COVID-19 in Iceland: Reason To Be Optimistic For a Good Summer, Chief Epidemiologist States Skip to content
Þórólfur Guðnason
Photo: Almannavarnir/Facebook.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Reason To Be Optimistic For a Good Summer, Chief Epidemiologist States

Side effects of the AstraZeneca and Jansen vaccine, the nation’s mental wellbeing, and the prospect of a relatively restriction-free summer were some of the topics covered at authorities’ COVID-19 information briefing this morning, beginning shortly at 11.03am. On the panel were Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on www.covid.is. Iceland reported 0 domestic cases yesterday and 5 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 80. 67,158 have received one or both doses of COVID-19 vaccine, 18.2% of the population.

Loosened domestic restrictions took effect in Iceland today, allowing swimming pools, bars, and gyms to reopen and doubling the gathering limit from 10 to 20 people. Víðir starts by talking about what lies behind the success: hard work and no shortcuts. “The success of the Icelandic nation over the past year has been great.” Víðir: “In order for that success to continue, we need to keep up the effort that has been effective so far.”

The numbers

Þórólfur goes over the numbers. We’re still seeing domestic infections, but the majority are in quarantine. The virus is certainly still in the community, however. No one tested positive yesterday of some 1,000 tests administered, which is a good thing. Since tightened restrictions took effect about 3 weeks ago, 90 people have been infected domestically, 70% of whom were in quarantine. In most cases, infections could be traced back to people breaking quarantine. Two people are currently hospitalised due to COVID-19, one in ICU.

We were successful in containing the group infections that emerged a few weeks ago, Þórólfur says. He is pleased about the relaxed domestic regulations taking effect today and hopes infections will continue to trend downwards, despite increased freedom. Increased surveillance of those quarantining at home has now begun and hopefully, this will mean fewer infections crossing the borders, Þórólfur says. Þórólfur compliments Red Cross staff and border officials for their work.

Vaccination efforts and side effects

Þórólfur moves on to vaccines: The majority of people vaccinated in Iceland have received the Pfizer vaccine but many have received the AstraZeneca vaccine as well. Þórólfur goes over the vaccine side effects, noting how rare the most serious incidents are. AstraZeneca will now be used for people 65 years and older and potentially in the future for people 60 years or older with no family history of blood clots. Icelandic health authorities looking into the possibility of using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for men younger than 60, as the reported serious side effects are more common among women. Icelandic health authorities are waiting for the results of further research before starting the use of the Janssen vaccine. To discussing thrombotic events (blood clots), Þórólfur points out that patients with COVID-19 (up to 20-30%) may develop such issues. About 0.1% of the US population experiences a blood clot annually while 0.3-0.5% of women taking the contraceptive pill experience a blood clot problem. It is important to keep this in mind, says Þórólfur. Þórólfur wants to maintain success domestically, keep infections from crossing the borders and slowly ease restrictions domestically.

The pandemic’s effect on overall healthcare and mental wellbeing

Alma takes over, discussing the effect of the pandemic on healthcare and diagnoses of other conditions. Alma states that despite a temporary dip, there has been no continuous drop in cancer diagnoses in Iceland during the pandemic. Alma hopes this is the final stretch of the pandemic and that solidarity and persistence can get us past the finish line. She notes that vaccinations are key to ending the pandemic and the sooner everyone gets vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normal. She’s noticed more discord in the community lately but polls still suggest that the majority of people have a feeling of solidarity and are doing their best to keep up infection preventions. Alma encourages the public to show compassion for people in different situations with different opinions. “It’s healthy for our own mental wellbeing to show empathy and kindness.”

Questions from reporters

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked if Denmark is not using their share of AstraZeneca vaccines whether they’re available for purchase. Þórólfur does not believe that is a practical option, Danes are storing the drug for possible future use.

The Directorate of Health continues to collect data on the nation’s overall mental wellbeing. The data will be used to respond as necessary. Research suggests that we’re in pretty good shape so far but the longer the pandemic lasts, the higher the risk is of the situation affecting people mentally.

Þórólfur is asked why we’re not using the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines when common medication such as the contraceptive pill has a higher risk of the same or similar serious side effects? Þórólfur states that authorities are holding off on administering the Janssen vaccine to wait for further research and using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people less likely to be at risk of potential serious side effects. He does not expect the wait to be long. Þórólfur: We only took a brief pause in using the AstraZeneca vaccine while we waited for more information (about a week). We are now using all of the AstraZeneca doses we receive. Short pauses should not affect our vaccination efforts overall, says Þórólfur. Alma adds that the rare side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine are more life-threatening than the similar side effects associated with the contraceptive pill.

Þórólfur is asked about his opinion on Danish authorities’ decision to cease the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Þórólfur replies that they are in a different situation than Iceland. He speculates that caution against damaging the public opinion of vaccines might play a part.

What can we expect this summer? Will there be large gatherings, festivals, can we go abroad? “The summer will be good!” both Víðir and Þórólfur exclaim. Þórólfur: We haven’t heard from meteorologists but the future looks bright when it comes to vaccination efforts. There’s every reason to believe that we will ease restrictions considerably with more widespread vaccination.

If we compare restrictions implemented during this wave to restrictions in previous waves, we reacted earlier now than we did before, Þórólfur says. Þórólfur: Though I can’t prove it, I am convinced that the restrictions implemented three weeks ago prevented more group infections. It takes time for a big wave to get going but I am sure it would have happened. When asked why healthcare authorities reacted differently and quicker this time, Þórólfur states that they’ve learned from experience and he believes acting quickly prevents group infections from leading to widespread domestic infections. Alma adds that the fact that this time around we were dealing with the so-called British variant also played a part.

Víðir closes the briefing by encouraging everyone experiencing symptoms to get tested. “Solidarity is the only way and solidarity is the best way to avoid infections.”

 

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