COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Celebrate Cautiously As Innoculation Begins

A screenshot from RÚV. First COVID-19 vaccines being administered in Iceland, December 29, 2020

Icelandic authorities expressed both joy and caution at their 150th COVID-19 briefing, also their last of 2020. While Iceland began administering the first COVID-19 vaccines this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated it was still impossible to say when herd immunity would be achieved. Iceland has ensured sufficient doses of various COVID-19 vaccines to innoculate a majority of the population, but it is not known when all the doses will arrive.

While vaccines may show us the light at the end of the tunnel, authorities underlined the importance of maintaining personal preventative measures for the time being.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, and Director of Health Alma Möller. Special guest Óskar Reykdalsson, Director of Capital Area Health Clinics, will be present to discuss vaccine administration.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 7 new domestic cases yesterday (2 in quarantine), and 5 from border testing. Total active cases: 142. 23 in hospital, none in ICU. One person died yesterday due to COVID-19, the 29th in Iceland.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur begins by stating this is the 150th COVID-19 briefing of Icelandic authorities and the last one of the year. The meeting will be interpreted into Polish on ruv.is, visir.is, and on Stöð 2, Rögnvaldur reminds.  Rögnvaldur mentions the historical moment this morning when vaccination for frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents began. This pandemic is, however, not over yet, he reminds the public. We need to follow infection prevention regulations carefully, Rögnvaldur adds.

Þórólfur takes over to go over the numbers. 7 were diagnosed yesterday, slightly more than in recent days. Fewer samples were taken over Christmas, however, which could explain the discrepancy. The pandemic is still in a “depression” and we hope it will continue like this, says Þórólfur. I continue to encourage people with even the most minor symptoms to get tested.

The most common strain being found in sequencing of new cases is still the “blue” one which has been plaguing us since August, although a few different strains have been registered since says Þórólfur. 11 tested positive at the border before Christmas with the much-discussed UK strain of the virus. All were arriving from the UK except one coming from Denmark.

A patient at the National University Hospital in their seventies died yesterday. The death brings the total of COVID-19 related deaths in this wave of the pandemic up to 18. One person is in the ICU, and they are on a ventilator. We are still seeing low numbers of cases and hope that continues, but this week and next week will reveal whether Christmas gatherings will lead to a surge in new cases. In the new year, updated regulations on school activities take effect that represent a significant loosening on school operations.

Yesterday was a happy day, as the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Iceland. Today marks the first step in a new (and hopefully the final) chapter of the fight against COVID-19. Priority groups for vaccinations have been introduced. First are frontline healthcare workers and nursing home residents, followed by the oldest age groups and people with pre-existing medical conditions. We’re expecting the next shipment from Pfizer in late January.

As vaccination progresses, Þórólfur says authorities hope to be able to relax restrictions. He can’t say at this moment what those changes will entail. For now, we have to continue our personal infection preventions. This isn’t over, but hopefully, we’re closer to the end, says Þórólfur.

Alma goes over the numbers of infections, illnesses and deaths in the past few months, despite all restrictions. This isn’t over yet, she reminds. Alma discusses the UK strain which has been found to be more contagious than other strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There is considerable concern about the strain as it has spread quickly and widely across the UK and other countries despite significant restrictions.

There are many unknowns about the new strain: whether people who have been infected with previous strains can contract it, for example, or whether it leads to more severe symptoms. The CEO of BioNTech has stated that in the worst-case scenario – if current vaccines are ineffective against the UK strain – it will take just six weeks to create a new one. Alma wishes everyone a happy new year and asks all those among the public who are able to get vaccinated to accept the offer. She will do it herself when it’s her turn, she says.

Director of Capital Area Health Clinics Óskar Reykdalsson takes over to discuss vaccination administration. He says it’s a fun day today as vaccination has begun and he hears that people are happy and giddy with anticipation. He cautions that COVID-19 is a serious disease and we have to continue our solidarity, follow personal infection prevention and get tested if we’re experiencing any symptoms. He reminds people that 29 people in Iceland have died. That number is low compared to countries where people have lost control of the spread of the disease. That is thanks to preventative measures and restrictions. In the United States, 3,000 are dying due to COVID-19 each day, which would be equivalent to 3 Icelanders dying per day.

Óskar goes over how vaccinations work. When the substance is injected, it activates the body’s immune response, so it is normal to experience aches and fatigue. It’s a workout for the body. Just like a workout at the gym, we might feel sore, but we don’t cry over feeling sore after a workout. We know the historical successes of vaccinations: remember the measles, polio, laryngitis and others, which are nearly or completely eradicated.

How will the vaccinations be administered? The healthcare centres gather information and call people in for vaccinations. People receive a bar code, which gets scanned and they receive the first injection. 19-23 days later, they get the second injection. The system will be tested today with frontline healthcare workers. If there are any flaws in the system, we’ll find them now and fix them.

The panel is now open for questions: Þórólfur is asked when the vaccine doses we’ve acquired will arrive and when we will achieve herd immunity. He says it is impossible to answer that question for several reasons. We don’t know when we’ll reach herd immunity as there are certain variables that prevent us from having all the information on when vaccination goals will be met.

Are authorities worried over people relaxing too much in their personal infection preventions? Not yet, they hope people will celebrate the development but still be very careful.

Authorities previously stated that we would receive 3,000-4,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine per week throughout January and February, has that changed? Þórólfur states that the 10,000 doses we received yesterday should last us the first few weeks of January. The next shipment will arrive in the second half of January and it might be a larger shipment.

Þórólfur believes that if nursing home residents are all vaccinated, nursing home restrictions might be lifted. As for other restrictions, such as gyms reopening, they still depend on the pandemic’s development.

Þórólfur is asked why the COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory in Iceland. Historically, vaccinations have never been mandatory in Iceland except for the smallpox vaccine. Yet vaccination campaigns have been successful and a high ratio of Icelanders get vaccinated, around 95%. The Icelandic public is willing to be vaccinated and understands the importance. As long as that is the case, making vaccinations mandatory isn’t wise, says Þórólfur.

Asked about recommendations for New Year’s Eve celebrations, Rögnvaldur states that they are just the same as for Christmas: stay in your Christmas bubble and don’t gather in crowds over 10. Wear a mask if necessary at NYE celebrations, Rögnvaldur adds.

Do authorities aim to give everyone the same vaccine? No, not necessarily says Þórólfur. He says all the vaccines are good. Authorities are not expecting issues with vaccine shipment or quality, although they are always a possibility. If they occur, they’ll simply continue working on vaccinating people according to prioritisation plans.

Rögnvaldur closes the briefing by underlining the common refrain that the pandemic isn’t over. He wishes the public a happy new year and thanks them for their contributions to civil defence efforts. The briefing has ended.

COVID in Iceland: New Colour Codes To Increase Restriction Predictability

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

At a scheduled information briefing today, the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management introduced a new colour-coded warning system, similar to the Icelandic Met Office’s weather warning system. THe colours range from grey representing a “new normal” to red, indicating a serious state of affairs. Currently, the whole country is in the red, even though the pandemic’s current wave is waning, as there are many different factors that dictate Chief Epidemiologist’s Þórólfur Guðnason’s decision on when to change the warnings. Those factors include number of new infections, hospital status, state of the pandemic in other countries and if numbers of infections are going up or down.

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Iceland Review’s Live-tweeting of the briefing 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson. Special guest: Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir, a specialist at the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, who will present the new colour-coded COVID warning system. (irew.cc/han)

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 7 new domestic cases yesterday – all in quarantine at the time – and 5 at the border. Total active cases: 197. 36 are in hospital and 3 in intensive care.

The briefing has begun. Þórólfur goes over the numbers. The weekend has been good, he says, with all new domestic cases being already in quarantine. However fewer tests were conducted as is typical over the weekend. The coming days will show how the wave is developing. The situation is still precarious, so I encourage everyone with any symptoms to get tested, Þórólfur says. One good development is that the proportion of tests that are positive (of all tested) has gone down.

The majority of new cases in the recent weeks are due to the so-called “blue strain,” the one that kickstarted the current wave. For a while, health authorities thought the blue strain was dying out but that judgement was premature.

