COVID-19 in Iceland: Contact Tracing is Key to Taming Third Wave

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

“Cautiously optimistic” was how Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason described his perspective on the ongoing third wave of COVID-19 infections at a briefing in Reykjavík today. Authorities know where the wave originated, says Þórólfur, the contact tracing team has a good overview on cases, and has also been successful in locating minor outbreaks. Þórólfur added, however, that his optimism has proved unwarranted in the past and that individual preventative measures such as handwashing and social distancing remain key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland.

Iceland reported 30 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and the number has been dropping since reaching a high of 75 two days ago. More than half of case in recent days can be traced to bars and clubs in Reykjavík, which have been ordered to remain closed until September 27.  The total number of active cases currently sits at 242.

Emphasis on Employer Responsibility

At today’s briefing, authorities emphasised employers’ responsibility in minimising the risk of virus spread in the workplace. This should be done by separating employees into smaller groups at larger workplaces, as well as ensuring communal areas are regularly cleaned and sterilised. Furthermore, employers were encouraged to allow staff to work from home as much as possible.

Mask Use Encouraged, Not Mandatory

In workplaces where one-metre distancing is not possible, mask use is encouraged. The same applies to secondary schools and universities. While mask use in these circumstances is not required by law, Þórólfur emphasised that schools should set regulations according to their individual circumstances, and those should be respected. He added that authorities are not recommending general mask use “out on the streets,” rather only in situations where masks have been proven effective in reducing and preventing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Iceland Review live tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings.

Charged With Manslaughter, Assault, and Reckless Driving

missing woman

A man suspected of killing his mother last April in the capital area has been charged with manslaughter, assaulting her cohabiting partner, as well as for reckless driving in the capital area two years prior, Vísir reports. The woman’s death is one of two that occurred this past spring, raising concerns that COVID-19 restrictions were causing an uptick in domestic violence. In a COVID-19 briefing yesterday, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir reported that another rise in domestic violence appears to be occurring, though a rise in reporting as well.

Suspected of Killing Mother and Assaulting Her Partner

A 30-year-old man has been charged with manslaughter for the suspected killing of his mother in an apartment in Hafnarfjörður last April. He is also charged with assaulting her partner, who lived with the woman, stabbing him in the face and arm. The woman’s partner and daughters have filed claims against the suspect for ISK 4.8 million ($35,000/€29,700) in compensation, including funeral expenses. According to Vísir’s sources, the man was struggling with drug addiction and mental health issues. A psychological assessment of whether he was of sound mind is pending.

Police Visited Home Shortly Before the Crime

Police visited the apartment five hours before the incident occurred, after the woman and her husband had called police. The suspect was then at the home, and the woman could not sleep due to his condition. Police arrived at the scene, stayed for some time, and talked to the suspect before leaving. Around five hours later, he is suspected of killing his mother and assaulting her partner with a knife. According to police, a review of officers’ body cameras from the interaction showed no indication that they should have acted differently during their first visit. Furthermore, there was no legal requirement to remove the man from the premises at the time.

Reckless Driving Two Years Prior

The suspect was also charged for reckless driving two years prior to the incident, in June 2018. At speeds nearing 200km/h (124m/h), he drove against traffic, crossed red lights, and conducted illegal U-turns while under the influence of drugs and alcohol. It may be pure luck that no one was injured in the incident. Around one year later, he was stopped by police while driving under the influence.

Bars and Clubs to Remain Closed Until September 27

At a bar in Reykjavík Iceland, drinking beer.

Minister for Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has confirmed Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendation that the capital area’s bars and clubs will remain closed until next Sunday, September 27.

Þórólfur’s memo will be discussed in today’s cabinet meeting but Svandís has already told Morgunblaðið that she does not believe harsher restrictions are in order at this point. Þórólfur said the same at yesterday’s briefing. He has stated that Iceland’s tracing and quarantine efforts allow health authorities to take more targeted action instead of imposing harsh restrictions on the whole country.

“Meanwhile, we urge everyone to stick to these personal disease preventions, wash their hands and disinfect, ensure social distance, work from home if they can and try to decrease social gatherings. I think that’s our mission while we’re getting a handle on things,” said Svandís.

The city centre was calm last weekend. Bars and clubs were closed last Friday on the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestion after a spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases was traced to the city’s nightlife the preceding Friday night. Last Friday saw 75 new confimed cases of COVID-19, the highest recorded since April 1, but on Saturday, that number was already lower by half. Þórólfur said in a radio interview this morning that today’s preliminary numbers indicate that Sunday’s numbers are a little lower but the exact numbers will be published at 11 am.

Masks Required in Secondary Schools and Universities

face mask

Students, teachers, and other staff in secondary schools and universities in the capital area will be required to wear masks within school buildings and during all school operations, according to the Ministry of Education’s recently updated guidelines. The updated guidelines are based on the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestion to the Minister of Health. Masks were delivered to schools early this morning.

The masks will ensure the continued operations of schools and universities. The notice from the Ministry of Education reveals that mask use in schools outside the capital area will be subject to circumstances, each school’s situation and the local spread of contagion.

The guidelines urge that masks be used correctly, a social distance of 1 metre and personal hygiene be respected, and outside visitors limited as much as possible.