Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson was among local officials from 300 cities around the world who took part in a virtual COVID-19 Local Response Initiative session with former US President Barack Obama on Thursday, Vísir reports. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg also took part in Thursday’s virtual forum, as did former head of the Center for Disease Control in the United States, Tom Frieden.
“I’m not sure that we Icelanders fully realise what a remarkable front line [we have] and how well the Department of Civil Protection, Directorate of Health, and Chief Epidemiologist have managed our responses to COVID-19 here in Iceland,” wrote Dagur in a Facebook post on Friday. “The results we’re seeing these days in the reduction of active infections is a clear testament to this.”
“I’ll freely admit that it’s a really special feeling to attend a teleconference with Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, and Tom Frieden…who many credit with successfully wrestling Ebola and the SARS virus on the world stage. And many others.” Dagur continued. “I think I can safely say that all the cities at the meeting yesterday truly wished that they could have prepared themselves as early as we had the opportunity to.”
Dagur’s post recalls the contingency planning and emergency drills led by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason that were being held in Iceland as early as late January. “It’s not just the municipalities that had time to prepare—and I’m not minimising the fact that everyone had to work fast—but also the healthcare system, the first responders, and everyone who needs to be prepared for undertakings like this. What was most important, though, was that the system of infection detection, infection tracing, quarantine, and isolation began immediately. And everything was communicated openly and regularly to the public. This is the key to success, and this is the key to all further steps.”
“The biggest mistake we can make is to misinform”
Indeed, participants discussed ways to safely relax restrictions that have been put in place by governments around the world, such as gathering bans and stay-at-home orders. But President Obama also particularly stressed the importance of accurate and truthful information during this time of global crisis.
“Speak the truth,” he told participants. “Speak it clearly and with compassion. Speak it with empathy for what folks are going through. The biggest mistake any of us can make in these situations is to misinform, particularly when we’re requiring people to make sacrifices and take actions that might not be their natural inclination.”
Dagur emphasised Iceland’s unique position in the world in regards to its COVID-19 response and urged Icelanders to stay the course. “Cities, countries, and the whole world dream about having had the kind of broad perspective and evenhandedness that have characterised all the actions we’ve taken here in Iceland from Day 1,” he wrote. “This will prove invaluable to us as we inch our way forward,” he continued. “Some things will undoubtedly have to change, maybe even permanently, about how we execute and think about things. But we’ll do this in the same way that we prepared for the epidemic: with active dialogue and foresight, data analysis and review, guided by evenhandedness and professionalism, the courage to make decisions but also caution in the face of uncertainty.”
Dagur ended his post with a salute to Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Director of Iceland’s Civil Protection Department, Víðir Reynisson. “The high praise of the day goes to Alma, Þórólfur, and Víðir, and the unbelievably large and powerful group of professionals who stand behind them. You are positively world class!”