Strain on Iceland’s healthcare system has increased as more people are admitted to hospital in the current wave of COVID-19 infection, Director of Health Alma Möller stated in a briefing this morning. The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to administer COVID-19 tests in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport.
Iceland has reported over 100 new daily COVID-19 cases for the past three days in a row and now has 966 active cases, a steep rise from 60 cases just two weeks ago. Though authorities expressed hope the wave would be curbed by the time current restrictions run out on August 13, both Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Deputy Chief Epidemiologist Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir stated it was too early to say.
The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to take COVID samples at Suðurlandsbraut in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport. Education in the healthcare field is not a requirement, but Alma stated that all employees would receive comprehensive training. Staff are also needed in various positions within the healthcare system, including positions that do not require medical training. Those with training in the field of healthcare are encouraged to register for the healthcare reserve force. The welfare services reserve force is also in need of people.
The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.
On the panel: Deputy Chief Epidemiologist Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.
Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 118 new domestic cases (51 in quarantine) and 3 at the border. Total active cases: 966 (8 are in hospital). 68.58% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health is looking for staff to take COVID samples at Suðurlandsbraut in Reykjavík and at Keflavík Airport. Education in the healthcare field is not a requirement
The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by going over the border regulations. All entering the country must show a negative PCR test or rapid antigen test prior to departure for Iceland.
Kamilla goes over the numbers. There were 118 new domestic cases yesterday. A decision has been finalised that those who received the Janssen vaccine will receive a booster shot in the near future, most likely with Pfizer. There is enough vaccine to inoculate this group within a relatively short time.
Alma takes over. The situation has somewhat worsened, 3 people were hospitalised due to COVID-19 since yesterday and there are 10 in hospital altogether. Two of them are in the ICU. Alma underlines that vaccination reduces the likelihood of serious illness from COVID-19.
She underlines that staff is needed in the healthcare system and a background in healthcare is not necessarily required. Staff are needed in kitchens, for example. Staff are also needed to administer COVID-19 tests and no medical training is required. Staff will receive comprehensive training for the job.
Alma also mentions the official contact tracing app Rakning C-19 and encourages the public to download and use the app, which also provides information on quarantine rules and much more. We need to keep doing what we can to protect those who are vulnerable, states Alma, use masks properly, wash our hands and use hand sanitiser, keep our distance, and stay home when we have any symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include cough, cold, fever, headache, and digestive issues. Alma says authorities hope that the situation clears in the coming weeks but we need to show solidarity and protect each other for the time being.
The panel opens for questions. “There were two women who showed up to protest vaccination of pregnant women today. What do you have to say to them?”
Kamilla answers: Pregnant women who showed up for vaccination were doing so to protect themselves and their children and I want to encourage them to go ahead with that decision.
“Have you heard about people showing up to get their vaccination bar code scanned so they can get a certificate but then disappearing and not getting vaccinated?” Víðir says there is no evidence of such occurrences.
Alma: With earlier variants, around 5% of those who were infected needed hospitalisation. Figures from the UK, Scotland and Canada indicate that that the percentage of hospitalisations is higher with the Delta variant. But we don’t have clear figures of how many were vaccinated or not.
Alma says the infectious diseases ward has been converted into a COVID ward as in previous waves. She believes there are 17 beds there for patients in isolation but other wards can be converted as well if needed.
“Will Iceland make different rules for people who are vaccinated versus those who are not?” There are other countries, such as Israel, who have done so, says Alma, but there has been no discussion to do so in Iceland.
“If people don’t show a COVID test prior to departure you stated they will get tested upon arrival. Does that mean the test is optional?” Víðir says no, passengers can be denied boarding if they do not present a test certificate. However if people board without the test certificate, which could happen in exceptional cases, they will be tested upon arrival.
“Will the current social restrictions be lifted on August 13?” Víðir says it is too early to say. “We will just wait and see.”
“Influenza also causes deaths and some people have stated that we may start to think of COVID as a regular illness. What will it take for that to happen?” Kamilla answers that experts are hoping for a vaccine that is more effective against the Delta variant. But as long as high numbers of people are contracting COVID-19 then there is always a risk that new variants will arise.
Kamilla says infection numbers over recent days have been relatively steady despite fluctuations. She says it is good the numbers aren’t higher but we would still prefer them to be lower. Alma underlines that the hospital is under a lot of strain due to the current situation.
“Many large events are scheduled in late August: Reykjavík Marathon, Culture Night, possibly the delayed Þjóðhátíð – is there any chance they will happen?” Kamilla says we have curbed waves of infection before, it usually takes a few weeks at least. But it is too early to say at this point what the situation will be in late August.
Víðir takes over to close the briefing. He reminds the public to show solidarity, continue practicing infection prevention measures and go get tested if even the mildest symptoms arise. He also asks the public to show moderation over the coming holiday weekend and avoid gathering in large groups even though the current restrictions allow up to 200 people to gather. Víðir encourages the public to spend the holiday with their nearest and dearest and think carefully about what activities and gatherings they participate in. The briefing has ended.