Make sure you register your attendance at restaurants and download the updated contact tracing app Rakning C-19: these were the two directions that Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson had for the Icelandic public at today’s COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík. Víðir stated that he understood people’s desire to let loose particularly in light of lifted restrictions this week, but a group infection in Reykjavík proves the virus is still out there and caution remains necessary.
The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.
On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.
Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers are in on covid.is.
New domestic cases: 3
New border cases: 3
Total active cases: 39
Vaccinated w/ at least one dose: 169,570 (45.8% of population)
Fully vaccinated: 80,464 (21.8% of population)
The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by discussing the cases being diagnosed out of quarantine within Iceland. He underlines the importance of maintaining personal preventative measures despite regulations being loosened this week. He encourages people to take care when registering their presence at restaurants and bars as it helps with contact tracing if it becomes necessary. He also encourages the public to update to the latest version of the official contact tracing app.
Þórólfur takes over to discuss the numbers. There were three infections diagnosed yesterday, two in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. For the past week, nine people have tested positive, four out of quarantine. They are connected to the group infection at the downtown location of H&M. Around 100 people are in quarantine and Þórólfur expects more infections to arise from that group. The infections are of the UK variant of the virus. Border cases have fluctuated over the past week but there is not much increase. One person is currently hospitalised due to COVID-19, none in the ICU. In the past week, one person died after a month in hospital due to COVID-19. That brings the total number of Iceland’s COVID-19 fatalities to 30.
A recent wave of infection in the Faroe Islands has led Icelandic authorities to remove the Faroe Islands from the list of low-risk regions. Restrictions were relaxed considerably in the past week and Þórólfur has noticed some unrest and worry among the public. Þórólfur says that authorities believe that if people continue to mind their personal infection prevention, we should be fine and should be able to tackle the group infections that will occur. Vaccinations are going well though fewer were vaccinated this week due to smaller shipments. They should increase again next week, says Þórólfur.
Þórólfur mentions the AstraZeneca vaccine, stating that while it is safe to get one dose each from two different vaccines, cases of serious side effects are rarer after the second shot of one vaccine. People are generally encouraged to get the same vaccine for their second shot. The vaccines we are using now protect against the Indian variant, which appears to be more infectious than previous variants of the virus. (The Indian variant has been diagnosed at the border but has not spread domestically in Iceland.)
The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked about herd immunity and replies that percentages of vaccinated individuals to reach herd immunity varies for each virus but we won’t have contained the virus until global vaccinations have reached a certain point. As for other contagious diseases, such as measles, Iceland has had luck with keeping them at bay with general vaccinations and Þórólfur doesn’t think that COVID-19 will be any different.
The government has announced that mandatory stays in government-run quarantine facilities for those arriving from high-risk areas will end next month. People will still have to prove that they have adequate access to housing that fulfills quarantine requirements. Víðir notes that while mandatory stays in quarantine facilities will end, the facilities will remain open for people who don’t have access to adequate quarantine facilities at home or where they are staying in Iceland. He mentions migrant workers specifically. If people break quarantine, they will also be required to quarantine in the government’s quarantine facilities.
Þórólfur is asked about Janssen and the AstraZeneca vaccine and states that few countries have stopped using these vaccines altogether but most are using them with restrictions. That is also what the Icelandic healthcare system is doing, in order to take the utmost care. Þórólfur is asked about young women who received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine before authorities stopped using it for their demographic. Þórólfur replies that people need to make their own decision, they can get a second dose of AZ or another vaccine.
When asked about vaccination certificates for those who have received doses of two different vaccines, Víðir answers that at first, such certificates weren’t being issued due to a glitch but it has now been fixed. Everyone should now be able to get a certificate. Þórólfur adds that such certificates will be accepted among travellers arriving in Iceland and he can see no reason why other countries should reject such certificates, as many nations are using two different vaccines to vaccinate people.
Asked about vaccine side effect research in Norway, Þórólfur states that they are monitoring all such research and will proceed based on the results of investigations. Any time a large mass of people receives vaccines, it is likely that some of them will develop symptoms that could be unrelated to the vaccines. Statistically speaking, there have been no spikes in health issues overall.
Víðir states that there’s no suspicion that the current group infection can be traced to quarantine violations.
Víðir closes the briefing by warning partygoers and people who are planning to enjoy themselves this weekend to be careful, remember to register at bars and restaurants, and have the latest version of the contact tracing app. The briefing has ended.