A 200-person gathering limit, mask use, and one-metre distancing are among the long-term measures to fight COVID-19 that Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason laid out in a memorandum to the government. It could take months or years to curb the pandemic globally, and until that happens, Iceland would require restrictions both domestically and at its borders to keep infection rates low, Þórólfur stated. The government has discussed the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestions but has not yet made any decisions on if or how they will be implemented.
Current wave may have peaked
Iceland daily COVID-19 case rate has hovered around 100 cases for the past several weeks. According to RÚV, however, health authorities believe the current wave of infection has reached its peak. Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, communications officer of the Civil Protection Department, says authorities did not consider it necessary to hold an information briefing today, as they often have on Thursdays.
Restrictions necessary as long as pandemic lasts
Þórólfur submitted a memorandum to the Health Minister recently where he laid out his long-term recommendations for keeping the pandemic at bay in the country. In the memorandum, Þórólfur predicted that it would take months or years to curb the COVID-19 pandemic globally. Until that happened, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and possible new variants would continue to be a threat to Iceland, and some form restrictions would be necessary to minimise the risk of widespread infection.
Þórólfur’s long-term recommendations were similar to Iceland’s current domestic COVID-19 restrictions, which are among Iceland’s mildest since the pandemic began. Among the long-term measures he recommended are a 200-person gathering limit, one-metre distancing, and mandatory mask use where distancing cannot be ensured. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs would not be permitted to accept new guests after 11:00 PM and would be mandated to close at midnight.
Border restrictions are key
The most important aspect of infection prevention restrictions are measures that prevent the virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur wrote to the Health Minister. “In my opinion, solid defences at the borders are the prerequisite for being able to maintain minimal restrictions within Iceland.” While stating it would never be possible to fully prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur suggested minimising the risk by continuing to require travellers to undergo testing prior to departure.
Þórólfur also suggested mandatory COVID-19 testing for all passengers upon arrival to Iceland, something that is currently only required of unvaccinated travellers or those with ties to Iceland. If Iceland’s testing capacity proved unable to handle the number of travellers, the Chief Epidemiologist suggested finding ways to minimise the number of people entering the country to ensure that all could be tested.
Crucial to strengthen healthcare system
In his memorandum, the Chief Epidemiologist also emphasised the importance of strengthening the healthcare system, the National University Hospital’s Virology Department, and the Civil Protection Department for the long term so that Iceland’s infrastructure could cope with the added strain that the pandemic brings. Iceland’s COVID ward and Virology Department (which conducts all COVID-19 testing in Iceland) have been operating at or above capacity for much of this current wave of infection.