As case numbers drop in Iceland, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist celebrated its success in containing the current wave of COVID-19, while cautioning against relaxing restrictions too quickly. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Þórólfur Guðnason stated that Icelanders must remain vigilant and continue to practice distancing and personal preventative measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Iceland will relax restrictions minimally on Wednesday, November 18.
Iceland reported nine new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, six of which were already in quarantine. Its total number of active cases is currently 340, and has been dropping steadily since late October. When restrictions are relaxed on Wednesday, massage parlours and hair salons will be permitted to reopen, while swimming pools and bars will remain closed across the country. Restaurants are permitted to operate, but must close no later than 9.00pm in the evening.
The modified restrictions will remain in effect until at least December 2. Þórólfur expressed his concern that the Christmas season would bring increased group gatherings, which pose an increased risk of virus transmission. He urged the public to be patient and continue practicing personal preventative measures such as distancing and hand washing.
Border Testing Vital, Says Chief Epidemiologist
Þórólfur stated today that there are two group infections that have been caused by two new strains of the virus, previously undetected in Iceland. While the majority of active cases are due to previously-detected strains, these two strains have somehow made it into the country despite border testing. One of the strains was detected by a test at the border, but the other has not shown up in sequencing of border test samples.
Despite this, Þórólfur emphasised that border testing had stopped a majority of infections from entering the country and spreading, but it was simply not possible to evade them completely. Border testing was a vital factor in preventing the spread of the pandemic, the Chief Epidemiologist underlined. The Ministry of Health is currently assessing whether to change border testing regulations, including whether it is possible to make testing mandatory for arriving travellers. Current regulation allows those arriving in Iceland to choose between double testing with five-day quarantine and 14-day quarantine.
Þórólfur expressed optimism that an effective vaccine against COVID-19 would be available early next year. It would, however, be a shame to experience another wave of the pandemic in Iceland just as the vaccine was becoming available, he added. Until then, Icelanders can expect at least some restrictions to remain in place.
Stay tuned for a live tweeting of Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefing, beginning shortly at 11.03am. On the panel: Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason (pictured below), and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson.