Domestic COVID-19 infection rates are dropping in Iceland, one of the few countries in Europe where the pandemic is not on the rise. At a briefing in Reykjavík today, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that he expected to relax restrictions from November 18, though the changes would be very gradual to minimise the likelihood of further outbreaks. While community transmission is dropping, strain on hospitals remains high.
Iceland has reported between 10-30 new domestic cases per day since the beginning of November, a significant drop from the end of October when 40-90 cases were being reported per day. The country’s current restrictions are the strictest authorities have imposed since the start of the pandemic, capping gatherings at 10 people; closing a variety of businesses including pools and bars; and instituting widespread mandatory mask usage, including in shops.
Great Strain on Hospitals
Though overall case numbers are dropping, Iceland’s National University Hospital and Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland continue to experience high hospitalisation rates. There are currently 75 patients in hospital due to COVID-19 and 3 in the ICU. This wave of the pandemic has resulted in 13 deaths, exceeding the death toll of 10 during Iceland’s first wave.
At the briefing today, authorities expressed their hope that strain on the hospitals would begin to decrease soon and it would be possible to lower the National University Hospital’s state of alert from the current emergency level. It appears that the group outbreak that occurred at the hospital’s Landakot location has been contained. As usual, staffing is always a challenge at the hospital, and currently 52 hospital staff are in isolation and 93 in quarantine, though some of them are expected to return to work in the next few days.
The hospital has drafted a report on the group outbreak at Landakot and hopes to learn from the incident. Hospital Director Páll Matthíasson stated that the institution had already implemented operational changes to decrease the risk of further outbreaks.
No Imminent Risk from Mink
The panel was questioned about the discovery of a mutated strain of SARS-CoV-2 in farmed mink in Denmark that led Danish authorities to cull all mink in the country. According to a notice from the World Health Organisation, the strain has spread to humans in Denmark. Þórólfur stated that Icelandic authorities are still waiting for more information from Danish authorities but for the time being will not impose additional restrictions on travellers arriving from Denmark. Animals in Iceland’s much smaller mink industry will be tested for the novel coronavirus and no further measures will be taken at this time.
DeCODE genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson has stated he believes it unlikely that the strain transmitted from mink to humans could reinfect humans who have developed antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.