Iceland Will Combine COVID-19 Samples to Increase Testing Capacity

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

The National University Hospital’s Virology Department will process COVID-19 test samples in groups of 10 in order to raise its testing capacity to 2,000 samples per day, RÚV reports. Private pharmaceutical company deCODE genetics announced two days ago it would halt its participation in Iceland’s COVID-19 testing after July 13, leading many to question whether the nation would be able to continue screening travellers entering from abroad for COVID-19. The National University Hospital’s Virology Department is the only institution in Iceland equipped to process COVID-19 samples, besides deCODE genetics.

Iceland began testing travellers entering the country on June 15 – from that date, passengers could opt between a COVID-19 test upon entry or 14-day quarantine. Some 25,950 tests have been administered at the borders since that date, finding only 11 active infections. As the infection rate is so low, Maríanna Garðarsdóttir, director of the National University Hospital’s research service department, says the Virology Department will being testing 10 samples at once in order to increase its capacity from a few hundred to around 2,000 tests per day.

If Group Tests Positive, Individual Samples are Tested

Due to huge global demand, Iceland is not expecting additional machinery for processing COVID-19 samples until October. “While we don’t have the capacity that we wish for, this is the main method we can use,” Maríanna told RÚV. Asked whether the hospital will be able to make the necessary changes by next week, when deCODE will pull out of the border testing program, she answered “We don’t have a choice. We’ll just do our best.”

The method works such that ten samples are mixed together and tested. If the combined sample comes up negative, there is no need for further testing. If it comes up positive, then each of the ten samples will be tested individually to determine which of them is (or are) positive. In a briefing yesterday, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated there is little risk that this testing method is less precise than testing one sample at a time.

May Call in Vacationing Staff

The hospital’s director Páll Matthíasson stated that 18 hospital staff members that had been processing samples at deCODE will now be transferred to the Virology Department. Nevertheless, he added it was likely staff would be asked to cut short or postpone vacations.

Case Against Whaling Company Could Lead to Its Dissolution

Three shareholders of whaling company Hvalur hf. have sued the company, demanding to redeem their shares for the amount of ISK 1,563,000,000 ($11.2m/€9.9m) plus penal interest, Vísir reports. The shareholders have just over a 5.3% stake in the company. Hvalur hf.’s CEO says there is a chance the case could force the company to dissolve.

The shareholders are companies owned by Einar Sveinsson, Benedikt Einarsson, and Ingimundur Sveinsson. The allege that Hvalur’s CEO Kristján Loftsson bought “substantially discounted” shares in the company and waived the board’s right to purchase, thereby acquiring “undue interests” at the expense of other shareholders. The principal proceedings in the case are expected to start in September.

The trio believe this is a violation of corporate law and, as a consequence, their companies have the right to cash in their shares. This particular article has never been tried in court. Kristján states that if the court rules in the shareholders’ favour, it could lead to Hvalur hf.’s dissolution, as it may lead other shareholders to demand buyouts at the same price. He does not, however, believe that is what the majority of the company’s shareholders want.

Hvalur hf. has not conducted any whaling since 2018, citing an unfavourable market. It is, however, conducting research on various whale by-products for use in potential dietary supplements and therapeutic applications. Commercial whaling in Iceland has been controversial both in the country and abroad. Hvalur hf. has previously made headlines for failing to turn in hunting records, and the killing of a hybrid whale. The company was granted a five-year whaling licence in 2019.

Westman Islands Ferry Workers Strike

Herjólfur ferry

The Herjólfur ferry, which sails between Iceland’s mainland and the Westman Islands, did not sail any of its six regular trips yesterday due to a one-day workers’ strike. The board of directors of state-owned company Herjólfur have invited staff representatives and the Seaman Union to a meeting today in an effort to solve the ongoing wage dispute. The ferry is sailing according to schedule today.

Herjólfur CEO Guðbjartur Ellert Jónsson told RÚV that the dispute is complex, as the company’s revenue has plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is, however, hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without additional strike action.

The ferry is the main form of transport between the Icelandic mainland and the Westman Islands for the islands’ 4,300 inhabitants. The ferry transported a record number of passengers last June, both locals and tourists, many of whom visit the islands for their large puffin colonies and unique nature.