COVID-19 in Iceland: 3,500 Doses of Jansen Vaccine Expected In April

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in a radio interview this morning that although the EU vaccine acquisition program was almost on schedule, except for AstraZeneca delays, it was still going slower than she would have liked. According to Katrín, the government was actively looking into possibilities such as acquiring doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V but that they would still require an EMA conditional marketing authorisation. RÚV reports that based on numbers from Norway, Iceland can expect around 3500 doses of the Jansen vaccine this April.

What’s the status of COVID-19 vaccinations in Iceland?

Norway will receive 52,000 doses of the Jansen vaccine over the last two weeks of April. Based on population numbers, this means that around 3500 doses of the Jansen vaccine will be shipped to Iceland, as both countries are party to the EU vaccine acquisition scheme. It is assumed that considerably more doses of the vaccine will arrive in May and June. Only one dose of the Jansen vaccine is needed to provide protection against the virus, as opposed to the two required by other vaccines already approved in Iceland. Icelandic authorities have signed contracts with the vaccine producer for  235,000 doses of the Jansen vaccine.

In other news of the EU vaccine acquisition program, the EU’s latest struggle with the UK over vaccine export made headlines in Iceland as new regulations meant that the limitations could affect vaccine export to Iceland. Both the Prime Ministry and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have now stated that the limitations will not affect Iceland and that this has been made clear to the European Commission. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke on the phone to President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen and received a clear message that the regulations would not affect vaccine distribution to Iceland. Iceland’s government will still demand that the regulation will be changed to officially exempt Iceland, claiming that otherwise, the regulation is in violation of the EEA contract.

Iceland’s government has also been frequently asked about the success of the EU vaccine program. Prime Minister Katrín stated in a radio interview that she considered the vaccine rollout to be going slower than she would have liked and that her government was actively looking into every available option. She mentioned the unsuccessful Pfizer negotiations and the possibility of acquiring doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. Katrín stated that an EU conditional marketing authorisation was still a prerequisite for administering the vaccine to Icelanders.

Healthcare authorities have decided to resume vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine and will be administering the vaccine to people over the age of 70. Tomorrow, all capital area residents born 1948 or earlier will be offered a vaccination appointment. 39,478 Icelanders have received at least one injection of a COVID-19 vaccine, just under 11% of the nation.

 

COVID-19 in Iceland: Considerably Tightened Restrictions Took Effect At Midnight

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

At Midnight last night, tighter infection prevention restrictions took effect. The regulations include a gathering limit of ten and that includes children born 2015 or earlier, early Easter breaks for all school stages except kindergartens, and bars, swimming pools, and gyms are closed. Authorities hope that swift and decisive action will minimise the risk of the British variant spreading.

The decision by the Minister of Health to impose these tougher restrictions was based on proposals from Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. The new rules will remain in force for 3 weeks.

The British variant of the virus is considered more contagious and more likely to cause serious illness. In addition, it is also more likely to affect children, and the current spread of the virus is mostly linked to elementary schools in the Capital area.

The rules now taking effect are broadly similar to those imposed on 31 October last year, which proved effective in quelling the third wave of the pandemic in Iceland.

Below are the most notable rules now in effect:

The social distancing requirement remains 2 metres, and the rules on the use of face-masks are unchanged. As hitherto, children born in or after 2005 are not required to wear face-masks, but are now included in the count when limiting the size of gatherings and must observe the 2-m social distancing rule. Children in pre-school (kindergarten) are not subject to the 2-m rule or restrictions on numbers sharing a common space.

  • The general limit on the size of gatherings is now 10 persons, applying to all individuals born in or before 2014.
  • Religious and life-stance associations may hold functions with up to 30 guests. Guests’ names, ID numbers and telephone numbers must be recorded, but they are not required to sit in numbered seats. Guests are obliged to wear face-masks and the 2-m distancing rule shall be observed. The maximum number permitted in receptions after funerals, confirmations and similar ceremonies is restricted to 10 persons.
  • Swimming pools and bathing establishments are closed.
  • Fitness and body-building centres are closed.
  • Sports, indoor or outdoor, involving children or adults, which require participants to be closer than 2 m apart, or in which there is a danger of transmission of the virus by touch resulting from the use of shared equipment, are not permitted.
  • Stage performances and comparable activities and functions, such as cinema showings, are not permitted.
  • Night clubs, bars, gaming establishments and gambling machines are closed.
  • Driving lessons and aviation lessons with an instructor are not permitted.
  • Restaurants may stay open until 10 p.m., with a maximum of 20 guests in each separate area; details of all guests shall be registered and they shall be served when seated in numbered seats. Alcoholic beverages shall be served to seated customers. New guests may be admitted until 9 p.m.
  • Shops may admit 5 persons for every 10 m2 of their floor area, to a maximum of 50 persons. Up to 20 members of staff may be present in the same area as customers. The 2-m distancing rule shall be observed, and face-masks shall be worn.
  • Hairdressers’ salons, beauty parlours and comparable establishments may continue operations.

Schools and universities

Junior schools (children aged 6-10), senior schools, music schools and universities shall be closed as from tomorrow and until the beginning of the traditional Easter holidays. Regulations covering the operation of schools after the Easter break are in preparation and will be announced in the next few days.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Resume AstraZeneca Vaccinations For 70+

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

At an information briefing earlier today, Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson discussed the recently tightened restrictions, news that Iceland will resume vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and how hospitals and the healthcare system are preparing for the expected rise in infections and hospitalizations.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review‘s live-tweeting of the briefing.

COVID-19 Numbers: Iceland reported 8 new domestic cases yesterday (all in quarantine) and 8 at the border. Total active cases have risen to 89. 20,325 people (5.5% of the population) have been fully vaccinated and an additional 19,153 (5.2%) have received their first shot.

