Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that he will recommend COVID-19 restrictions be tightened as soon as possible. Þórólfur was not ready to discuss the details of the impending restrictions in a briefing held in Reykjavík this morning, but did say they would apply across the country.
Iceland reported 42 new domestic cases yesterday, 52% of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Although the number was lower than in recent days, Þórólfur stated that community transmission appears to be trending upwards. A record 62 COVID patients are currently in hospital and 2 of them in intensive care. The country reported two deaths from COVID-19 in the last two days, bringing its total to 13.
Tightened Restrictions for 2-3 Weeks
“Community-transmitted infections haven’t gone down, in fact, there are indications they are rising so there is no room for relieving restrictions. In fact, I will suggest restrictions will be tightened,” Þórólfur stated at the briefing. He declined to discuss what specific changes he would recommend but stated that authorities would aim to clarify restrictions and minimise the number of exceptions granted to the new rules. The tightened regulations would last for 2-3 weeks, according to Þórólfur.
Iceland’s current COVID-19 restrictions include a 20-person gathering limit and mandatory two-metre distancing, with further restrictions or bans on restaurant and bar operations, as well as services requiring close contact. Mask use is required in situations where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained, such as on public transportation.
Hospitals Continue to Face Strain
At the briefing, Director of Health Alma Möller stated that healthcare centres in North Iceland were facing increasing strain due to a proliferation of cases in the region. “It seems this strain of the virus is more contagious than others we have dealt with,” she stated, adding that both local case numbers and research from abroad support that hypothesis. DeCODE genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson also stated in an interview yesterday evening that the so-called “French strain” of the virus that arrived in Iceland in mid-August appears to be more contagious than previous strains. The hypothesis remains, however, unproven.
Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, also present at the briefing, acknowledged that the community was facing pandemic fatigue, as case numbers continue to rise abroad. It is, however, more important than ever to maintain personal preventative measures such as handwashing, social distancing, and staying home when sick, particularly as the National Hospital was operating according to a state of emergency.
A cluster outbreak at the National University Hospital is a big factor in the added strain on the healthcare system. So the outbreak was responsible for around 140 cases, 90 direct infections and 21 indirectly related, leading to worries that it has begun to spread into the community. Víðir pointed out, however, that group outbreaks can occur anywhere and the hospital is no exception. There were currently 50 active group outbreaks among Iceland’s roughly 1,000 active cases.
Víðir ended the briefing with the usual reminders to wash hands and use sanitizer; disinfect common surfaces; use masks and keep a mask on your person in case you need one, and stay home when sick. He encourages the public to be conscious of the discourse around those who get sick. Shaming others is the last thing we need, as it discourages those who get infected from disclosing everyone they have been in contact with. Víðir called for Icelanders to make a “strong sprint” to minimise community transmission in the coming weeks, saying “it is still in our hands.”