COVID-19 in Iceland: “We’re at a critical point” Skip to content
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COVID-19 in Iceland: “We’re at a critical point”

A surge in domestic COVID-19 infections over the weekend has Icelandic authorities concerned a new wave of infection is beginning in the country. Twenty-one cases were diagnosed over the weekend, 10 among a ship crew that recently docked in East Iceland and the remaining cases in the Reykjavík capital area. At a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason called the uptick in cases “more than a group outbreak” saying the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be more widespread in Iceland than authorities previously suspected.

“We’re at a critical point,” Þórólfur stated, encouraging all those with any symptoms whatsoever to get tested and stay at home until they receive negative results. The Chief Epidemiologist is considering whether to recommend tighter domestic restrictions as well as tighter restrictions at the border.

Though other European countries have resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine following a go-ahead from European Medicines Agency, Iceland will hold off administering the drug until the results of an ongoing Nordic study are available.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson. Authorities scheduled this additional briefing due to an uptick in domestic cases over the weekend, some out of quarantine. Iceland reported 5 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 3 out of quarantine and 11 at the border. Total active cases: 55. 3 are in hospital, none in ICU.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur starts by stating that in spite of our recent success in containing the pandemic in Iceland, we might be facing a dire situation. Þórólfur states that over the weekend, there were 7 domestic infections diagnosed, only 4 of which were in quarantine. The infections out of quarantine were in people in the same family but the origin of the infection is unknown.

There’s also an increase in infections being diagnosed at the border: 19 infections over the weekend, 10 of which were the crew of a boat arriving in Reyðarfjörður, East Iceland from Brazil. Even though only 10 of the crew of 19 tested positive today, we’re assuming more members of the crew are infected. Three are in hospital, all with the British variant and it’s not unlikely that more people will be hospitalised in the coming days.

There is some cause for concern, says Þórólfur. A pattern is emerging which indicates that domestic infection rates are going up. Þórólfur urges everyone experiencing even the slightest symptoms to get tested as soon as possible and stay at home until they receive the results. Unfortunately, there are still cases of people with symptoms waiting days to get tested, and that can have consequences, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur is considering his next recommendations for the Health Minister and is considering tightening domestic restrictions. He is also preparing some suggestions for the Minister on tightened border restrictions. As for vaccinations, we’re planning to administer 6,000 doses this week. We’re still waiting to see whether we will resume vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine and Alma will cover that later in this briefing, says Þórólfur. There is cause for concern, but we know what to do at this point. The most important thing is to avoid large gatherings and keep up personal infection preventions. We’re at a critical point, says Þórólfur.

Alma takes over. She states that there is cause for concern and we all need to do our part to make sure we can contain this. Let’s disinfect communal surfaces and keep up personal infection prevention such as hand washing. Most importantly, when experiencing any symptoms, get tested immediately and stay at home until you’re better. Symptoms of COVID-19 can vary, some have mild symptoms but can still transmit the virus to others. Symptoms include cough, muscle pains, fever, sudden changes to sense of smell or taste, and in rarer cases digestive troubles such as diarrhoea and vomiting.

Alma discusses the AstraZeneca vaccine. According to the European Medicines Agency, the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk. The serious side effects are very rare, but they might possibly be more common with younger people and possibly women. These rare blood clot conditions are exceedingly rare but there is concern that there’s increased risk of such events after the AstraZeneca vaccinations. In Iceland, there have been two notifications of possible side effects of blood clots but neither of those were linked to these rare conditions. While many countries have already restarted vaccinating with these vaccinations, the Nordic countries have decided to collaborate on further research before resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations. The research will focus on seeing if there’s an increased risk of serious side effects depending on age or gender and a decision will be made once the results are clear.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur states some infected people might have gone downtown over the weekend or attended large confirmation parties and finding that out is a part of the contact tracing efforts. Þórólfur states that this is larger than a group infection, it’s a community spread of infection but that there’s plenty to consider before tightening restrictions. While some want to wait and see, others want to tighten restrictions immediately. “There is nothing unclear in what I have said, there’s a rise in infections at the border so we need to be very careful. I will not comment on what politicians say, everyone can communicate based on the information available.” -Þórólfur

Alma discusses the upcoming changes to the official contact tracing app. Personal security vetting is ongoing but authorities expect it will be approved and hope to release it sooner rather than later as it will help in tracing, particularly at larger events.

Þórólfur states that border restrictions haven’t been restrictive but they have been effective. Þórólfur’s upcoming recommendations for border regulations relate to monitoring people in quarantine and which certificates authorities will be accepting.

The Nordic co-operation will focus on finding the groups least at risk of serious side effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Þórólfur is not trying to instil fear, he’s just informing the public that they’re seeing unrelated infections and that this means that the virus is out there in the community. The new domestic infections are currently just in the capital area but from earlier waves of the pandemic, we know that infections tend to start in the capital area, where the most people are, but can easily spread to the countryside.

Rögnvaldur takes over to close the briefing. Once more, authorities implore people to get tested immediately if they’re experiencing any symptoms. It’s vital to find each infection so we can trace the chain of infection and hopefully stop it. “We’ll get through it together.” – Rögnvaldur. The briefing has ended.

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