Of those in hospital due to COVID-19, only one individual is actively infectious. That person is in ICU. There are 3 people in total in ICU and two of them are on ventilators.

The restrictions now in effect last until Wednesday so from Thursday on, there will be new regulations. Þórólfur hasn’t sent his recommendations to the Minister of Health and is not prepared to discuss the details of what he is planning at this point. Þórólfur states that it’s clear that we can’t lift restrictions quickly. We’ll have to expect a low-key Advent season and a low-key Christmas in Iceland.

We’re still preparing for the arrival of vaccines and how we will distribute them, Þórólfur says. We have no further news of when they will arrive or how many doses we will receive but that will probably become clearer toward the end of the month. Þórólfur notes that vaccination will not be mandatory in Iceland and vaccines will be free of charge.

Ingibjörg Lilja takes over to discuss the colour-coded COVID warning system. “For way too long, we’ve been dealing with this virus, but during that time, we’ve gathered experience and knowledge that we can now use to increase predictability,” Lilja says. The system is not set in stone. For it to serve its purpose, we need it to be able to adapt to our needs.

Just like the weather warning system, grey is the lowest warning level and represents the “new normal,” then warning levels rise through yellow, orange, and to the highest level: red. The country is separated into regions according to police regions. It could happen that different warning levels/colours are applied to different regions. For example, if the whole country is orange but suddenly, the Chief Epidemiologist’s data shows that things are getting worse in the capital area, then that region will turn red and we’ll issue a warning. During a red weather alert, we are careful and for the most part, we stay at home. We’ll do the same during red COVID alerts. On covid.is, you can find the regulations and guidelines that apply for each colour/warning level. Schools have been categorised as well as different types of athletic activities and that information can be found at covid.is.

Right now, the whole country is red but we hope that we’ll be able to change the colours soon. The warning system does not protect us in and of itself, reminds Lilja. Hopefully, the colour-coded system will help to increase predictability but no matter the colour, we have to be careful and pay close attention to personal hygiene.

The panel opens for questions. The first question concerns an Icelandic doctor who arrived in the country recently and refused both testing and quarantine, and been vocal in their opposition to the government’s restrictions. Þórólfur says they haven’t looked into the case specifically but he is saddened to hear his colleagues, who have undergone medical training, have that opinion. Cases are not handled differently depending on whether people are vocal in their opposition or not. Rögnvaldur adds that local police handles cases such as that one and that the individual in question does not have an active license to practice medicine. Rögnvaldur is asked about if it’s possible to reject tests on arrival to the country. He says all travellers can opt for 14-day quarantine instead of testing.

The panel is asked about the possibility that people who have recovered from COVID could be exempted from gathering limits. Þórólfur says that’s an idea but he believes it would be difficult to execute.

Þórólfur is asked about whether there is a possibility that the virus could mutate into a strain that is resistant to vaccines if it is transmitted from humans to animals and back to humans again (as happened with mink in Denmark). Þórólfur says that was something Danish authorities feared and what led them to cull mink, but such a mutation was not discovered. No cases of COVID have been found in Icelandic mink despite testing.

Asked if people who suspect they’ve already contracted COVID should get tested for antibodies before getting vaccinated, Þórólfur answers that they could and perhaps should, but there’s no danger in getting vaccinated though an individual already has antibodies, except for the possible side effects.

Why is the whole country coded red according to the warning system right now and what will it take to downgrade the colour? The colour coding is dependent on several factors: new domestic infections, hospital status and so on. Þóróflur says there’s no magic number that determines when the warning level changes, but that it’s a tool for authorities to let people know what to expect.

Þórólfur is asked about his fear that the public is relaxing because of fewer cases are being diagnosed. Þórólfur says he didn’t notice people around him relaxing and hopes that others are not doing so. But in any case, he won’t base his recommendations on anecdotal evidence.

Þórólfur has no more information from the European Medicines Agency and will not report any further news of vaccines because he has none. He doesn’t expect any news until closer to the projected date of December 29. “Until then we’ll all suffer the lack of information together,” says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur says he will not suggest regional restrictions from December 9, even though most of the recent infections have been in the capital area, as the wave is currently waning.

