Date: Tue, 6 Dec 2016 07:02:29 +0100
By Camille BAS-WOHLERT

Reykjavik, Dec 6, 2016 (AFP) - An island of ice and lava battered by the Arctic winds, Iceland's dramatic and pristine landscape is attracting a growing number of tourists, not all of whom are respectful of the fragile ecosystem.   Along with hikers, nature lovers, reality TV starlets and fans of the series "Game of Thrones" which was partially filmed in Iceland, 1.3 million tourists visited the country in 2015, a number expected to rise to 1.8 million this year.

Long a destination that appealed only to the earliest ecotourists and fans of the eccentric singer Bjork, this small nation of 330,000 inhabitants is now reaping the benefits of a thriving tourism sector.    Since the 2008 collapse of Iceland's financial system, tourism has become a pillar of the economy, accounting for seven percent of gross domestic product in 2015.

But why are tourists thronging to this remote island, described so darkly in the recent wave of "Ice-lit" crime novels ?     "It's a place of fire and ice. You can see different things everywhere: geysers, glaciers, volcanoes. Things that you don't normally see in other places in the world," says Marcelle Lindopp, a 28-year-old Brazilian thrilled by her stay despite a glacial rain lashing her face.    "It's the experience of a lifetime, really."

- A strange beauty -
One has only to drive a few kilometres beyond Reykjavik's city limits to be seized by the beauty and strangeness of the Icelandic panorama.    Here, the rocky mountains give way to verdant tundra dotted with horses and sheep. Majestic waterfalls break the monotony of the volcanic rocks.    A little further away, near the sea, the cliffs seem to impress even the puffins.    Off the coast, bolder visitors can go whale watching, which tourism professionals hope will eventually sound the death knell for commercial whaling.

Taking refuge inside a souvenir shop to escape the wind and rain, Jimmy Hart, a 49-year-old Irishman, who visited "Geysir", the hot spring that erupts high into the sky and which has given its name to the famous geysers.    "It's wonderful," he tells AFP. "An amazing experience."    "We were at the Blue Lagoon yesterday and it was even better than I thought. A beautiful place."   In this geothermal bath, visitors can bask in water between 35 and 39 degrees Celsius (95 and 102 Fahrenheit) while enjoying a majestic view of the volcanic hills.

- Bieber impact -
But does Iceland have the means to fulfil its ambitions?    The director of the Icelandic Tourism Research Center, Gudrun Gunnarsdottir, rejects the idea that tourism has exploded out of control with unpredictable consequences.    The tourism boom "totally affects the Icelandic community" and "is both positive and negative," she insists.

Justin Bieber is one example.   In 2015, the Canadian star shot a music video in the country, which instantly became a huge hit.    But the singer, idolised by young fans, ended up sparking an outcry after he nonchalantly ignored the particularities of Iceland's nature -- and forgetting that it can also be perilous.    Bieber swam among the icebergs -- risking hypothermia and the danger of detaching blocks of ice -- and trampled volcanic foam, a protected species which will take years to recover.    Social media went wild and the local tourism office had to release a statement urging tourists to behave more respectfully.

- 'Protecting nature' -
In general, "Icelanders are not as positive as they were one or two years ago" about tourism, says Grimur Saemundsen, chairman of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), while acknowledging that tourism has been helping the nation recover from economic collapse.    "It has been very good for the economy but tourism has to be controlled way more... Until now the focus has been on quantity and not quality," laments Linda, who runs a boutique selling Icelandic products in central Reykjavik.    "We need to invest in general infrastructure... we need to focus on protecting the nature," Saemundsen says.
Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:38:04 +0200

Reykjavik, Oct 25, 2016 (AFP) - Seven people were injured in Iceland on Tuesday when a bus carrying 41 tourists, mostly Chinese nationals, drove off a road in snowy conditions, authorities said.    "Fifteen passengers were transported to a hospital for treatment. Two were severely injured and are in intensive care and five others have minor injuries," an official at the Icelandic search and rescue services told AFP.

While most of the bus passengers are Chinese nationals, one Irish person and one Italian were also on board along with the Icelandic driver and two tour guides.     The rescue official said the accident occurred before 11:00 am (0900 GMT) on a road between the capital Reykjavik and the town of Skalafell because of "slippery roads and fog".   The Icelandic weather agency on Monday urged motorists to be careful because of ice and snow on the roads.
Date: Wed 13 Jan 2016
Source: Iceland Monitor [edited]
<http://icelandmonitor.mbl.is/news/news/2016/01/13/more_icelanders_diagnosed_with_syphilis/>

The notable increase in the diagnosed cases of syphilis in Iceland in 2014 continued for 2015 when 27 people were diagnosed with the sexual disease.

In 2015, 27 people were diagnosed with syphilis, 24 men and 3 women. Most of those who caught the disease were men through intercourse with other men. One of the women who was diagnosed with syphilis was pregnant and according to the report by the Icelandic Directorate of Health if undiagnosed, syphilis can cause harm to an unborn baby.
=====================
[ProMED-mail has posted reports of the recent increased incidence of syphilis in many countries, mainly among men who have sex with men (MSM), and characterized by high rates of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection. However, the news report above does not mention the rate of HIV co-infection in the Iceland cases.

