As many as 88,000 new COVID-19 infections could be expected in Iceland before the end of the year if, instead of gathering restrictions and stricter lockdown measures, the country opted to strive for so-called ‘herd immunity.’ This projection was among those taken from a Finnish forecast model and laid out in an article co-authored by Director of Health Alma Möller, Civil Protection and Emergency Management Division manage Víðir Reynisson, and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and published in Fréttablaðið this morning.
Per the forecast model that Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur cite, strict gathering bans and disease prevention measures are absolutely integral to preventing a significant spike in infections in the country. Without them, the model projects that by the second half of November, as many as 3,000 people in Iceland would be diagnosed with COVID-19 every day.
Great Barrington approach ‘not viable’
This morning’s article responds to the Great Barrington Declaration, a much-debated approach to COVID-19 defence authored by three professor-epidemiologists at Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford Universities respectively. This approach is now under consideration in the US, among other places. It advocates for what it calls “focused protection,” or essentially, getting rid of all lockdown procedures, aiming for herd immunity, and “adopting measures to protect the vulnerable,” such as the elderly, while vaccine development continues.
“Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal,” reads the Declaration. “…Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.”
It’s worth noting that in Iceland, an estimated 20% of the population would fall into the “vulnerable” category.
In their article, Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur point out that up until just a few weeks ago, Iceland was essentially abiding by the model laid out in the Great Barrington Declaration. “Life in Iceland was almost normal until the third wave began and we had to take stricter measures in order to flatten the curve due to the stress on the healthcare system. This is an indication that the route the Great Barrington group wants to take is not viable if we want to keep the healthcare infrastructure up and running.”
‘It’s clear that the health system would not be able to cope’
The trio notes that the current infection rate is estimated to be 2.5 – 2.6. In order to achieve herd immunity, they write, “60% of the nation would need to be infected…If the infection rate were 6, then 83%. If 60% of the nation (219,000 people) become infected, then 7,000 people would need to be admitted to the hospital, around 1,750 admitted to intensive care, and 660 would die.” These projections are based on Iceland’s first wave statistics.
“If the virus were allowed to run rampant, it’s clear that the health system would not be able to cope with this many people and these numbers would be much higher,” they continue.
If hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 cases, healthcare for other serious illnesses and diseases would also suffer, Alma, Víðir, and Þórólfur write. And with so many people ill, the country’s infrastructure would languish.”The best way to be able to provide the healthcare services that our countrymen need is to keep infection down in society.”
‘Solidarity the best defence’
The trio calls for continued solidarity but is at pains to emphasize that the intention is not to silence those who have been critical of current virus-control measures. “It’s important that the nation continues to stand together—that’s how we’re going to fare the best,” they write. “This call for solidarity is not, however, a demand for uncritical debate. Quite the contrary, it’s important that different perspectives be considered when it comes to discussing limitations on civil rights. Quelling voices of dissent is only likely to tear apart that precious unity we need in these singular and difficult times. It is our unwavering opinion that level-headedness and solidarity are our best defences against this virus.”