70% of Icelanders May Have Already Had COVID-19

COVID-19 briefing Iceland Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason wrote in his latest column on covid.is that he estimates the actual number of Icelanders who have been infected with the coronavirus to be as much as double the number of people formally diagnosed. That would mean that around 70% of Icelanders have had COVID-19.

Should that be the case, Iceland could reach the pandemic’s peak in the next few weeks, after which time diagnoses will start to drop, Þórólfur predicts.

COVID-19 is still a serious problem

In his column, Þórólfur reminds the public that COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through the community, and though the number of tests being conducted is decreasing that doesn’t mean cases are dropping.

3,367 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Iceland on Feb. 28 — 3,215 through rapid testing and 152 through PCR.

He also said the health care system is feeling the pressure.

“At Landspítali, about 10 individuals are admitted daily with or due to COVID-19, and slightly less are discharged,” Þórólfur wrote. “Today, 55 people are in hospital with/due to the disease, three of them in the intensive care unit, all on a ventilator.”

He says it is important that everyone realizes that COVID-19 is still a significant health issue in Iceland, despite official disease control measures being lifted. “Everyone is encouraged to continue to use individual disease control measures aimed at delaying the spread of COVID-19 and preventing uncontrollable strain on our healthcare system.”

No More COVID-19 Prevention Measures at Iceland’s Border

Keflavík Airport

Along with lifting COVID-19 social restrictions domestically, the government has also called off all disease-prevention measures at the border. There is no longer a requirement for a PCR test to board aircraft and no need to quarantine upon arrival, regardless of vaccination status.

Wholesale lifting of restrictions

Before today, all travellers arriving in Iceland were required to present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test administered no more than 72 hours before departure to Iceland (regardless of their vaccination status or whether they have previously contracted COVID-19). These restrictions no longer apply.

As per the authorities’ statements Wednesday, all COVID-19 measures at the Icelandic border were lifted at midnight – regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated. (Visa requirements, of course, have not changed.)

As noted on Icelandair’s webpage: “All visitors are welcome, with no requirement for a PCR test to board aircraft, or testing or quarantine upon arrival. There is no longer a requirement to present a certificate of vaccination or of a prior COVID-19 infection.”

Travellers are, however, asked to keep in mind that the lifting of these restrictions does not mean that they cannot wear a mask. Travellers should also be aware that different rules apply for different airlines and countries.

All Vaccinated Passengers with “Connections to Iceland” to be Screened

Icelandair airplane

Beginning on August 16, all vaccinated passengers with connections to Iceland will be required to undergo screening within 48 hours of arriving in the country.

On the advice of the Chief Epidemiologist

Following a cabinet meeting this morning, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced that beginning on August 16 the government will require all vaccinated passengers with “connections to Iceland” to undergo screening for COVID-19 within 48 hours of arriving in the country.

“On the advice of the Chief Epidemiologist, we will begin screening vaccinated passengers who are connected to Iceland upon their arrival,” Katrín stated in an interview with RÚV. “This means that not only those individuals who have an Icelandic ID number will be screened – as per the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendation – but also those who have connections to Iceland.”

According to the government’s website, the latter group is defined as follows:

  • Icelandic citizens
  • Icelandic residents
  • Individuals with an Icelandic work permit
  • Work-permit applicants and those who have applied for international protection in Iceland

These individuals will be required to undergo either PCR or antigen (rapid) testing within 48 hours of arriving in the country but will not be required to self isolate as they wait for their results. The authorities will be reviewing how best to implement these measures over the next ten days.

“This wave is different”

Over the past few days, the government has also met with representatives from various trade organisations and institutions to discuss the effects of the pandemic on schooling, healthcare, culture, and sports.

Speaking to RÚV this afternoon, PM Katrín Jakobsdótter emphasised the success of the vaccination campaign in protecting against grave illness, while adding that the authorities must thoroughly review the capability of the healthcare system to contend with this newest iteration of the pandemic.

“It’s obvious that this wave of the pandemic differs from previous ones, given that we’ve got numerous new infections but fewer instances of serious illness, which is more common among the unvaccinated,” Katrín stated. According to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health has introduced proposals on how best to ensure the effectiveness of the healthcare system during this new phase of the pandemic.

Booster shots imminent

In addition to the above measures, the government has also reviewed its vaccination policy, hoping to better reach those individuals who turned down jabs. Furthermore, the authorities to expedite the process of administering booster shots to recipients of the Jansen vaccine and have decided to offer individuals in retirement homes and those who suffer from underlying medical conditions booster shots, as well.

No decision, however, has been made whether to tighten domestic restrictions nor what kind of measures will be adopted on August 13, when the current restrictions lapse. Vaccinated passengers (and those with a prior infection) born in 2004 or earlier, will still be required to present a negative PCR or antigen test (not older than 72 hours) prior to boarding a vessel to Iceland.

Two COVID-19 Cases Diagnosed at Iceland’s Borders Yesterday

Keflavík airport

Two individuals were diagnosed with COVID-19 upon arriving in Iceland yesterday, RÚV reports. A total of 927 tests were taken among approximately 1,100 travellers (children are exempt from screening).

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management will hold a press conference today at 2pm. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Chief Superintendent of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson will discuss the state of COVID-19 screening at Iceland’s borders, which began yesterday.

There are currently six active cases of COVID-19 in Iceland. Six hundred and three are in isolation. A total of 954 tests were administered yesterday in Iceland, 13 of which were taken by the Virology Department of the National University Hospital and 14 by deCODE. The rest were administered at Iceland’s borders. There are no COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in hospitals in Iceland.

COVID-19 testing at the country’s entry points is currently free, but as of July 1, it will be at the cost of passengers, who will pay ISK 15,000 ($114/€100) per test. Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from both testing and quarantine. There are ten testing booths at the airport. Arriving passengers can choose between being tested or going into quarantine for 14 days.

(This article was updated at 14.01.)