No Further Restrictions for Chinese Travellers

Keflavík airport Icelandair

A recent memorandum by epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund to Icelandic Minister of Health, Willum Þór Þórsson, has recommended against the introduction of border measures aimed at travellers from China.

In light of recent spikes there following the relaxation of China’s strict “No COVID” policy, the possibility of re-introducing border screening for Chinese travellers had been discussed, in line with similar measures taken by nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and India.

Read more: Possible Restrictions for Travellers from China

The memorandum followed the January 4 meeting of the European Union’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) council, which aimed at coordinating the European response to the spread of COVID-19 in China.

However, Guðrún Aspelund’s recent memorandum on the matter concluded that she found no reason to introduce border restrictions at this time: “As it stands today, the evidence does not, in my opinion, recommend the introduction of measures at the border due to COVID-19 to protect public health, nor measures specifically aimed at passengers with China as a country of departure. We will update and distribute relevant guidelines to travellers. Sampling of random passengers arriving in Keflavík may be considered if there is evidence of a new variant that should be monitored.”

Guðrún Aspelung likewise pointed out that a majority of the Icelandic population has now received three doses of the vaccine, while a majority of the elderly population has received a fourth dose, further lessening the need for restrictions.

The memorandum also states that increased international monitoring and information collected by European nations with direct flight connections to China may give cause for a reassessment of the risk level in the coming weeks.

Possible Restrictions for Travelers from China

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund says that border screenings are being considered for travelers from China, given the recent rise in infections there.

In a recent statement, Guðrún indicated that healthcare systems throughout Europe are under stress, and that possible measures at the Icelandic border may be taken to relieve pressure other nations as well.

Regulations on travel are set to be lifted soon in China, meaning that Chinese residents will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival in China from foreign travel. This relaxation has healthcare experts throughout Europe concerned that a wave of Chinese travelers may take advantage of the relaxed regulations. The recent easing of restrictions has contributed to the uptick in infections, and some Western nations have also expressed concerns that authorities there have systematically under-reported figures.

Guðrún further stated: “We have less information coming from there regarding numbers for infections, hospitalizations, and cases. There is concern that the situation in China is quite bad and that it could affect Europe. There are also concerns of new varieties coming from China, though it is entirely possible that they may have other origins as well.”

Other nations, including the US, India, and the UK have also introduced mandatory testing for Chinese travelers. Chinese authorities have criticized these travel restrictions as being politically motivated.

A final decision on the possible restrictions is expected by the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

Current COVID-19 Border Measures to Remain in Place

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

The government has announced that current restrictions at the Icelandic border will remain in place until February 28.

The authorities are currently discussing the possibility of a different arrangement at the border for next spring, which will be officially introduced on February 20.

At present, travellers who enter the national border that have close ties within the Icelelandic community are required to undergo a COVID-19 test after arrival in Iceland. However, they are not required to present a negative result before boarding. Other passengers need to present a negative PCR or antigen test prior to boarding, but they are exempt from testing at the border if they have been vaccinated and are not arriving from a high risk country.

Although the numbers of covid cases have never been higher in Iceland, the authorities said that tightening the current restrictions at the border was not necessary at the moment.

However, authorities have decided that vaccination passports are now valid for nine months instead of twelve, which conforms to new EEA rules.

Border Regulations Updated for Those With Ties to Iceland

COVID-19 test

COVID-19 testing is now a requirement for all travellers arriving in Iceland who have ties to the country. This includes not only residents but also those coming to Iceland to look for work or who are planning an extended stay. Testing is required regardless of vaccination status and is in addition to the pre-departure test required of all travellers. The new regulations took effect today, August 16.

Read More: Can I travel to Iceland in 2021 Post COVID-19?

As of today, all travellers with ties to Iceland must undergo COVID-19 testing within 48 hours of arrival to the country. This includes citizens of Iceland, residents of Iceland, people with a work permit in Iceland, and several other groups. These travellers are not required to quarantine upon arrival but are asked to limit their interactions in the first few days after they arrive in Iceland.

