Minister Calls for Easing Restrictions Immediately

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir, Minister of Science, Industry, and Innovation, has stated that there is no need to await additional data on the newest wave of the pandemic – social restrictions should be eased immediately, RÚV reports. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has expressed contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital and with the protection afforded by vaccines.

More infections, fewer hospitalisations

Despite a rising number of infections – almost a week after regulations were tightened – Minister Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir has stated, in an interview with RÚV, that there is no need to await further data for social restrictions to be eased. The Minister’s rationale is predicated on the fewer hospitalisations that have resulted from the Omicron variant as compared to older variants; there has been almost no alteration in the number of people being treated for COVID-19 at the National University Hospital over the past few days.

There are 35 COVID patients in the hospital today. Children are the majority of those getting infected, and severe illness caused by Omicron is rare; although 90% of those diagnosed with COVID-19 over the recent days have been infected with the Omicron variety, the majority of COVID-19 deaths have been traced to the Delta variant

Nearly 1,500 individuals were diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday, about half of whom were self-isolating. Never before have as many individuals been in quarantine or self-isolation – 24,500 (7% of the nation) – since the pandemic began. An estimated 15% of Icelanders have now been infected with COVID-19. 

Calls for a serious discussion of restrictions

Minister Áslaug Arna believes that it is time to have a serious discussion on relaxing social restrictions: “We sometimes act fast to tighten restrictions, but we can also act fast to ease them. We don’t need to wait for data and then more data to implement relaxed regulations; on the contrary, continued restrictions require substantiating data in each case.

As noted by RÚV, the current government has not been unified in its stance toward social restrictions, and members of the Independence Party have suggested that it’s time to take a new tack with regard to the pandemic, among them Minister of Foreign Affairs Kolbrún Reykjfjörð Gylfadottir.

In terms of social restrictions, Áslaug Arna states that it is necessary to consider the burden that regulations have on society: “If we were a restriction-free society today, and a virus with similar infection numbers and hospitalisations began to spread, would we have the legal authority to take such extreme measures as we are taking today?”

Most ICU patients unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason expressed his contentment with the state of affairs at the National University Hospital, i.e. that despite increased cases, there were fewer hospitalisations. 

“There are not a lot of hospitalisations, and there are not a lot of COVID-patients requiring intensive care, which is pleasing. It’s not causing a strain on ICU’s .”

Þórólfur added the caveat that a high number of COVID-19 infections could, however, put a strain on the hospital, especially considering the high rate of infections among hospital staff. As noted by RÚV, children in primary schools comprised a third of total infections on Wednesday and nearly half of total infections on Tuesday. 90% of individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 are infected with the Omicron variant, which is not the case for ICU patients: 

“The majority of those who are in intensive care are unvaccinated and infected with the Delta variant. It’s clear that the vaccines are preventing severe illness,” Þórólfur observed.

COVID-hit Iceland loses to Denmark at European Handball Championship

Handball

The Icelandic men’s national handball team suffered a defeat at the hands of Denmark last night. Six Icelandic players tested positive for COVID-19 the night before the game, the first match of the European Handball Championship’s main round. 

Rough news following a smooth start

Following a positive start to the European Handball Championship, which saw the Icelandic men’s national handball team win all three of its matches in the preliminary round, the squad suffered a four-point defeat to Denmark last night. The match was the first game of the tournament’s main round.  

On the evening before the game, news broke that three Icelandic players had tested positive for COVID-19: goalkeeper Björgvin Páll Gústavsson, centre-back Elvar Örn Jónsson, and left back Ólafur Andrés Guðmundsson. More bad news broke on the following morning when it was revealed that captain Aron Pálmarson and winger Bjarki Már Elísson had also tested positive. The final blow arrived just a few hours before the game against Denmark; centre-back Gísli Þorgeir Kristjánsson also tested positive. 

The players have little to no symptoms, according to reports.

Critical of tournament organisers

In an interview with Vísir yesterday, Bjarki Már Elísson criticised the tournament organisers for not doing enough to minimise the risk of infection:  

“We’ve been doing everything in our power to avoid infection; we’ve been holed up in our hotels since January 2,” who added that the team had been prepared for the worst after the first three players tested positive.”

“The conditions at the hotel are such that there are tourists and other guests staying alongside us, which, personally, I find absurd. But, of course, there are fans in the stadiums, and we’re doing interviews, so you’re always at some risk. Perhaps it was to be expected,” Bjarki continued. 

“I suppose what’s most disappointing, however, is that tournament organisers didn’t provide better conditions. Ensure that we were more isolated, that there aren’t other people staying at the hotels; all of the teams are eating in the same places, too. This allows infection to spread, and it was expected, but it is also extremely disappointing.”

A tough schedule ahead

Iceland will play its second match of the main round tomorrow, Saturday, January 22. The team will face off against France, the reigning Olympic Champions, with Iceland’s President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson expected to be in the stands. The following two games are against Croatia on Monday (January 24) and Montenegro on Wednesday (January 26).