Is skiing likely to increase infections? Þórólfur says it’s difficult to say, but authorities considered that question when outbreaks occurred in Austria last winter. However, it was likely the gatherings off the slopes had the most impact.
Do you still think border testing should be made mandatory, Þóróflur? That depends on if making the testing free of charge has changed anything, and right now it seems like it has. Very few people are choosing 14-day quarantine over testing at the border.

Rögnvaldur ends the meeting by addressing holiday celebrations. “Put the traditions on hold, we’ve had to change a lot of things this year and Christmas is no exception. Advent, Christmas, New Year’s Eve: we have to accept that they will be different this year,” says Rögnvaldur. “Wash your hands and keep your distance, it will work out if we tackle this together.” The briefing has ended.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Domestic Cases Drop as Hospitalisations Rise

Domestic COVID-19 case numbers appear to be dropping in Iceland, though strain on the healthcare system continues to increase, particularly in North Iceland. Those were the main messages from a pandemic briefing held by Icelandic authorities in Reykjavík this morning. Tighter restrictions took effect in Iceland on Saturday, halving the national assembly limit to 10 and instituting wider mandatory mask usage.

Iceland reported 26 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday and 6 from border testing. Active case numbers are at 905 and have been dropping for several days. The number of people hospitalised due to COVID-19 is, however, at a record high of 72, with 3 of those in intensive care. Patients have also been hospitalised in Akureyri, North Iceland, though none of the cases there are currently serious.

Growth in Cases in North Iceland

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that while community-spread infections appear to be trending downwards there are fewer tests conducted during the weekend. Numbers over the next few days will show whether the trend will continue. There continue to be small group outbreaks, particularly in North Iceland. Of yesterday’s new domestic cases, 25% have a legal residence outside the capital area. No new strains of the virus have been detected and for now Iceland is not seeing exponential growth in case numbers, in contrast to many nearby countries.

Update to Border Regulations

Current border regulations, which allow travellers the option between double-testing and five day quarantine or 14-day quarantine without testing, are in effect until December 1. Þórólfur stated that he will be submitting his recommendations for continued border regulations to the Health Ministry soon. He noted that current regulations have prevented a large number of active cases from spreading into the community and expressed his support of implementing mandatory testing for all travellers entering the country.

Outbreak Response Team Established

According to National University Hospital Director Páll Matthíasson, the group outbreak that began at the hospital’s Landakot location nearly two weeks ago seems to have been contained. Director of Health Alma Möller announced that an outbreak response team had been put together over the weekend that can react quickly in the case of such outbreaks at healthcare institutions. The team is able to respond to such events across the country.

Stores and Schools

The tightened regulations that took effect on Saturday made mask use mandatory in stores across the country. Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson expressed bewilderment that there had been cases of customers refusing to wear masks in stores and even threatening employees who were often young people simply trying to direct customers. “It’s such a load of nonsense that I can’t believe we are dealing with it,” he stated.

Víðir said authorities had received hundreds of requests from businesses asking for exemptions from the tightened COVID-19 regulations. He urged the public and companies to stop requesting exemptions and follow the rules for the next two weeks.

Regarding criticism of tightened regulations that take effect in schools tomorrow, Þórólfur stated the regulations, which give more freedom to younger students, aimed to strike a compromise between infection prevention measures and keeping schools operating as normally as possible.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.00am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Clear Regulations Combat Pandemic Fatigue

COVID-19 Iceland

Clear and open communications between authorities and the public, but also between individuals, were the main topics of today’s information briefing on COVID-19 in Iceland. The panel today included Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Director of Health Alma Möller. It also included a special guest: Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir, an expert from the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.

Positive numbers but still to early to declare victory

Yesterday, 33 people tested positive for the coronavirus domestically, 61% of which were already in quarantine. In total there are 1,159 active cases of the virus, 21 people are in hospital and three in the ICU. The total number and number of hospitalised continues to fall, as does the daily number of new cases. “The curve continues downwards. All figures suggest we are seeing a decrease in infections,” Þórólfur stated. “Iceland is one of just 4 countries in Europe where the incidence rate has been dropping in recent days, it is rising in the remaining countries. It is, however, still too early to declare victory,” the Chief Epidemiologist adds.