PCR and rapid tests administered

Testing for this group is available at Keflavík Airport and local healthcare centres. Those tested at the airport will undergo a PCR test, while local healthcare centres will administer a rapid antigen test to fulfill the testing requirement, stated Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, Director of Nursing at Capital Area Healthcare Centres. Testing can be booked at heilsuvera.is (with electronic ID) and obtained at the border in Keflavík Airport or as soon as possible after arrival in Iceland, in Reykjavík at Suðurlandsbraut 34 or a primary healthcare centre outside the capital area.

An official quick guide to Iceland’s travel regulations is available on island.is.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Border Measures Take Effect

Keflavík Airport

Travellers arriving in Iceland from defined high-risk areas are no longer required to complete their quarantine at government-operated facilities. The Minister of Justice’s ban on unnecessary travel to areas with a high risk of COVID-19 infection has also expired. Quarantine facilities operated by the government will remain open for those who do not have access to adequate facilities in which to complete their required quarantine or isolation.

Iceland’s government tightened border regulations on April 1 requiring all travellers arriving from areas with high COVID-19 infection rates to quarantine at government-run hotels. The regulation was originally implemented for one month but was extended for an additional month. In late April, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir passed regulation banning all unnecessary travel from defined high-risk areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regulation took effect on April 27 but expired today.

Read More: Can I travel to Iceland in 2021 Post COVID-19?

Travellers to Iceland who present proof of vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection are required to undergo a single test upon arrival and quarantine until they receive a negative result. Tests are normally processed within a few hours. Travellers who do not present valid proof of vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection are required to undergo a test upon arrival to Iceland, quarantine for five days, and undergo a follow-up test. Travellers are not charged for COVID-19 testing or stays at official quarantine facilities. These regulations will remain in effect until at least June 15.

Up to 5,000 Travellers Per Day

Activities are ramping up at Keflavík International Airport, the port of arrival for almost all travellers entering Iceland. “We see for example today, which is one of the largest days since COVID started, over 2,000 travellers are arriving in the country,” Arngrímur Guðmundsson told RÚV reporters yesterday. “There’s simply an increase in flights. We anticipate that later in the month there could be up to 5,000 travellers arriving in the country per day if everything goes as planned.” There are eight flights scheduled to land at Keflavík Airport today from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.

To accommodate the increase in travellers, airport officials added additional reception desks last week where travellers have barcodes scanned and are doled out plastic tubes for test swabs. COVID-19 testing is carried out in modified shipping containers that have been set up outside the airport building.

Iceland currently has 41 active cases of COVID-19. Over 46% of the population have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine while 24.8% are fully vaccinated.

COVID-19 in Iceland: PCR Certificates Cannot Replace Traveller Quarantine

Keflavík airport Icelandair

On February 19, 2021, Icelandic authorities began requiring travellers from abroad to present a negative PCR test certificate before departure to the country. This certificate requirement was added in addition to testing at the border, five-day quarantine, and a follow-up test. Since that date, 17 travellers have tested positive in their follow-up test after quarantine, despite testing negative before departure and again at the border. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated that negative PCR tests before departure were not a sure way to prevent the active cases from crossing the borders, and quarantine for travellers was still essential. Vaccinated travellers are exempt from quarantine and testing in some cases.

Icelandic authorities temporarily suspended use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine one week ago due to reports of blood clots among individuals who had received the drug. European and international authorities have since declared that there are no causal links between the vaccine and the incidents and that the drug is safe to use. A final decision on its continued use in Iceland is expected shortly.

The following is a lightly-edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Director of Health Alma Möller.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 1 new domestic case (outside quarantine) and 1 at the border. Total active cases: 32. 14,104 have been fully vaccinated (3.82% of the population) and another 23,075 have received their first shot.

New domestic restrictions have taken effect today, but they are largely unchanged from the previous restrictions. The 50-person gathering limit remains the same.

The briefing has begun. Þórólfur goes over the numbers. One person was diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday domestically, outside of quarantine. Contact tracing is underway but the origin of the infection has not yet been found. Fewer samples were taken yesterday, just under 500. Þórólfur believes and hopes that the small group outbreak that occurred last week has been contained.

People continue to test positive at the border and more than has been the case in recent weeks. 5,000, have entered the country since the new regulations were implemented Feb. 19 requiring a negative PCR test certificate. 4,700 of those have been tested and 34 of them have tested positive for an active infection: half of those in the border test and half in the follow-up test five days later. Þórólfur says the data shows that requiring a negative PCR test certificate is not in and of itself a secure way to ensure infections don’t enter the country.

One person was admitted to hospital with an active COVID-19 infection two days ago. That is the only person currently in hospital due to COVID-19. Þórólfur encourages people to get tested if they have any symptoms whatsoever, particularly in light of the positive case diagnosed yesterday outside of quarantine.

Þórólfur says the new domestic restrictions will remain in effect until April 9 and are largely unchanged from the previous ones. It is important to maintain caution, now is not the time to relax further, he says.

Þórólfur addresses new border regulations that will take effect soon permitting vaccinated individuals to eschew quarantine and testing at the border. He points out that this has been the case since January 15 for travellers from within the EEA/EU, and around 5% of travellers since then have presented certificates of vaccination and been exempt from quarantine and testing at the border. This has also been the case for people with international vaccination certificates issued by the WHO. Thus the new regulations are not actually “new.”

New data from Israel shows that the risk of infection from those who have been vaccinated is little. Thus Þórólfur suggested earlier this month that all vaccination certificates be accepted regardless of the traveller’s country of origin. Þórólfur says that the Minister of Justice’s decision to open the outer borders of the Schengen territory to all those with a vaccination certificate was made without consultation with him. He does not know when the new regulation will take effect.

Icelandic authorities are waiting to hear from European authorities regarding the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The European Medicines Agency and the EU have announced recently that there are no causal links between the vaccine and blood clots. Þórólfur will meet with Nordic and European colleagues today to discuss the issue. A decision on continued use of the AstraZeneca vaccine should be reached shortly.

Þórólfur continues to urge people to get tested as soon as they experience any symptoms. The infection yesterday means that the virus hasn’t been eradicated from the community and we need to stay alert. Alma mentions that the situation in Iceland is good but we don’t have to search far to find worse situations. Let’s not get overconfident in our success. If infections arise, we need to keep up our personal infection preventions and get tested as soon as possible.

Alma discusses Iceland’s contact tracing app. Contact tracing is a cornerstone of Iceland’s success in containing the pandemic. Our contact tracing team are extremely efficient, but we will also be updating the COVID-19 tracing app in the coming days, says Alma. The new version will use Bluetooth but users’ privacy is still a priority. As before, users need to authorise a request from the contact tracing team so that the new features are activated.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur does not yet know if yesterday’s domestic case was of the British variant, results from sequencing should be available tonight. The individual did not attend any large gatherings or visit many public places, everyone they have come into contact with will be contacted.

Þórólfur has some concerns about the decision to open Schengen borders, particularly how they will complete all necessary procedures if there is great demand for travelling to Iceland. Accepting certificates of vaccinations and antibodies is what we aim to do in the long run, but exactly at what point we should open the borders more or less, people can have all sorts of opinions on that. If people who are coming are vaccinated or have already contracted the disease, we can be pretty safe. But we have to ensure the certificates are authentic, Þórólfur says.

The vaccine distribution schedule changes regularly but by the end of April, we should have had at least 140,000 doses. We still haven’t had any information on the Janssen distribution schedule. A

lma states that there’s everything to be gained by maintaining our current success, and reminds the public that we have many more freedoms than most other people around the world. Alma: Follow the guidelines. We can do this. Þórólfur agrees and doesn’t have much to add. “We know what we have to do and we know what works.”

Þórólfur addresses the colour-coding system that will take effect from May 1. Authorities are working on the solutions and systems that will be in place come spring. Þórólfur’s role as Chief Epidemiologist is still to make suggestions based on his best knowledge and what he thinks will be the best way to keep infection numbers down. Of course, there’s still uncertainty, even if people call for predictability. Þórólfur says his recommendations for the border will be issued closer to May 1 in response to how the situation is at that time. Alma adds that she believes we must be prepared for the possibility to reconsider plans if the situation changes. The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next briefing, scheduled for Thursday, March 25, at 11.03am UTC.

Iceland to Open Borders to All Vaccinated Travellers

tourists on perlan

Iceland’s Justice Minister just announced that the country will open its borders to travellers from outside Europe who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. According to current regulations, Iceland’s borders are closed to all travellers outside the Schengen Area, EEA, EFTA, and EU, regardless of their vaccination status. Justice Minister Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir stated the change would take effect this week.

Áslaug announced the change following a cabinet meeting this morning. It could have a significant economic impact, as it opens the door to tourists from the United States, UK, and China, three of Iceland’s largest markets for tourism in recent years.

Travellers to Iceland from the Schengen Area, EEA, EFTA, and EU are exempt from quarantine and testing if they present a certificate confirming antibodies or COVID-19 vaccination. It is assumed the same would apply to vaccinated travellers arriving from outside Europe.

Decision Supported by Chief Epidemiologist

Both Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist and Minister of Tourism had stated their will to allow vaccinated individuals into the country regardless of where they are coming from. “From the point of view of disease prevention, it does not matter where an individual is coming from if he has a certificate to the effect that he has been vaccinated,” Þórdís Kolbrún told reporters at mbl.is. “We simply have a tremendous amount depending on regaining normal connection to the outside world, when conditions allow. Our task is to seek all means to open up when we can with the measures we deem necessary and we are able to make such decisions on our own terms.” Þórdís added when asked whether Iceland would make such a decision unilaterally if Europe remains closed to all third-country travellers.

In an interview this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated: “I think it sounds strange to only accept certificates for the same vaccination and the same disease that are from inside the Schengen territory. At least from my point of view and an epidemiological and pathological point of view, I do not see an inherent difference.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Travellers Without PCR Certificate Fined Up to ISK 100,000

Keflavík airport COVID-19

Travellers from abroad who do not present a negative PCR test certificate upon arrival in Iceland will be fined ISK 100,000 ($786/€646). Those who present forged certificates will be charged with forgery. RÚV reported on the new regulations, announced in a directive issued by the State Prosecutor’s Office yesterday. Travellers who attempt to avoid testing at the border will also face fines of ISK 100,000.

Stricter border regulations took effect last Friday in Iceland, requiring all travellers arriving from abroad to present a negative PCR test certificate before boarding and upon arrival. The test must be administered with 72 hours of the departure time. The requirement is in addition to testing at the border, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Authorities gave travellers a few days of leeway to adapt to the new regulations, but will now begin fining travellers who do not follow travel regulations.

As outlined above, travellers can be fined for failing to present a negative PCR test upon arrival in Iceland. They can also face a fine of ISK 100,000 for refusing testing at the border. If travellers are diagnosed with an active COVID-19 infection and violate isolation regulations they can face fines of ISK 50,000-250,000 ($393-1,965/€323-1,616).

Certificate Forgery Could Lead to Prison Sentence

Breaching infection prevention regulations within Iceland is also subject to fines. Institutions that do no respect mask-wearing guidelines or two-metre distancing can be fined ISK 100,000-500,000 ($786-3,930/€646-3,230).

Travellers from abroad who present forged PCR test certificates will be charged with forgery, according to the directive from the State Prosecutor. According to Iceland’s Penal Code, forgery is punishable by imprisonment of up to 8 years. For minor violations, imprisonment of up to one year or fines may be imposed.

Domestic Restrictions Loosened

Relaxed restrictions took effect in Iceland today, after more than three weeks without a single domestic case diagnosed out of quarantine. The national gathering limit was raised from 20 to 50, with groups of up to 200 permitted at seated events such as performances and sports matches. Restaurant, bar, and club opening hours were extended and swimming pools and gyms permitted to operate at 75% capacity, up from the previous 50%.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Border Regulations and Mask Use Key to Domestic Freedom

Víðir and Þórólfur COVID-19

Icelandic health authorities will relax domestic COVID-19 restrictions this week, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík today. Þórólfur’s recommendations are being reviewed by the government, which is expected to issue updated restrictions in the coming days. The Chief Epidemiologist declined to discuss the details of his recommendations but stated tightened border restrictions, which now require arriving travellers to undergo three tests and quarantine, have given authorities room to relax domestic restrictions.

