Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM on the COVID-19 situation in Iceland following the ongoing surge in infections. On the panel were familiar faces: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson. During the briefing, the team urged the nation to lay low, stay at home as much as possible to reduce the daily number of infections. All of Iceland’s healthcare system is now in a state of emergency with all institutions, hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes operating according to contingency plans. Þóróflur urged everyone to get vaccinated and boosted if they can but noted that if they don’t manage to get the daily number of infections down, he might have to suggest tightening restrictions after the weekend.
Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Jan. 11:
Domestic cases: 1,135
Border cases: 60
Total active cases: 10,033 ⬇️
Hospitalised: 47 (7 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 3,974 ⬆
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots: 45% of population
The information briefing went as follows:
Víðir starts the briefing by discussing the healthcare system which is now on emergency alert as a whole. All institutions in the healthcare system are operating according to contingency plans, including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.
A unified government supports infection prevention action
The government is unified in the action taken to curb infections and in their support for the healthcare system. We’re not the only ones in this situation, in the countries around us, they’re facing the same situation. Víðir states that no healthcare system in the world is prepared to fight a healthcare issue at this level and reminds people not to blame the national hospital or Iceland’s healthcare system for the situation, it’s the virus that’s the problem.
Þórólfur goes over the numbers
Þórólfur takes over and goes over the day’s numbers. For the past few days, the pandemic has been growing linearly, with the number of active cases rising each day. Yesterday, 1135 people were diagnosed yesterday, 26% of which were children under the age of 12. In the wake of the increase in societal transmission, 2-7 people have been hospitalised each day. Omicron variant is dominant in Iceland, 90% of all diagnoses but the delta variant is still here, with around 100 new cases each day. The rate of hospitalisations with delta is quite high, at 0.5% but omicron hospitalisations are rarer, at a rate of 0.2-0.3%.
The forecast suggests a rise in hospitalisations
The University of Iceland’s forecast model points to new daily cases remaining at around 1000 per day for the rest of the month, perhaps with 70 people hospitalised or more. The situation in the healthcare system is quite bad at the moment and it looks like it’s only going to get worse in the coming weeks. The current objective is to get the rate of daily new cases down to 500 for the healthcare system to be able to manage the load.
Þórófur urges people to get vaccinated and boosted
It’s important to reduce the number of daily cases and to make sure all eligible people get vaccinated and boosted. Early data indicates that the efficacy of children’s vaccinations is the same if not better than for adults. For adults, the vaccine is not as effective in reducing infections, although it has proven very effective in reducing the rate of serious illness.
Contracting COVID-19 worse than getting vaccinated
As for the discussion of the effect of COVID on children, the rate of serious effects from covid is much higher than the rate of serious side effects of the vaccine. Þórólfur states that all arguments point to the benefits of vaccinating children.
At the moment, the outlook is not good but for the coming weeks and months, the outlook is better. With the high rate of infections, it’s becoming clear that we can tolerate a certain number of covid infections and still keep society running.
National Hospital facing its biggest challenge yet
Alma takes over, stating that the national hospital is facing its biggest challenge yet. The situation is dire, with many of the hospital’s staff in quarantine or isolation.
Nine people were hospitalised with covid yesterday, four for issues relating directly to their covid diagnosis. At the moment, 11 people in hospital with covid were hospitalised for other issues but still require covid-level care.
Increased strain on healthcare institutions, clinics, and nursing homes. Staff in welfare services are also under a great deal of strain due to quarantines and isolations and Alma urges qualified staff to sign up for the reserve forces list.
People are moved within the hospital, staff from private clinic Klíníkin are arriving at the hospital to aid the national hospital staff as well as nurses from the Akureyri hospital. The hospital has been forced to postpone surgeries that can wait and other services.
Alma goes over solutions already in place within the system, such as new nursing home beds, rehabilitation beds, daycare, increased home services, increased automation, and digital solutions.
