If proposed amendments to Iceland’s pandemic legislation are passed, the Chief Epidemiologist would be appointed by the Health Minister rather than Iceland’s Director of Health. An epidemiological committee would also participate in the drafting of the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations for infection prevention measures. Both the incoming Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason have a positive view of the amendments, which are intended to clarify Iceland’s infection prevention legislation.
Experts say that Iceland’s current legislation on infectious diseases is adequate but could use streamlining, particularly in decision-making when disease control measures are implemented that affect the public. The amendments also aim to clarify the role of the Chief Epidemiologist within the administration.
Chief Epidemiologist and Minister of Health approve
The proposals are built on a report written by Páll Hreinsson, President of the EFTA court at the request of the Icelandic government last year. “When we made changes in the parliament as a response to the pandemic and relatively quickly, there came a report from Páll Hreinsson that stated that we needed to do a comprehensive review of the legislation,” Willum Þór told RÚV. He expressed support of the idea that the Minister of Health would be responsible for appointing the Chief Epidemiologist. “I think it could be a good arrangement. I think it’s perhaps a constitutional issue in terms of responsibility and communication.” He added that he looked forward to hearing other points of view on the matter from fellow MPs and from critics.
While the Chief Epidemiologist is currently appointed by the Director of Health, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has pointed out that the Director of Health is appointed by the Health Minister. “I think [the amendments] are not illogical because the law stipulates that the Chief Epidemiologist works under the Minister and submits his proposals to him,” Þórólfur stated in an interview this morning. “The administrative position of the Chief Epidemiologist is being clarified, I think it’s time to do that.”
A working group has been appointed to draft the bill, consisting of representatives from the Health Ministry, Ministry of Justice, capital area healthcare centres, the Directorate of Health, the Chief Epidemiologist’s office, the National Committee on Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases, the National University Hospital, and the National Police Commissioner’s Office. It is expected to submit a draft of the amendments by February 1.