Iceland to Reorganise COVID-19 Border Testing Following deCODE Withdrawal Skip to content

Iceland to Reorganise COVID-19 Border Testing Following deCODE Withdrawal

By Yelena

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson
Photo: Golli.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist aims to continue testing for COVID-19 at Iceland’s borders throughout July, despite the imminent withdrawal of deCODE, a biopharmaceutical company that was processing a majority of the tests, in six days. DeCODE’s departure from the initiative reduces the country’s COVID-19 testing capacity by around 75%, from some 2,000 to 500 samples per day. In a briefing this afternoon, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason outlined various possibilities for increasing testing capacity within the Icelandic healthcare system.

May Test 10 Samples at Once

Between 500-1,950 have been tested per day at the country’s borders since June 15. The only institution in Iceland, besides deCODE, that has the equipment and staff to process COVID-19 samples is the National University Hospital’s Virology Department, which has a capacity of 500 samples per day. Þórólfur suggested the Virology Department’s capacity could be increased by testing 10 samples at once. The samples would then only be tested individually in the case of a positive result. This method has been proven effective in Germany, Þórólfur stated, but did carry the risk of less accurate results.

More Countries Could Be Exempt from Testing in August

Passengers arriving in Iceland from the Faroe Islands or Greenland are presently exempt from testing and quarantine upon arrival in Iceland. More countries could be added to the list in August, stated Þórólfur, if July’s screening data shows their residents are unlikely to bring COVID-19 to Iceland. Only 10 passengers have been diagnosed with an active COVID-19 infection since June 15, of 24,265 tested.

While Icelandic authorities currently do not accept foreign certificates of COVID-19 tests, Þórólfur stated that could change as part of efforts to increase capacity. He added, however, that the government’s plan to tests Icelandic residents twice upon entering the country would be upheld.

Any changes to border testing also depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. “We could open more, we may have to close more,” Þórólfur stated.

Additional Equipment Not Expected Until October

Director of Health Alma Möller, who also spoke at the briefing, stated that authorities had ordered more equipment for processing COVID-19 samples that would be able to increase the country’s testing capacity. Due to global demand for the equipment, however, it was not expected to arrive before October.

No Written Contract Between Government and deCODE

In an open letter published yesterday, deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson said the company would halt its participation in the screening initiative after July 13. When asked at the briefing whether the government had signed a written contract with deCODE governing their testing activities, Þórólfur stated they had not. “We just shook on it,” he remarked. He added that a working contract had been signed between the Chief Epidemiologist’s Office and deCODE when the company began testing the general population for COVID-19 earlier this year, and it hadn’t been deemed necessary to draw up another for the border testing scheme.

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