COVID-19 in Iceland: Reports of Xenophobic Bullying Following Group Infections Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: Reports of Xenophobic Bullying Following Group Infections

By Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson
Photo: Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra/Facebook. From left: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

At an information briefing earlier today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that although the number of cases outside of quarantine is cause for concern, he does not believe that it’s necessary to tighten restrictions unless infection rates change for the worse. Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson disclosed that the police had been notified that both children and adults connected to group infections were receiving extreme bullying and xenophobic remarks and admonished against such behaviour.

COVID-19 numbers for April 28:

New domestic cases: 10 (7 in quarantine)
New border cases: 2
Total active cases: 191 (up from 183 yesterday)
In hospital: 4
Individuals with one or both doses of the vaccine: 98,008 (26.59% of Iceland’s population)

The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

Víðir starts the meeting by thanking the contact tracing team for their work and the people of Ölfus municipality for their solidarity in curbing the group infection. He also thanks teachers for their work during the pandemic.

On a sadder note, Víðir states that both children and adults affected by group infections are receiving hateful and xenophobic messages, and being bullied for being from a certain country. He discourages this behaviour, stating that when a group infection occurs, it’s because we couldn’t limit the spread of infection and no group should be blamed for the actions of certain individuals. “We’re all responsible and we all need to participate by getting tested when experiencing even the slightest symptoms.” He adds that authorities were doing their best to make sure that everyone knows what to do.

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the latest numbers. While the infections in quarantine can be traced to group infections, the incidents outside quarantine can’t be traced to known group infections with certainty. “We’re still finding cases with no known connection to earlier infections, which is worrying,” Þórólfur states. He adds that random testing found no infections, which indicates that community-spread infection isn’t widespread. Þórólfur encourages everyone to get tested as soon as they experience even the slightest symptoms. Three of yesterday’s ten new infections were people outside quarantines.

While the British variant is rumoured to cause more serious illness than others, Iceland currently has a hospitalisation rate of about 2.5%, which is similar or slightly lower than earlier waves of the pandemic. It is affecting younger people than earlier waves of the pandemic, however. Þórólfur notes that the samples are small and it’s risky to extrapolate too much from this data.

There are currently 421 people in quarantine after possible being exposed to the virus. Around 5 % of people in quarantine test positive, meaning that if authorities were to lose control over infections, the spread of the pandemic would be similar to what happened in previous waves of the pandemic.

The regulations currently in place are in effect until May 6. Þórólfur is working on his suggestions for the regulations that will replace the current ones but is not yet ready to disclose any details. He will likely send his memo to the Minister of Health next weekend. The execution of the latest border measures are going well.

While authorities feared that fewer people would turn op for AstraZeneca vaccinations, the ratio of people turning up for their vaccinations is the same as for other vaccines

The priority group currently being vaccinated is a big one and it will take time to send out vaccination appointments for all of them so Þórólfur encourages people to be patient and wait for to receive a notification.

Vaccine shipment schedules indicate that Iceland will have received at least 360,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of June. That’s not counting doses from AstraZeneca and Janssen who are yet to reveal their distribution schedules for May and June. Þórólfur is asked if infections out of quarantines will require tighter restrictions. Þórólfur says it’s possible, some infected people show little to no symptoms but adds that the current restrictions seem to be curbing the spread. He notes that everyone should continue to practice personal infection prevention, and get tested if experiencing even the slightest symptoms. He will monitor the situation closely but at this moment, he does not consider it necessary to tighten restrictions.

The infections out of quarantine yesterday were in different regions of the country. They’re waiting for the result of viral sequencing to gain more insight into how the virus spread and if the cases are connected to known group infections or not.

Asked about the 80% attendance rate of vaccination appointments, Þórólfur states that they’re happy with the public’s participation, over 70-year olds have a 95% vaccination rate, and no-shows might have different reasons and might show up later. He had feared participation would be lower due to the negative discussion surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. He himself got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday and isn’t experiencing any side effects yet. He is hoping they’ll turn up later today, as mild side effects are a sign of the vaccine working.

When asked about the government’s plan for lifting restrictions, Þórólfur states that he’s happy that such a plan exists and that it’s an optimistic one. He notes that such a plan does not affect his work which is to monitor the status of the pandemic and react to the rate of infections at any given time. When asked how likely it is that the government’s schedule will pan out as planned, Þórólfur states: “If everything goes according to plan, I think this can work.”

When asked about what would impede lifting restrictions, he mentioned problems in vaccine distribution, more difficult strains of the virus, or if the pandemic gets more serious domestically.

People with a history of certain blood clots aren’t called in for an AstraZeneca vaccination. People are asked to be patient while waiting for information on vaccinations, everyone will get their turn.

Þórólfur does not have information on how certain vaccinations will affect people’s ability to travel to other countries. When asked about the level of protection offered by the first shot of the vaccine, Þórólfur states that it does offer some protection, perhaps most importantly against a serious illness if an infection occurs. While being infected after one dose of the vaccine might cause a milder illness, it would not make the disease any less contagious, which is what worries Þórólfur when it comes to lifting restrictions once the majority has received one shot of the vaccine.

Víðir takes over and preaches patience, as it’s only two months until plans suggest the majority of Icelanders will be vaccinated. “we’ve been doing this for fourteen months now, two more months is nothing,” he states. The briefing has ended. Full story coming on (

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