COVID-19 in Iceland: Clear Regulations Combat Pandemic Fatigue Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: Clear Regulations Combat Pandemic Fatigue

By Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir

COVID-19 Iceland
Photo: Golli. From left: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller.

Clear and open communications between authorities and the public, but also between individuals, were the main topics of today’s information briefing on COVID-19 in Iceland. The panel today included Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Director of Health Alma Möller. It also included a special guest: Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir, an expert from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Positive numbers but still to early to declare victory

Yesterday, 33 people tested positive for the coronavirus domestically, 61% of which were already in quarantine. In total there are 1,159 active cases of the virus, 21 people are in hospital and three in the ICU. The total number and number of hospitalised continues to fall, as does the daily number of new cases. “The curve continues downwards. All figures suggest we are seeing a decrease in infections,” Þórólfur stated. “Iceland is one of just 4 countries in Europe where the incidence rate has been dropping in recent days, it is rising in the remaining countries. It is, however, still too early to declare victory,” the Chief Epidemiologist adds.

Increased cases at the border indicate rise of pandemic across Europe

While domestic numbers are going down, an unusually high number of people have tested positive at the border, most of them arriving from Poland. Þórólfur stated that this likely was a representation of infection numbers going up in Poland but in his mind, this also underlined the importance of border testing. Authorities are looking into if changes should be made to the border testing, perhaps making it a requirement from people coming from certain countries. Currently, people arriving in Iceland have a choice between double testing and 5-day quarantine or 14-day quarantine.

Clear guidelines necessary, vow to do better

Þórólfur also addressed the confusion arising last week over gyms being allowed to reopen last week, albeit with heavy restrictions. He lamented the confusion and unrest the matter caused but explained that after he had suggested the gyms remain closed but allowing non-contact sports with restrictions, the Ministry of Health found a legal flaw that didn’t allow them to issue such regulations. Ultimately, he agreed with their reasoning. He reiterated that issuing regulations that fit everyone perfectly was a task doomed to failure but stressed that the main thing people should keep in mind are personal preventative measures such as handwashing, social distance and disinfecting common surfaces. “Both I and the Ministry of Health will learn from this and aim to ensure regulations are clear in the future,” the Chief Epidemiologist added.

Icelandic public more satisfied with government response

Some of the key factors to prevent pandemic fatigue are clear regulations and easy access to information on how and why decisions are made, Director of Health Alma Möller stated. Statistics from the University of Iceland show that the public in Iceland is more satisfied with government response than the public in many other countries. “Still, recent events show that we can and must do better,” she added.

Take care of yourself, then support others

Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir from the Department of Civil Protection discussed perseverance in the face of the pandemic, the importance of support from a social network, and how people need to take care of themselves in order to be able to support the people around them. “Living on a volcanic island regularly tests our perseverance, but now we’re dealing with heavy restrictions on our daily lives,” says Ingibjörg. “It’s normal to not always like the rules and restrictions placed on us.” She suggested people pay greater attention to their mental wellbeing by taking care of themselves and their bodies by sleeping well, eating nutritious food, and exercising regularly, but also suggested paying attention to other people. “If we notice others are behaving out of character, let’s ask how they’re feeling and provide emotional support. Stopping for a chat in your building’s stairwell (from a two-metre distance) might make a difference to someone lacking social support.” She also addressed children who might be experiencing anxiety, suggesting that an open conversation, depending on the child’s maturity is the best way to alleviate their worries.

Víðir ended the briefing with his usual mantra on the importance of personal preventative measures: hand washing and disinfecting shared surfaces is key to preventing infection. He added: “We’re all tired and that’s normal. It’s also normal to be annoyed and angry when rules are unclear. Authorities are listening and aim to do better.”

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings in English on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.00 am UTC.


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