Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 3:00 PM, the first one in nearly three months. The meeting was called in response to rising case numbers that are putting strain on the healthcare system. Iceland reported 167 COVID-19 cases yesterday. Health authorities have stated their goal of curbing daily case numbers to 40-50 per day so as not to overwhelm Iceland’s healthcare system. Authorities have also announced that about 160,000 people will be called in for booster shots before the end of the year. People who are eligible to be vaccinated but haven’t yet been vaccinated are encouraged to do so. On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.
Iceland’s authorities were set to lift all domestic restrictions on November 18. In a cabinet meeting today, the government decided to tighten restrictions instead, in an effort to curb the ongoing wave of infection. As of midnight, mask use will once again be mandatory in Iceland in shops, on public transportation, and in services where it is not possible to maintain a one-metre distance. Other tightened domestic measures go into effect next week.
The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by saying that alarm bells are ringing. The rising case numbers have an impact on many people’s daily lives as well as the healthcare system.
“We’ve fought this battle for 22 months and we know what we have to do. By showing solidarity, we’ve tackled this before. There is no other option than to accept the situation before us. The healthcare system is simply reaching the point of not being able to handle the number of people who need hospitalisation. So there is no other option but to tighten restrictions,” Víðir says.
This is the reality many countries are facing, not just Iceland, Víðir adds. Víðir: For the many who don’t want restrictions but want to depend on individual responsibility, I remind them that we also have a social responsibility to others.
Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason takes over. He states that the current wave of the pandemic is the largest we’ve seen yet. Infections are spread over the whole country but the majority are in Reykjavík. Group infections have started from choir rehearsals and karaoke parties. In these situations, ventilation is often not sufficiently good.
The situation at the National Hospital in Reykjavík and the Akureyri Hospital is difficult. If infection numbers continue to rise, we might be heading into an emergency situation. This is the same situation that’s occurring all over Europe, Þórólfur specifically mentions Romania, where the ICU is full.
Þórólfur wants to avoid such a situation and states that the most important thing is individual behaviour. Stay away from crowded places where infection prevention is insufficient. Event organisers should reconsider large events, Þórólfur says. We can take preventative measures even if some activities are not outright banned by the regulations.
Everyone over the age of 16 will be offered a booster shot. Scientific research from abroad shows that booster shots are effective in preventing infection and serious illness and side effects of vaccination are rare. People will be called in for booster shots once at least five months have passed from their second shot. People who experienced side effects when receiving their first two injections and people with autoimmune disorders are asked to consult with their doctors on whether they should accept a booster shot.
This booster shot program and personal infection prevention is what Þórólfur hopes will bring us out of this next surge of the pandemic.
“To those who have been questioning the severity of the pandemic, I ask you to join us in fighting the disease and keeping the pandemic at bay,” Þórólfur says.
Þórólfur encourages everyone who has been invited for vaccination but has not accepted, to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Around 11% of those who have been invited for vaccination in Iceland have not accepted the invitation.
At this point in the briefing, the broadcast was interrupted due to technical issues and was cut short. A recording will be released later today and this article will be updated.