Increased cases at the border indicate rise of pandemic across Europe

While domestic numbers are going down, an unusually high number of people have tested positive at the border, most of them arriving from Poland. Þórólfur stated that this likely was a representation of infection numbers going up in Poland but in his mind, this also underlined the importance of border testing. Authorities are looking into if changes should be made to the border testing, perhaps making it a requirement from people coming from certain countries. Currently, people arriving in Iceland have a choice between double testing and 5-day quarantine or 14-day quarantine.

Clear guidelines necessary, vow to do better

Þórólfur also addressed the confusion arising last week over gyms being allowed to reopen last week, albeit with heavy restrictions. He lamented the confusion and unrest the matter caused but explained that after he had suggested the gyms remain closed but allowing non-contact sports with restrictions, the Ministry of Health found a legal flaw that didn’t allow them to issue such regulations. Ultimately, he agreed with their reasoning. He reiterated that issuing regulations that fit everyone perfectly was a task doomed to failure but stressed that the main thing people should keep in mind are personal preventative measures such as handwashing, social distance and disinfecting common surfaces. “Both I and the Ministry of Health will learn from this and aim to ensure regulations are clear in the future,” the Chief Epidemiologist added.

Icelandic public more satisfied with government response

Some of the key factors to prevent pandemic fatigue are clear regulations and easy access to information on how and why decisions are made, Director of Health Alma Möller stated. Statistics from the University of Iceland show that the public in Iceland is more satisfied with government response than the public in many other countries. “Still, recent events show that we can and must do better,” she added.

Take care of yourself, then support others

Ingibjörg Lilja Ómarsdóttir from the Department of Civil Protection discussed perseverance in the face of the pandemic, the importance of support from a social network, and how people need to take care of themselves in order to be able to support the people around them. “Living on a volcanic island regularly tests our perseverance, but now we’re dealing with heavy restrictions on our daily lives,” says Ingibjörg. “It’s normal to not always like the rules and restrictions placed on us.” She suggested people pay greater attention to their mental wellbeing by taking care of themselves and their bodies by sleeping well, eating nutritious food, and exercising regularly, but also suggested paying attention to other people. “If we notice others are behaving out of character, let’s ask how they’re feeling and provide emotional support. Stopping for a chat in your building’s stairwell (from a two-metre distance) might make a difference to someone lacking social support.” She also addressed children who might be experiencing anxiety, suggesting that an open conversation, depending on the child’s maturity is the best way to alleviate their worries.

Víðir ended the briefing with his usual mantra on the importance of personal preventative measures: hand washing and disinfecting shared surfaces is key to preventing infection. He added: “We’re all tired and that’s normal. It’s also normal to be annoyed and angry when rules are unclear. Authorities are listening and aim to do better.”

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings in English on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.00 am UTC.

 

COVID-19 in Iceland: Too Early to Declare Victory Against Third Wave

Blaðamannafundur Covid-19 Corona Flensa Almannavarnir Ríkislögreglustjóri

While dropping numbers are promising, Icelandic authorities say it is too early to declare victory against the country’s third wave of COVID-19. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson both underlined the importance of the public staying at home as much as possible, continuing to social distance, and practising preventative measures such as handwashing and disinfecting surfaces.

Iceland reported 42 new domestic COVID-19 cases yesterday, 74% in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. The country has 1,234 active cases in total, with 27 in hospital and 3 in intensive care. Þórólfur stated that while daily case numbers are dropping, the numbers tend to be somewhat lower on the weekends when fewer people seek out testing. The ratio of positive tests was higher than usual yesterday, at 5%.

Though the drop in new cases is promising, it is too early to relax restrictions and important to continue social distancing and other preventative measures on a country-wide basis, Þórólfur stated.

Yesterday’s numbers broke the record in cases diagnosed at the border, with 22 arriving passengers testing positive for SARS-CoV-2. No new strains of the virus have been detected since Iceland implemented double testing and quarantine for all arriving passengers on August 19. Most of the cases were among Icelandic residents on a single flight arriving from Poland.

