Flu Epidemic Likely Following Decline in COVID Cases

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason believes that the waning COVID-19 pandemic is slowly being replaced by an influenza epidemic. The health authorities encourage individuals with underlying conditions to receive flu shots.

Brynjar Níelsson gets the flu

Last week, Brynjar Níelsson, Assistant to the Minister of Justice, published an essay on the subject of “pushy people” on his Facebook page.

While the former MP’s meditations were mildly interesting, the disclaimer that accompanied his post was even more noteworthy.

“I am extremely sick with the flu and nearly delirious,” Brynjar wrote (ensuring that any controversial statements could be chalked up to the delirious effects of the flu).

… but Brynjar Níelsson isn’t the only one who’s been suffering.

Up to 3,000 visits daily

In an interview with the radio programme Reykjavík síðdegis on Wednesday, Óskar Reykdalsson – Director of Capital Area Health Clinics – observed that the annual flu appeared to be “circulating among the populace in full force.”

Óskar estimated that up to 3,000 people visit capital-area clinics every day, complaining of common-cold symptoms, fever, and a cough.

Among those who have had reason to complain is singer Heiðar Örn Kristjánsson (who competed with Pollapönk in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest) whose upcoming gig at Gamli Enski in Hafnarfjörður was cancelled for this very reason.

“Heiðar Örn has the flu and has lost his voice,” Gamli Enski announced on its FB page in early March. “In light of this, DJ Drinkalot will be filling in.”

If only Heiðar Örn had taken preventive action …

Flu shots are sensible

The health authorities in Iceland imported 95,000 doses of flu vaccine last year, and an estimated 68,000 individuals have been vaccinated since last fall. There is still plenty of vaccine available.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Óskar Reykdalsson stated in his interview with Reykjavík síðdegis, “so long as you haven’t been exposed to the flu.”

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason made the same point in an interview with RÚV this morning, where he encouraged everyone to get their flu shots. “Especially those with underlying conditions.”

“We’ve also been encouraging doctors to treat people with underlying conditions as quickly as possible in the event that they become sick. That undoubtedly helps prevent serious illness.”

Social restrictions to blame

The reason why the influenza epidemic is so forceful this year owes to the social restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years.

According to Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, these restrictions prevented common annual bugs from spreading.

“So we can expect a significant circulation of these bugs now, because the flu hasn’t been spreading for the past two years,” Þórólfur remarked this morning. “This usually means that immune systems are much weaker than they otherwise would be.”

“What’s happening now is what I suggested could happen, that is, that we’re getting an extensive influenza epidemic,” Þórólfur continued. “We don’t know how extensive it will be, or how serious, because it’s just beginning.”

First Ukrainian Refugees Receive Icelandic Health Insurance

landspítali hospital

Twenty Ukrainian refugees were issued Icelandic health insurance yesterday. They now qualify for full benefits in the event of necessary healthcare service.

Processing to be expedited

Following the mass exodus after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Icelandic Health Insurance (IHI) announced that it would prioritise the issuing of social insurance for refugees. On Wednesday, IHI received documents necessary to issue health insurance to the first twenty refugees to arrive in Iceland. The registration was completed on the same day.

“The reception of refugees is a big task for our society and for the healthcare system in particular. We’ve endeavoured to ensure the speedy processing of documents to grant this vulnerable group immediate access to healthcare service; many of these people urgently require different services,” María Heimisdóttir, Director of Icelandic Health Insurance, wrote in a statement on IHI’s website.

The statement also notes that refugees, like all people in Iceland, always have access to emergency services, regardless of whether or not health insurance has been issued.

Millions of refugees since the invasion began

Icelandic Health Insurance will also participate in the reception of refugees at the new receiving station at Domus Medica in downtown Reykjavík. IHI will have a representative on hand to provide information regarding aid equipment, drug rebate cards, healthcare premiums, etc.

As noted in its statement, the IHI has – from the time that it was clear that Iceland would be receiving Ukrainian refugees – collaborated with health insurance providers from other European countries to ensure that these individuals have access to health insurance: a complicated task, given that millions of people have fled Ukraine over the past month since the war began.

“This collaboration will continue; most refugees intend to return to their homeland as soon as the war is over,” the statement from IHI reads.

Iceland to Increase Defence Spending, PM Announces

PM Katrín Jakobsdóttir attended a NATO meeting in Brussels yesterday. Speaking to RÚV after the meeting, the PM stated that the government would be increasing its defence budget, with special emphasis on cyber security.

A short and long-term response to the war

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir attended an extraordinary NATO meeting in Brussels yesterday alongside Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir. The aim of the meeting was to discuss NATO’s short and long-term response to the war in Ukraine.

“We condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the strongest possible terms,” a statement released after the meeting by the Heads of State and Government of the 30 NATO Allies read. “We call on President Putin to immediately stop this war and withdraw military forces from Ukraine, and call on Belarus to end its complicity, in line with the Aggression Against Ukraine Resolution adopted at the UN General Assembly of 2 March 2022.”

Increased humanitarian support

In an interview with RÚV after the meeting, Katrín stated that although Iceland would not be participating directly in NATO operations, it would be offering humanitarian support.

“We have decided to ramp up humanitarian support. That is, to increase our support even more. We’ve tripled our spending since the start of the invasion.”

As noted on the government’s website, Iceland will be contributing an additional ISK 150 million ($1.1 million / € 1 million) to humanitarian aid. The authorities have already spent more than ISK 500 ($3.9 million / € 3.5 million) million since the war began.

Increased sea and air traffic is expected

Given that NATO has decided to activate its defence plans, Katrín Jakobsdóttir also expects increased traffic above and around Iceland. NATO’s defence plans involve, among other things, the deployment of “significant air and naval assets.”

“Defence plans have been activated for all NATO zones,” Katrín observed, “including areas to which Iceland and Norway belong. So we can expect increased air and sea traffic.”

Iceland will also be increasing its NATO funding.

“We will increase our spending over the next few years, and that spending will be focused on cyber security, which is also an area of emphasis within NATO,” Katrín told RÚV.