Locals in Iceland should expect some level of social restrictions until 60-70% of the population is vaccinated, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Though nearly 40% of Icelanders have received at least one dose and over 16% are fully vaccinated, those figures are far from what is necessary to achieve herd immunity, Þórólfur reminded.
Continued diagnosis of domestic cases means the SARS-CoV-2 virus is still out in the community and we must proceed carefully, the Chief Epidemiologist underlined. The Indian variant of the virus has been detected in two individuals in Iceland who are currently in government isolation facilities.
Director of Health Alma Möller discussed the update to the government’s official tracing app Rakning C-19. Unlike the previous version of the app, which used GPS, this new update uses Bluetooth technology, allowing authorities to notify people if they’ve been in the vicinity of an infected individual without compromising privacy. Current users of the app will need to update to the latest version.
The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.
On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of the Civil Protection Department Víðir Reynisson.
Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 3 new domestic cases (2 in quarantine) and 1 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 75; 3 are in hospital. Iceland’s latest COVID-19 vaccination data: 16.89% of the population are fully vaccinated. 39.28% have received at least one dose.
The briefing has started. Víðir begins by addressing the alert phase due to wildfires in the southwest quadrant of the country. He asks the public to do their part in preventing fire. Even a small spark can cause a large wildfire in these dry conditions. Víðir says that the emergency phase due to COVID-19 will be lowered to an alert phase today. He says solidarity has helped us prevent a large group infection.
Þórólfur goes over the number. One individual who tested positive yesterday domestically arrived in the country recently. There’s a possibility their infection was undetected by border tests. There are fewer infections being diagnosed at the border, perhaps because current border measures might discourage people liable to be infected from travel, speculates Þórólfur. Two people have tested positive for the Indian variant of the virus. They’re in isolation in government facilities. Two patients are in hospital due to COVID-19. One of them in the ICU but not on a ventilator. We’re still finding new cases domestically so the virus is still out there as we’ve repeatedly stated.
There’s an increase in tourism in the coming weeks and that presents a great challenge to ensure proper infection prevention at the border. This challenge will last throughout June or July, until we expect vaccinations to be widespread enough that we don’t have to fear if infections cross the border. We’re not at that point currently, Þórólfur states. We need to stick to our proven methods, which include lifting restrictions slowly. Þórólfur notes that restrictions were last eased at the beginning of this week.
Alma takes over to discuss the latest update to the official government COVID-19 tracing app. She adds that the app will have increasing importance in the coming weeks as we start to relax restrictions further. Unlike the previous version of the app, which used GPS, this new update uses Bluetooth technology, allowing authorities to notify people if they’ve been in the vicinity of an infected individual without compromising privacy. Data will not be stored in clouds and will only be stored for 14 days.
The app is available in English, Icelandic, and Polish. Those who have the original version of the app installed on their phones will need to update it. The app will notify you if you’ve been in close contact with an infected individual and will guide you on the proper steps to take if that happens. This will not replace the COVID-19 tracing team but is an addition to the current system, says Alma. The app was created for the government but an independent investigation was conducted to ensure its privacy and appropriate handling of personal data. Alma particularly encourages young people who are out and about to update the app.
The panel opens for questions. Q: More young people are now being called in for vaccinations, has randomised vaccination begun? A from Þórólfur: No, but the last priority groups aren’t called in based on age but rather risk factors. Also, many young people work in healthcare for ex. nursing homes. Þórólfur believes that once 60-70% herd immunity is reached, hopefully in June/July, we might still experience group infections but not epidemics that carry the risk of overpowering the healthcare system.
The second AstraZeneca shots will likely be administered 2 months after the first one, not 3. That depends on vaccine stocks, says Þórólfur. Þóróflur is asked about the Indian variant of the virus. He states that it is being detected in several countries and as such it is normal that we have detected it here. We don’t know much about the Indian variant, says Þórólfur, for example whether it is more contagious than others or resistant to vaccinations. When asked why there aren’t more vaccinations scheduled this week, Þórólfur replies that it’s because we don’t have more vaccine. “We always use all the vaccine that we receive each week.”
Some vaccine distribution schedules aren’t yet available and others change regularly, Þórólfur adds. Þórólfur is asked about the Sputnik V vaccine, now being evaluated by the European Medicines Agency. He states that Iceland will base its decision on the EMA’s but that he’s seen promising research on the vaccine. Víðir closes the briefing on an optimistic note, praising the nation’s solidarity. The briefing has ended.