Authorities Pressed to Clarify Regulations

While the Chief Epidemiologist’s legal role is to make recommendations to the Minister of Health regarding COVID-19 restrictions, it is the Health Ministry that determines and published the final regulations. Reporters questioned the panel regarding differences between Þórólfur’s recommendations and changes to restrictions published by the Minister of Health that take effect tomorrow. Þórólfur stated that it was normal for there to be some differences, but conceded that those differences and the reasons behind them may need to be clarified further.

The Chief Epidemiologist is working with the Health Ministry on the issue, particularly to clarify regulations regarding athletic activities. Þórólfur added, however, that it was important to stick to the spirit of the regulations rather than analyse them for loopholes.

Víðir Encourages Families to Stay Home During Winter Break

Many children are currently in isolation due to COVID-19: 143 aged 12 and under and an additional 72 between the ages of 13 and 17. When asked whether parents or caretakers need to go into isolation with their children, Þórólfur reminded the public that such guidelines are available on covid.is, the official government website for COVID-19. In short, it depends on the needs of the child.

The panel at the briefing encouraged families to stay home during the upcoming school winter break, though Víðir stressed that this was a guideline and no travel ban was in place. When we look back on this period after many years, he added, we will want to feel that we did our best. The virus is the enemy and solidarity is our best weapon, and it is still in our hands, Víðir stated.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings in English on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.00am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Address Pandemic Fatigue

COVID-19 Iceland

Pandemic fatigue is setting in among Icelanders, Director of Health Alma Möller stated during authorities’ COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Tightened social restrictions took effect in Iceland today, limiting gatherings to 20 people (down from 200) and closing bars, clubs, and gyms. At the briefing, authorities addressed criticism of the restrictions and emphasised the importance of working together to tackle the current wave of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which continues to rise.

Iceland’s Department of Civil Protection declared a national state of emergency yesterday due to the current spread of SARS-CoV-2. The country has reported 689 new domestic cases of COVID-19 between September 15 and October 5. The number of active cases continues to rise, though Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated growth is mostly linear (not exponential).

Authorities Respond to Criticism of Restrictions

At the briefing, Þórólfur addressed criticism of the newly-imposed restrictions. Some have dismissed them as too harsh while others have stated they don’t go far enough. The Chief Epidemiologist stated that discussion and disagreement were normal, but stressed that at some point decisions had to be made using the information at hand.

One particular criticism of the restrictions is that they have been imposed across the entire country, while most active COVID-19 cases are in the capital area. (Just over 79% of current active cases are in or near Reykjavík.) Þórólfur argued that if restrictions were not imposed unilaterally, we could end up chasing outbreaks from region to region and it could take longer to contain the virus.

Pandemic Fatigue Sets In

Director of Health Alma Möller stated that “pandemic fatigue” was setting in among the Icelandic population. She stressed that it was normal to be tired of restrictions and for some people to disagree with authorities’ decisions. However, it is important for the nation to stick together and remember how solidarity helped tackle Iceland’s first wave.

Alma underlined the importance of washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and using hand sanitizer before entering stores to protect others, as well as after to protect ourselves. She urged the public to avoid crowds, stick to their nearest and dearest for companionship, and stay home if experiencing symptoms. She thanked all those who were following regulations.

Police Did Not Store Bar Patrons’ Data

Reporters questioned authorities on group outbreaks that had occurred in several Reykjavík bars and restaurants. Following the outbreaks, card companies provided the Office of the Chief Epidemiologist with information on patrons from several venues where outbreaks had occurred. The companies came to the conclusion that providing this information was in compliance with their data protection policy. The information was used to contact those who had been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 at the venues and request they come in for testing. The police did not receive the data and are not storing it.

Víðir closed the briefing by reminding the public of the small actions they can take to prevent the spread of infection, such as sanitising commonly-used surfaces. He encouraged the public to contact those who live alone as well as those in nursing homes and organise fun events to help them cope. “Endurance and perseverance will get us through this,” he stated. “Small victories lead to success. Let’s take this one day at a time.”

COVID-19 briefings will take place at 11.00am UTC on Mondays and Thursdays from now on. Iceland Review live-tweets all briefings in English on our Twitter page.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Community Transmission Dropping

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to be dropping in Iceland, according to the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. At today’s COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík, Þórólfur stated that social distancing and gathering restrictions would not be tightened for the time being, though the situation was being re-evaluated regularly.

