Steps Taken to Prevent Spread of COVID-19 in Iceland

Emergency room

The first Icelander to be diagnosed with a confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus in Iceland has been quarantined in the Infectious Diseases ward at the National and University Hospital’s Fossvogur location. Public health officials confirmed this during a press conference on Friday afternoon, RÚV reports, just hours after the news of the virus’s arrival in Iceland was confirmed. Iceland’s Civil Protection Emergency level has been raised from Uncertainty to Alert.

The press conference was presided over by surgeon general Alma Möller, epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Guðlaug Rakel Guðjónsdóttir, the director of the hospital’s Emergency, Geriatrics, and Rehabilitation Services division, and Viðir Reynisson, the manager of the Police Commissioner’s Civil Protection and Emergency Management division.

The patient is an Icelandic man in his fifties who went skiing with his wife and daughter in the Italian town of Andalo from February 15 to 22. Cases of the coronavirus have now been confirmed in all the Nordic countries; all of the Nordic patients seem to have contracted the virus while travelling in Northern Italy. Although he has reported typical symptoms of coronavirus—fever, cough, and muscle pain—the patient is not seriously ill and his health remains strong. He and his family responded to his diagnosis and quarantine calmly and are working with health authorities to provide as much information about their trip as possible. A group of capital-area police officers are now working with health officials to chart the man’s movements from the moment he arrived in Iceland as well as locate his fellow travellers. Officials will determine whether these individuals need to be quarantined based on their level of interaction with the patient. At the press conference, Þórólfur said that the man’s fellow travellers would have been at lower risk for infection if he’d fallen ill before he returned to Iceland, but this was not the case.

Surgeon General Alma Möller stressed that while there is still much that is unknown about the virus, health professionals do know that 80% of patients experience only minor symptoms, while 5% fall seriously ill. The National Hospital is, however, well-equipped to deal with the virus, she affirmed, and has, for instance, 26 respirators in top condition.

Patient’s family and coworkers under quarantine

As of Friday evening, the patient’s immediate family had been placed under quarantine, as had his whole workplace. Guðrún Sigmundsóttir, Head of Surveillance and Outbreak Investigation at the Directorate of Health, confirmed this for RÚV. Guðrún said that the process of tracing the infection has gone well thus far; the same procedure is followed any time a case like this occurs. What’s different this time is the scope of the contact tracing procedure. She said it is also uncommon for this many people to be placed under quarantine.

At the time of writing, Guðrún couldn’t say exactly how many people would need to be quarantined, as not everyone who came into contact with the man has finished being interviewed. But she expected that it would be finished over the weekend. “We’ll just keep going as long as we need to,” she said.


First Confirmed COVID-19 Case in Iceland

The Directorate of Health has confirmed the first coronavirus case in Iceland, Vísir reports. An Icelandic male in his forties has been quarantined at the University Hospital after having tested positive for COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) at just past 1 pm today.

Recently returned from North Italy

According to a bulletin from the Directorate of Health, the man is not in serious condition but displays typical symptoms of the COVID-19 disease: fever, cough, and muscle pain. The man had recently returned from North Italy. The University Hospital has begun tracing the infection’s transmission route in order to determine whether other individuals may have been exposed to the virus.

Alert phase

In light of the diagnosis, the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police in consultation with Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist will activate the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management’s alert phase. As noted by the Directorate of Health, the alert phase is initiated as there has been no ebb in the coronavirus outbreak abroad, especially in Europe, and in light of the first confirmed case in Iceland.

A press conference will be held at 4 pm today, which readers can view here.

Minister of Justice Wants to Legalize Alcohol Ads

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir wants to legalize ads for alcohol, saying banning them isn’t working and discriminates against Icelandic producers. RÚV reports that a parliamentary bill is currently being drafted which, if passed, would make alcohol advertisements legal in Iceland.

Áslaug Arna has recently presented a draft bill to Alþingi which would allow for Iceland’s state-run liquor stores to sell alcohol online. It is currently legal for Icelanders to buy alcohol from foreign companies and have it shipped to their homes (subject to import duties), but they must go in-person to purchase alcohol sold in Iceland.

The minister asserts that allowing Icelandic alcohol producers to start advertising would give them an equal footing with their foreign counterparts. “There are, of course, alcohol ads everywhere today—when we’re watching foreign sports on TV, browsing foreign magazines, or on all these social media sites today. So the ban isn’t working.”

A survey prepared for the Minister of Education on the business environment in media also proposed that the current ban on alcohol advertising in Iceland be overturned.

Ólafur Stephensen, CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Trade, says that the same reasoning that applies to allowing the sale of alcohol online in Iceland applies to this issue. Icelandic businesses have, he affirms, agreed to abide by very strict regulations, should the ban be overturned.

Unsurprisingly, however, not everyone is in favour of the proposed change. Árni Guðmundsson, the chair of the Parental Association Against Alcohol Advertising, says that children’s right to not encounter alcohol propaganda is more important than business considerations. He says that alcohol advertising is aimed at children and teens and that just because alcohol advertisements come into Iceland from other places, that’s no reason to relax public health and prevention criteria.

Áslaug Arna argues however that since the ban isn’t working, it would make more sense to set specific regulations on advertising.

Oil-Soaked Seabirds Found in Westman Islands

Oil-soaked birds

A number of oil-soaked seabirds have come ashore in the Westman Islands in recent days.  Most of the birds have been found in the harbour on Heimaey Island and just off the coast of the Stórhöfði peninsula on the far end of the island. The oil-soaked birds have been found around Heimaey since the beginning of the year and number in the dozens. Oil-soaked murres have also been found in Reynisfjara but it’s unclear if the cases are connected.

The crew of the Coast Guard TF-EIR helicopter and a representative of the Environment Agency of Iceland went out on a surveillance flight in search of the pollution source on Tuesday. The team surveyed all the islands in the Westman archipelago as well as Reynisfjara beach in South Iceland, but did not find the source.

The Environment Agency affirms that it will continue working with the Icelandic Coast Guard and EMSA, the European Maritime Safety Agency, to find out where the oil is coming from.