Iceland has not reported a single domestic case of COVID-19 out of quarantine since February 1, and only 10 cases in quarantine this month. Nevertheless, authorities stressed the importance of keeping up individual infection prevention to stave off a new wave in the case that domestic infections do pop up.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

Stay tuned for a live-tweeting of Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefing, beginning shortly at 11.03am. On the panel: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases yesterday and 1 at the border. Total active cases: 25. 9 are in hospital. 10,530 have been fully vaccinated, or 2.9% of the population.

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by going over statistics regarding the border and travel from abroad. The average number of travellers arriving from abroad has been decreasing over the past months, Víðir says. In the last few weeks, the number has been around 170-180 per day. Víðir says new border regulations have gone smoothly, most passengers arriving presented a PCR test certificate as required, or a vaccination certificate or certificate of an antibody test.

Þórólfur takes over. Over the past week, 12 COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed at the border, 8 with an active infection. There were 2 new domestic cases diagnosed over the past week, both in quarantine. There is one patient with an active case of COVID-19 in hospital: they were admitted last Friday. No one is in the ICU with COVID-19, 8 are in hospital recovering from COVID but no longer have active infections.

Infections at the border are few, possibly because there are fewer travellers. Around 1% of travellers has been testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Procedures at the border have gone well. We’ll have to watch carefully what happens in the next few days, says Þórólfur. The conditions for further relaxing restrictions domestically are that we stay vigilant at the border, says the Chief Epidemiologist.

Þórólfur has sent his suggestions to the Minister of Health for relaxing restrictions and presumes they will take effect in the middle of this week, although that’s subject to the Minister’s approval. Þórólfur declines to discuss the details of his recommendations at this time. Þórólfur has also sent new recommendations for school restrictions but won’t disclose the details of these relaxed restrictions either, as the government will have to discuss them first. Regarding relaxing restrictions, Þórólfur states there will always be some among the public who think authorities are going too fast and others who think we’re going to slow. The key is to keep up individual infection prevention to stave off a new wave, in the case that domestic infections do pop up.

Vaccinations are ongoing, and 6,000 are scheduled to receive their first or second dose this week. There are no updates regarding vaccine shipment schedules for April or the second quarter. Þórólfur: Despite uncertainty in vaccine distribution schedules, I consider it likely that we’ll receive vaccines more rapidly but we’ll have to be prepared for the possibility that it will go slower than we hope.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is pressed to reveal details of his recommendations for relaxed restrictions. Þórólfur won’t disclose more details regarding his recommendations but states that we have to be very careful with relaxing restrictions on bars and clubs as that was where the last wave started.

Asked about mask use, Þórólfur states that it surprises him how emotional people can get when discussing masks. At this point, he won’t recommend that we stop using masks, and polls show that people are largely positive towards mask use. We’ll reach a point where masks won’t be mandatory anymore but people who want to are free to use them.

Þórólfur is hopeful for the summer. If no new vaccine-resistant variants of the virus present themselves, vaccinations proceed according to schedule and until then, we keep the border clear, there’s nothing to stop us from having a looser rein this summer, he says. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason: what’s important is not the regulations prescribed by authorities, rather how individuals behave.

Víðir states that the vast majority of people are behaving well, both in the capital area and the countryside where many are currently travelling on winter vacations. Þórófur states that even though we haven’t really had community spread of infections in February, there’s still a danger of new infections entering the country and spreading into the community. On the other hand, we have much stricter regulations at the border now so the situation is different from last summer. There’s always a chance that the pandemic can rear its head again but that’s something we’re going to have to live with, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur will not speculate on how border restrictions may chance once a majority of the nation is vaccinated, it also depends on how the pandemic progresses in the countries around us. From May 1 authorities hope to lift quarantine restrictions for arriving travellers from low-risk areas. Asking people for a negative PCR test certificate before arrival and testing them again at the border is not really an encumbering restriction, says Þórólfur. Víðir adds that some of the restrictions at the border are set in co-operation with countries around us, for example in the Schengen Area.