Iceland is currently in its third wave of the local pandemic. The country reported 39 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 14 of which were from a group infection on a fishing boat. Of the new cases, 87% were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis, up from around 50% over the last few days. Þórólfur says this indicates that community transmission of the virus is on the wane, meaning it was safe to go ahead with re-opening bars and clubs, which have been closed for two weeks. Þórólfur added, however, that we may not relax when it comes to personal preventative measures such as distancing and handwashing.

Hopes Serious Cases Have Peaked

The average age of active cases in Iceland is around 40. Five individuals are currently in hospital for COVID-19. The five cases range in age from their 20s to their 60s. Þórólfur expressed his hope that the number of serious cases has reached a peak.

COVID-19 infection among hospital staff has already caused disruptions to healthcare services. Nearly 300 staff members of the National University Hospital were currently in quarantine or isolation due to SARS-CoV-2 infection or exposure, Director of Health Alma Möller reported at the briefing. Authorities have compiled a reserve force of medical workers which currently numbers 211. Of those volunteers, 55 are willing to work anywhere in the country where healthcare staff may be needed.

Travellers Violating Quarantine

Víðir was asked whether quarantine violations that occurred over the weekend warranted more police surveillance of those in quarantine. Víðir responded that the question was really a question about what kind of society we want to live in. “I’m not particularly excited to have police in Iceland knocking on people’s doors and investigating whether or not they’re in quarantine, he stated. “That’s not a reality I find appealing.”

In addition to trusting that travellers will follow the quarantine rules that are in place, Víðir says authorities contact travellers who do not show up for their second test and find out why. If border police suspect that a traveller arriving to the country is likely to break quarantine rules, they explain the regulations and consequences thoroughly and follow up on the case.

Current Border Regulations are Safest Option

Iceland’s current border regulations require all arriving passengers to undergo a SARS-CoV-2 test upon arrival, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. (Those who do not want to be tested can opt for a 14-day quarantine.) Those regulations are valid until October 6. In a memo to the government, Þórólfur has outlined a series of options regarding border regulations from that date. He stated, however, that in light of the spread of the pandemic abroad, he considered extending the current border regulations to be the safest option.

Iceland Review will live-tweet the next COVID-19 briefing, scheduled for Thursday, October 1 at 2.00pm UTC.

Iceland Has Tamed Second Wave, Says Chief Epidemiologist

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

In a COVID-19 briefing in Reykjavík this morning, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist said the country had managed to tame the second local wave of the pandemic. Iceland currently has 76 active cases of COVID-19, and the number has been steadily decreasing in recent days. Since June 15, 60% of all who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus were already in quarantine.

Less stringent COVID-19 restrictions took effect in Iceland today, allowing gatherings of up to 200 (as compared to the previous 100) and relaxing the two-metre rule to just one metre. There has been no change to measures at the country’s borders, which require all entering travellers to undergo double testing and a five-day quarantine. Þórólfur stated he did not expect to recommend changes to the border testing regulations in the near future.

One Fifth Test Positive in Second Test

Of the 110 travellers that have been diagnosed with an active COVID-19 infection upon arrival to Iceland, 20% tested positive in their second test. Around one third of arriving travellers who are testing positive in the second test are Icelanders that reside in the country. Another third are foreign individuals with a social network in Iceland and the final third are foreign tourists, as per Þórólfur’s statements at the briefing today.

English Footballers Could Face Fine for Quarantine Break

The biggest COVID-19 story in Iceland today concerns two English footballers who broke “working quarantine” regulations last weekend by meeting local women at their hotel. Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Assistant to the Chief Superintendent, was asked whether the two players would be fined for the violation. Rögnvaldur stated that Capital Area Police were investigating the incident and the case was nearly closed.

Testing Could Shorten Domestic Quarantine

Þórólfur stated he was considering whether testing could be used to shorten quarantine for residents who had been in contact with an infected individual. Those who had been ordered to go into quarantine due to contact with an infected individual could be tested after seven days, and potentially be released from quarantine if they test negative, shortening overall quarantine periods.