Iceland Considers Limiting Number of Travellers from Abroad

COVID-19 test

Iceland’s government is exploring ways to limit the number of passengers arriving to the country. In recent days, the number of arriving passengers has strained the country’s testing capacity. The National University Hospital’s Virology Department has ordered equipment to significantly increase the number of samples it can process daily, but it is not expected to arrive until October.

At today’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated the number of people arriving in the country from abroad was a “particular matter of concern,” as in recent days it had been straining the country’s testing capacity, which stands at around 2,000 samples per day. Since June 15, Iceland has tested most travellers arriving from abroad for COVID-19 through a border screening initiative – the only exception being those arriving from six “safe countries,” or the few who opt for a 14-day quarantine instead. Þórólfur mentioned, however, that it may be necessary to take Denmark and Germany off the safe list, which would increase the number of travellers that needed to be tested at the border.

“We Need to Live With” Limited Testing Capacity

The National University Hospital’s Virology Department, located in Reykjavík, is the only institution equipped to process COVID-19 samples, other than private biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics, which does not participate in the border screening program. Since this spring, the Virology Department has renovated their facilities and changed their testing methods to increase capacity to around 2,000 COVID-19 samples per day. Equipment has been ordered that should triple that capacity, but due to global demand it will not arrive until October. Until then, Þórólfur stated, testing capacity will be limited and “we simply need to live with that.”

No Harsher Restrictions as of Yet

On July 31, Icelandic authorities lowered the national assembly limit from 500 to 100 people and re-instituted the two-metre social distancing rule following two cluster of infections. The rise in case numbers led some to speculate that Iceland may be entering its “second wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic, after successfully containing the first wave this spring. Þórólfur stated it was too early to say whether the spate of infections would continue to spread, but there was no need yet for restrictions to be tightened further.

Most Active Infections in 18-29 Age Group

Director of Health Alma Möller stated Civil Protection Authorities were currently exploring ways to reach young people to communicate the importance of preventative measures when it came to tackling COVID-19. Presently, the largest proportion of active cases in Iceland are among the 18-29 age group. Alma encouraged the public to speak to this group about social distancing and personal hygiene measures to control the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Iceland Needs Long-Term Plan for COVID-19, Says Chief Epidemiologist

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is very concerned that the Icelandic public lacks the patience required to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, RÚV reports. Þórólfur has suggested the government establish a consultation platform to examine how Icelandic society should deal with the SARS-CoV-2 virus over the long term, taking into account the economic and political challenges in addition to the public health challenges the pandemic presents.

In a radio interview this morning, Þórólfur stated that although he had initially hoped that the pandemic would be on the wane by now, it is still on the rise globally. This means that Icelanders must learn to live with the virus over the long term, at the same time as they tackle other challenges in their lives.

The Pandemic is “A Long-Term War”

The COVID-19 pandemic is a long-term war, not a series of little battles, Þórólfur stated in the interview. He believes that Icelanders have trouble accepting this reality, and that many hoped that after the spring’s gathering bans and rise and fall of case numbers, it would be possible to return to “life as normal.” This is, however, far from the case, as Þórólfur himself has been regularly pointing out. Þórólfur nevertheless expressed sympathy for those whose livelihoods were affected by social distancing regulations, such as artists.

Þórólfur has suggested to the government that a co-operative forum be set up that can tackle how Icelandic society adapts to the new reality. “In my opinion, this is more than just concerning disease prevention issues. There are more people that need a seat at the table and various points of view need to be taken into account. My perspective is first and foremost the epidemiological perspective and I will naturally continue to hold it up, but this is a political issue and this is an economic issue and there are all kinds of aspects. And there is that impatience that I’m beginning to sense a lot and people need to set down some sort of plan; hang on, how are we going to operate over the next year, the next months?”

“No Silver Bullet”

Head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appears to be in agreement with Þórólfur about the need for long-term management of COVID-19. In a recent briefing, he warned against the belief that the development of a vaccine would do away with the pandemic. “We all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” Ghebreyesus stated. “However, there is no silver bullet at the moment and there might never be. For now, stopping outbreaks comes down to the basics of public health and disease control.”