Requests for exemptions to gathering limitations are putting a great deal of strain on the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, Vísir reports. These requests are pouring in as authorities work to get a handle on several group infections and as some—most prominently deCode director Kári Stefánsson—call for Iceland’s borders to be closed until the current outbreaks can be fully contained.
“This is the most onerous of our tasks right now, all these requests for exemptions,” said Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, who said that Civil Defense is fielding requests from both individuals and companies alike. The department currently has people working full time, every day of the week, just to deal with these requests. Even so, Þórólfur is sympathetic to the general sense of urgency. “It’s understandable,” he remarked, “because this is a big financial issue for a lot of people.”
Time to take stock
“Personally, it would be my choice to close the borders for the moment and try to get a handle on the epidemic that is underway right now and then make a decision after that,” Kári Stefánsson remarked on a radio interview this weekend.
“I think the big question that we have to face up to is whether we should continue to deal with it like this, to take the blow when an infection of this kind flares up and deal with it. This means we can’t live the kind of cultural life that we’d like to, that it will be difficult to keep schools open in the way that we’re accustomed to, and so on.”
“Or should we close the country,” Kári continued, “demand that everyone who comes here is first tested, quarantined for five days, and then sent back for another test? The price that we’d pay for that is that the tourism industry would suffer but this is a choice we have to face up to.”
Þórólfur was more circumspect in his reply during the same interview, saying that he believes the virus will be a part of life until a vaccine is available, although he agreed that some stocktaking needs to be done on the part of the government. “What I need to do as the Chief Epidemiologist is to give the government a choice,” he said, “[to explain] what the epidemiological nature of each choice is.”
Even if the country did close its borders for the time being, however, Þórólfur said that Civil Defense would still need to deal with a large number of exemption requests. “A lot of work within the country is dependent on foreign labour of many different kinds,” he said, emphasizing the importance of continuing to screen carefully at the borders.
Three domestic infections were confirmed in Iceland on Saturday, and one inactive infection was diagnosed at the border, although results are still pending as to whether the individual has antibodies.