, I think in a rich country like Iceland we could be less selfish and think about how helpful it could be for other countries to take very strict measures in Iceland, following the example of Denmark.
“All tourists, all travel, all vacations, and all foreigners who cannot prove a creditable purpose of entering Denmark, will be denied entrance at the Danish border,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said. Are authorities and experts from Denmark unprepared since they do not follow the Icelandic way? Or is just that they work without the pressure of having to save a highly indebted airline and other big companies, so they can take the best decisions for the interest of the general public?
Again, sorry if for some readers this article is unpleasant. I am, as always, open to discussion and other opinions. I just think we are running out of time before we find ourselves in the position of countries like Italy or Spain. I truly wish I am wrong, but these are my thoughts on March 19th, 2020.