According to research from deCODE genetics, at least 20% of Icelanders under 40 have already contracted COVID-19 and as many as 135,000 may have already had it. The company’s CEO Kári Stefánsson has called for abolishing all domestic restrictions in Iceland, including isolation and quarantine, in light of the low rate of serious illness caused by Omicron infections. “We have to respond to the data and I think the data is telling us that now is the time to see whether we can’t live a fine life without using quarantine or isolation,” Kári stated.
As elsewhere in the world, the Omicron variant has led to Iceland’s biggest wave of COVID-19 infection since the start of the pandemic. While the domestic infection rate remains high, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has begun falling. Local data shows the rates of hospitalisation due to Omicron infection are much lower than the rates associated with the Delta variant (0.2-0.3% for Omicron versus 2% for Delta).
Chief Epidemiologist: we must proceed slowly
When asked to comment, the Chief Epidemiologist did not oppose Kári’s thoughts on lifting domestic restrictions, including quarantine and isolation, but stressed the importance of proceeding in stages. “I think it’s wiser to proceed slowly rather than go too fast and then have to take a step backwards,” Þórólfur stated. “It would be a little tricky and difficult to do that.”
Iceland’s current domestic restrictions are valid until February 2. They include a 10-person gathering limit, mandatory mask use in shops and public transport, and the mandated closure of all bars and clubs. Þórólfur says he plans to submit recommendations to relax domestic restrictions next week. Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has given indications that he would be willing to relax them even sooner.
Steps taken to relax quarantine and isolation regulations
Þórólfur Guðnason, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, will submit a memorandum to the Health Minister today that recommends relaxing the regulations on COVID-19 quarantine. According to Þórólfur, the recommendations allow for more people to be exempt from having to quarantine in the case of possible exposure to COVID. Þórólfur states that conditions are in place to relax social restrictions in Iceland, but it is important to do so in stages.
“What we are working on now with the [Health] Ministry and the Minister is to simplify quarantine rules and simplify testing. And I think it’s wise to start there,” Þórólfur stated. Authorities have already taken steps to relax quarantine and isolation restrictions, including by shortening mandatory isolation from 10 to seven days and exempting triple-vaccinated individuals (and double-vaccinated individuals who have recovered from COVID) from mandatory quarantine in the case of potential exposure. Regulations on isolation have also been relaxed, allowing individuals to leave their place of isolation for walks.