The increased syphilis incidence has been attributed to a variety of causes that promote unprotected sex among MSM, such as engaging in sex only with partners perceived to have the same HIV status as one's own to avoid using condoms (serosorting), taking pre-exposure (PrEP) or post-exposure HIV prophylaxis, use of psychoactive "party drugs", multiple anonymous sex partners, use of Internet chat rooms to meet sex partners, use of smartphone apps, such as Grindr and Tinder, that facilitate anonymous "hookups", etc. A discussion of the risk for acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases associated with use of the Internet, mobile phones, and social networking sites can be found at  <http://www.cdc.gov/std/life-stages-populations/Adolescents-white-paper.pdf>. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
<http://healthmap.org/promed/p/38>.]
Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2014 19:33:10 +0200 (METDST)

REYKJAVIK, Aug 31, 2014 (AFP) - Iceland on Sunday lowered its aviation alert on its largest volcano after a fresh eruption on a nearby lava field prompted authorities to enforce a flight ban for several hours.    The Bardarbunga volcano system, in the southeast of the country, has been rocked by hundreds of tremors daily since mid-August, prompting fears the volcano could explode.   The decision to lower the alert level to orange, from red, and lift the air traffic ban around the peak was taken after it appeared the most recent eruption had not led to a major release of ash into the atmosphere.   "Visibility (at) the eruption site is now good. No ash has been detected," said the Icelandic Meteorological Office, which is in charge of monitoring volcanic activity.

The restrictions imposed earlier in the day had not resulted in the closure of any airports, the Civil Protection Office said previously in a statement.   Sunday was the third time in a week that Iceland issued a red alert for aviation due to seismic activity at the peak, prompting fears of global flight chaos like that caused by another Icelandic volcano four years earlier.   In April 2010 Eyjafjoell, a smaller volcano, spewed a massive ash cloud into the atmosphere, triggering the closure of airspace for days and stranding more than eight million travellers.   Bardarbunga, at 2,000 metres (6,500 feet), is Iceland's second-highest peak and is located under Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajoekull.   It also sits in one of the most active seismic areas on the planet.

Sunday's eruption took place shortly before 0600 GMT in roughly the same area in Holuhraun lava field where another and smaller eruption took place Friday, according to the Civil Protection Office.   And it took place along a longer fissure than Friday's eruption -- 1.5-kilometre (0.9-mile) compared with one-kilometre (0.6-mile).   The lava flow amounted to 1,000 cubic metres (35,000 cubic feet) per second, and a total of 500 small earthquakes were detected, according to the Meteorological Office.   The Vatnajoekull glacier which covers the volcano is largely uninhabited but popular with tourists and hunters, who stay at trekking cabins and campsites in the summer months. The area was evacuated within days of Bardarbunga kicking into action.
Date: Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:53:38 +0200 (METDST)
by Haukur Holm

REYKJAVIK, Aug 29, 2014 (AFP) - Iceland on Friday temporarily banned air traffic near its largest volcano after a lava field erupted overnight, threatening a repeat of the global travel chaos four years ago when another peak blew.   The aviation "red alert" for Bardarbunga volcano was lifted in the late morning when it became clear that the eruption was minor and did not release large quantities of ash.   During the alert, Iceland's airports remained opened with no disruption to flights, according to the national airport operator Isavia.    In 2010, another Icelandic volcanic eruption caused the biggest closure of European airspace in peacetime, halting 100,000 flights and stranding eight million passengers.

While Bardarbunga -- located under Europe's largest glacier -- had not yet started spewing ash as of Friday afternoon, the release of a massive cloud remained a possible scenario with potentially dire consequences for aviation.   "An eruption began... just after midnight (0000 GMT)," said the civil protection office in a statement, adding that it took place in a lava field three miles (five kilometres) north of the volcano, creating a volcanic fissure a half a mile (900 metres) long.   "No volcanic ash has been detected by the radar system at the moment. The earthquake caused by the eruption is small, indicating an... eruption without significant explosive activity," it said.

Little 'explosive activity'
The authority described the event as an "effusive eruption without significant explosive activity" -- meaning the lava flow was mostly on the surface of the volcano with little "airborne ash material".    Tumi Gudmundsson, a geophysicist at the University of Iceland told public broadcaster RUV that the eruption was an "accidental" knock-on effect of seismic activity inside the volcano but that an explosive eruption of volcano itself could still occur and was impossible to predict.    When the red alert was first issued in the early hours of Friday morning a vast area of Icelandic airspace was closed off -- including the northern airport of Akureyri which has regular internal flights and connections to Greenland and several European cities.

Later the restricted area was reduced to 10 nautical miles (18.5 kilometres) around the site of the eruption at altitudes below 5,000 feet (about 1,500 metres).   The Bardarbunga volcano system became active on August 16, producing hundreds of tremors daily.   Four days later hundreds of people were evacuated from the area north of the Vatnajoekull glacier which covers the volcano and is largely uninhabited, with only trekking cabins and campsites used by tourists and hunters in the summer months.   Friday was the second time in less than a week that Icelandic authorities issued a red alert to aviation but then lowered the level to orange -- meaning that eruption is possible but not imminent -- soon after.

The alert around Bardarbunga was first raised to red from orange on August 23, with earthquakes shaking the volcanic system more than 20 times an hour on Tuesday alone.   One of the quakes measured 5.7, the most powerful in the area since 1996.   Bardarbunga, in the southeast of the country, is Iceland's second-highest peak, and is believed to have the potential to cause serious disruptions to air traffic if there is a major eruption.    The eruption of Eyjafjoell, a smaller volcano, in April 2010 caused travel mayhem.   Iceland's most active sub-glacial volcano Grimsvotn erupted in 2011, forcing the country to temporarily shut its airspace and also sparking fears of a repeat of the Eyjafjoell flight chaos.
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