Alma encourages everyone to show healthcare staff the support they can by showing respect and doing what they can to reduce infections, as well as getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible.
The panel is now open for questions.
Þórólfur is asked in light of his memorandum outlining the seriousness of the situation, why he didn’t suggest tightening restrictions. He states that his memorandum was intended to reiterate how serious the situation was to the government but if daily infection numbers won’t turn around, he will have to suggest tighter restrictions.
Alma is asked why the challenge is bigger this time around. She states that it’s partly the higher number of infections than ever before, as well as more staff in quarantine and isolation but also the long-term effect of the pandemic, pandemic fatigue. She notes that during the first wave of the pandemic, society as a whole slowed down and there were fewer hospitalisations for other reasons. That’s not the situation this time around and strain from the hospital’s other tasks adds to the pressure.
When asked if it was a mistake not to postpone schools reopening after Christmas, Alma states that healthcare authorities respect the government’s wish that schools remain open and realise its importance for society as a whole but it might have been better to postpone schools reopening after Christmas break. Þórólfur agrees, reminding people that he suggested Schools not resume until January 10.
When asked if he regretted the government’s decisions and if he was giving them too much power over infection prevention, Þórólfur states that he is not worried about the government’s choices in infection prevention. Their cooperation remains close as it has been throughout the pandemic, with Þórólfur making suggestions for restrictions he believes are wise based on the situation, and the government acting on them.
Þórólfur is again asked about restrictions remaining the same. He repeats that he might have to turn in suggestions for tighter restrictions after the weekend.
Þórólfur states that the worry is not just the delta infections, hospitalisations with omicron variant are increasing. When the virus is so widespread, hospitalisation will increase.
Þórólfur is asked about people trying to get the virus to “get it over with” Þórólfur states that it’s a very bad idea, increasing the risk of societal spread and keeping the number of daily infections up, increasing the risk of hospitalisations with added strain on the national hospital.
Þórólfur is asked about Jansen vaccinated people. He states that soon after they started administering the Jansen vaccine, despite the one-dose promise, they decided to treat it as one dose of Pfizer or other vaccines, offering them a second shot and now a booster. So they are not being discriminated against.
Þóóflur is asked about antibody tests. At the moment, authorities are not accepting antibody tests as valid COVID-19 infections.
When delta was raging, there were very few reinfections. They’ve increased with omicron and they’re now in the hundreds, although that’s not much compared to how many people have had the virus. Triple infections are very rare.
Þórólfur is asked when the pandemic ends. He replies that he doesn’t know when it will end but he expects that without new variants or anything unexpected happening, Þórólfur expects that in a few weeks or months, we will have reached enough herd immunity to relax restrictions.
It’s not likely that we will get another wave of omicron infections but new variants can always appear.
Alma is asked about early treatment for covid-19, vitamins, and the theory that ivermectin helps against illness. She states that healthcare authorities follow all covid-related research published in scientific journals, but that no reliable science recommends the use of ivermectin. Recommends reading material on the drug on the University of Iceland’s Vísindavefurinn. She notes that people should make sure they get all the vitamins they need, such as vitamin d supplements, no matter if they have COVID-1 or not. There are some new viral medications that the hospital has access to and is using according to recommendations based on thorough scientific research.
Þórólfur is asked if unvaccinated people who have had COVID-19 will also have different quarantine requirements as the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur replies that people who have contracted COVID-19 and have had two shots of the vaccine can follow the relaxed quarantine regulations but others will have to quarantine like before.
Víðir closes the meeting by repeating the goal of the restrictions, to protect the healthcare system, reduce the number of daily infections. He states that there are some milestones authorities are looking towards, the first one being to reduce the number of infections to fewer than 500, which would likely get hospitalisations below one per day.
He notes that people are probably tired of hearing him repeat himself but urges people to remember how far we’ve come. It might get darker before the dawn but as the Icelandic proverb goes (loosely translated), there’s an end to all storms.
Take care and be kind to one another.