Rögnvaldur begins the briefing by discussing being in isolation and quarantine with their families. “I know it’s hard.”

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the numbers. Four days ago there was a cluster infection in one family that meant several hundred people are now in quarantine. Its origin isn’t known but it is caused by the British variant of the virus. We can expect to see more cases over the coming days but hopefully, the majority of these cases will be in quarantine. Eight cases were caught yesterday, all in quarantine. Many tests were taken yesterday and Þórólfur encourages everyone to get tested if they’re experiencing any symptoms. The virus has spread in the community, and around 700 people are now in quarantine. This is some cause for concern, as the British variant is more contagious and causes more serious illness, based on data from the countries around us. “To stop the further spread, I believed it was necessary to react quickly and decisively, and regulations based on my suggestions took effect on midnight.”

Þórólfur hopes this reaction will mean that this wave will die down quickly but it will still likely take 2-3 weeks. Þórólfur discusses criticism of his decision to keep kindergartens open, states that there are no epidemiological reasons to close schools for the youngest children and it would be disruptive for the healthcare system. Þórólfur discusses the AstraZeneca vaccine and the decision to resume vaccination and use it for individuals older than 70. “New research proves its efficacy for older people.” The blood clot issues connected with the AstraZeneca vaccine are limited to younger people so Iceland will be vaccinating people over 70 with the vaccine, perhaps even people over 65 or 60 later on.

The current development is a disappointment but not one that is very surprising. Þórólfur is hopeful that we can use our experience from earlier waves of the pandemic to get through this quicker than before. “We need to show solidarity, it’s what’s gotten us this far and what will continue to be the key to our success.” Þórólfur urges people to keep up with personal infection prevention habits.

Alma takes over and discusses hospitalisation rates, something she expects will increase as the British variant takes hold in Iceland. The National Hospital is preparing for this situation, those preparations include being ready to accept children with the illness and completing vaccination of its staff. Testing facilities are busy, expecting to take up to 3000 tests today and the panel encourages everyone to get tested if experiencing any symptoms. Test appointment can be made at www.heilsuvera.is and by calling 1700 or their personal healthcare clinic. The Directorate of health is also bringing back registrations for the healthcare professionals reserve forces, asking all medically trained personnel willing to work to sign up but hopes that the current restrictions will mean that they won’t be needed.

Rögnvaldur discusses Easter and possible travel plans. Christmas bubbles were a success last time and perhaps people should consider an Easter bubble. If travelling, Rögnvaldur encourages people to stay at their accommodation as much as possible to minimise the risk of infection, shop for the trip close to their home and avoid using services and facilities in their destination.

He briefly discusses hikes to the eruption site, asking people to stay in separate groups, not mingle at the eruption site, wear masks and be mindful of winter weather conditions, wear warm clothes and bring plenty of food, adding that masks such as the ones worn to prevent COVID-19 infection offer no protection against toxic gases from the eruption.

The panel is not open to questions. Þórólfur states that the decision to close gyms but keep hair salons open is because there are larger groups in gyms than hair salons. When asked about serious illness by the British variant, Þórólfur replies that currently there are too few people hospitalised with the British variant to estimate the overall illness caused by the variant but they trust data from the countries around us. Alma states “we’re still learning how this new variant behaves.”

Þórólfur: Prioritisation of vaccination remains unchanged despite new strains being more likely to affect younger people and children.

700 people are in quarantine, can we estimate how many of them will test positive? Þórólfur answers that in the past about 5% of people in quarantine test positive but that depends on variants and how extensive quarantines are.

A journalist states that only 5% of passengers arriving at the airport take the Flybus according to RE representatives, Rögnvaldur replies that police monitor the airport and how arriving passengers get home, but that they will look into this information further.

When asked about children playing together during this elongated easter holiday, Þórólfur states that the goal of the restrictions is to minimise mingling and gathering. They haven’t issued guidelines on who can play together, classmates or friends but the general rule is to avoid mingling and limiting contact with unrelated groups and that applies to children as well.

When asked about people’s willingness to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, Þórólfur states that research shows that the vaccine is safe and effective for the older age group. Alma adds that the serious side effects of this vaccine are less common in that group.

“It’s normal to be sad, scared, and angry and we have to give space to those feelings,” states Rögnvaldur. The next step is to realise what needs to be done and how we need to act to get through this.

Gas Pollution on Eruption Hiking Path

People admiring lava flowing from the crater in Geldingadalur on the Reykjanes peninsula

People are advised to hold off on hiking to the eruption site in Geldingadalir today due to gas pollution on the marked hiking path. Guðmundur Eyjólfsson with the Suðurnes police force told Vísir that the night was a success although there were two minor injuries due to ice on the hiking path. The Met Office is working on a colour-coded system to inform hikers on whether it’s safe to approach the eruption.

The current wind direction, from the north and north-east, means that the gas pollution from the eruption is blown onto parts of the marked hiking path. The eruption emits dangerous levels of sulphur dioxide and it is not advisable to hike in those conditions, although taking longer hiking routes where you can have the wind in your back is an option. Authorities’ policy is not to close access to the area again but rather provide information and assistance to hikers, who make the trek on their own responsibility.

People are still showing up at the area, “in tens, not hundreds,” stated Guðmundur Eyjólfsson, but both police officers and search-and-rescue volunteers are on location advising people on how to proceed.

According to the Icelandic Meteorological Office, weather conditions for hiking have been fine this morning but will deteriorate quickly around noon. Wind speeds of 13-18 m/s (29-40 mph) and snowstorms are expected.

The route is icy and there are some stretches of the hiking paths where that has caused some problems. Two hikers were brought to hospital with minor injuries after slipping on the ice in the night.