COVID-19 in Iceland: Rise in Domestic Cases Outside of Quarantine Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: Rise in Domestic Cases Outside of Quarantine

By Yelena

mask use social distancing
Photo: Golli.

No connection has been found between the five domestic COVID-19 cases diagnosed outside quarantine in Iceland yesterday, though contact tracing is ongoing. At a briefing in the capital today, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated there were indications domestic infection rates were rising and it was clear authorities had not yet managed to contain the local outbreak. The current domestic restrictions, Iceland’s strictest since the pandemic began, are valid until April 15, and Þórólfur expressed his hope the situation would improve by that date. Authorities nevertheless plan to reopen schools next week following the Easter holiday.

Tighter restrictions take effect at Iceland’s borders tomorrow, requiring children to undergo COVID-19 testing. Travellers from defined high-risk areas will also be required to complete their mandatory five-day quarantine in government-run quarantine hotels. When asked whether this was an infringement on travellers’ freedom, Þórólfur stated that he did not believe so: authorities were reacting to evidence some travellers had been breaching quarantine. The regulation is an attempt to preserve our success in containing the virus domestically, the Chief Epidemiologist stated.

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

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson.

Yesterday’s numbers are up on covid.is. Iceland reported 8 new domestic cases yesterday (5 out of quarantine) and 2 at the border. Total active cases rose to 118. 20,734 have been fully vaccinated (5.6% of the population). Nearly a third of active cases in Iceland (32) are among children (1-17 years of age) following group outbreaks at several schools in the Reykjavík capital area.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur begins by addressing the ongoing eruption which is popular among locals. It’s a big project to direct traffic. Authorities are not encouraging the public to visit the eruption but understand the desire to see it. The site will be open for 12 hours per day over the coming Easter weekend. Rögnvalur encourages visitors to the site to practice infection prevention: keep a distance and bring hand sanitiser.

Þórólfur takes over to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic domestically. Five of yesterday’s 8 infections were outside quarantine. There are indications that the number of domestic infections is growing. Yesterday’s infections were diagnosed in the Southwest region and the South, indicating that we have not contained the domestic outbreak yet. The British variant is responsible for these domestic infections. Some of the recent domestic infections are difficult to trace but contact tracing is ongoing.

It is too early to say when we will contain these infections, but Þórólfur hopes it will be within the next two weeks. Current domestic restrictions are valid until April 15. We can expect more infections to be diagnosed among the several hundred people who are currently in quarantine. That is in line with what we have seen before: around 5% of those who are quarantined later test positive.

The state of the hospital is currently good: only one person is in hospital due to COVID-19. However, serious illness takes 1-2 weeks to develop so this could change in the coming weeks. If the number of travellers coming to Iceland increases in the near future we could see more infections diagnosed at the border, but hopefully, the current regulations will prevent those infections from entering the community. Þórólfur says he is happy with the Minister of Health’s updates to border regulations, which tighten border restrictions, requiring children to be tested and travellers from high-risk areas to quarantine in designated government facilities.

On vaccination distribution: we expect to receive vaccines for 80,000 people by the end of April, says Þórólfur, and hopefully, vaccination can proceed more quickly in the coming weeks. Þórólfur encourages the public to undergo testing even if they experience minor symptoms and remain isolated until they receive a negative result.

Director of Health Alma Möller takes over. She reminds the public who is eligible to register for the health workers reserve force to do so if possible. The healthcare system is in a good place at the moment but it’s good to be prepared.

Alma reminds that the British variant infects children more than other variants and can lead to more serious illness among children. She says that few children have needed to be admitted to hospital at this point though a significant number are currently in isolation. Alma reminds that covid.is has information and guidelines on how to discuss COVID-19 with children. Alma wishes the public a happy Easter and reminds them to practice personal infection prevention and encourages them to undergo testing even during the holiday if they are experiencing symptoms.

The panel opens for questions. “What are your recommendations for travel over Easter weekend?” Rögnvaldur says authorities understand that some want to go up to their cabins over the long weekend. He encourages the public to gather supplies before setting off to minimise the risk of contact infection. He also recommends creating a bubble of contacts.

The five diagnosed outside of quarantine yesterday, did they come into contact with many people? Þórólfur says contact tracing is ongoing and it is too early to tell.

Are the infections connected to gatherings at the eruption site? Þórólfur says there are no indications so far that is the case.

Why are you assuming that some of the infections outside quarantine are connected to border cases? Þórólfur says that sequencing of infections in recent days has made it possible to trace them to infections at the border.

People arriving in Iceland from high-risk areas will be required to quarantine in government hotels as of tomorrow, is that not infringing on people’s freedom? Þórólfur answers that he does not think so. There have been indications that people have been breaching quarantine and authorities have to react to that. The regulation is an attempt to preserve our success in containing the virus domestically.

There are many children in isolation currently, will schools reopen after the Easter break? Þórólfur says that is the plan though he is ready to make new recommendations if the situation changes.

Will you address comments from the tourism industry that you are undermining the government’s measures by expressing doubt of the colour-coded border system that is expected to take effect on May 1? Þórólfur says the comment is wrong, saying that health authorities’ recommendations are based on science and he has a legal responsibility as Chief Epidemiologist to recommend measures to the government. It is too early to discuss border measures from May 1.

Alma adds that Iceland has not gotten far in vaccination efforts and the British variant is more infectious than previous variants that have spread in Iceland, these are things that must be taken into account. She adds that everyone is on the same team.

How “temporary” is this situation? Will we have to vaccinate against COVID-19 on a yearly basis? Alma says that vaccination should proceed faster in the coming months. Vaccine manufacturers are preparing for the possibility that vaccines will have to be updated to be effective against newer variants. That is a possibility, she says. The virus may be with us for longer though we won’t always have limiting regulations as we do now.

Rögnvaldur takes over to close the briefing: This is a big challenge but we know what we have to do. Solidarity has been the key to our success so far and that’s what we’re asking for now. We must remember that it’s the virus that is our enemy. Rögnvaldur wishes the public a happy Easter. The briefing has ended.

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