“Will there be fewer briefings now that things are going well domestically?” Víðir says briefings are to continue twice weekly for the time being, as long as restrictions are being updated regularly. Víðir adds that it might be superstitious, but authorities are a little hesitant to have fewer information briefings: the last couple of times they did, it wasn’t long before infection rates went up.

Asked about his health, Víðir says he is still recovering from his bout of COVID-19. He hasn’t regained his full strength or his sense of taste and smell. Víðir: “I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone.”

Þórólfur is asked about confirmation parties, traditionally held in spring, and sports tournaments. As usual, he won’t disclose details of planned restriction relaxations or speculate for the coming weeks and months.

Regarding border restrictions, Þórólfur’s position is that we should keep on doing what’s been working for us, only making changes with caution.

When asked about the possibility of a future need for annual COVID-19 vaccinations, Þórólfur states that the virus could develop to be similar to flu or cold viruses, that spread without causing serious illness. He stresses that he doesn’t know, nor does anyone at this point.

Updated school regulations will be presented to school authorities as well as the public in the next few days.

“If another wave of the pandemic occurs, is there a benchmark, such as number of cases, that authorities will use to decide restrictions?” Authorities’ reactions will be based on how and where the wave happens. They’ll use the knowledge gained from the third wave.

The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 information briefing on Thursday, February 25 at 11.03am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Success is Precious but Precarious, Authorities Remind

hand washing at National University Hospital of Iceland COVID-19

At a Reykjavík briefing today, Iceland’s health authorities underlined the importance of treading carefully despite the local success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Iceland has not diagnosed a single domestic case outside of quarantine since January 20, except one case on February 1 that turned out to be an old (inactive) infection. Nevertheless, the country’s Director of Health Alma Möller reminded the public that it only takes one case to start a new wave.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has submitted recommendations for further tightening border regulations to prevent infections from entering the country. Currently, all travellers arriving to Iceland from abroad are required to undergo testing upon arrival, five to six days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Þórólfur has discussed the possibility of also requiring travellers to provide a negative PCR test certificate administered in their country of origin and requiring travellers to quarantine in government facilities for the five-day period.

Vaccination efforts are going well, according to authorities, who expressed their hope that vaccination could speed up in the second quarter as manufacturers ramp up production.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Director of Health Alma Möller, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s numbers are in on covid.is. Iceland reported 0 new domestic cases. Total active cases number 26. 8 are in hospital and 5,757 have been fully vaccinated. The briefing has begun. Þórólfur starts the meeting by mentioning that no one tested positive within the country over the weekend. Fewer tests have been administered in recent days and Þórólfur encourages the public to get tested if they’re experiencing any symptoms.

About 1 percent of passengers arriving in Iceland from abroad are testing positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. No one is in hospital with an active case of COVID-19 and only eight that are recovering from infection. Þórólfur: We’ve had success with the actions we’ve taken but we have to remember that it’s only a week since we last relaxed restrictions. It takes a week or two for the effects of restriction changes to become apparent. Before we start thinking about further relaxing domestic restrictions, we need to think about the border restrictions. I’ve sent recommendations for new border regulations to the Minister of Health.

Good news on the vaccine front: increased vaccine production capacity will likely lead to larger & more frequent vaccine shipments to Iceland and we’re hopeful that we’ll be getting more vaccine in the near future than currently expected. According to the distribution schedules currently in place, we’ll receive 70,000 doses before the end of March and that number does not include the AstraZeneca vaccine doses we are expected to receive in March. Danish authorities believe they’ll be able to vaccinate a large part of the nation this summer and hopefully that will also apply to Iceland.

Director of Health Alma takes over and preaches caution: it only takes one infection to start a new wave of the virus and early detection is key. She goes over the common symptoms and encourages the public to be on alert and get tested if experiencing any symptoms. We have to keep our guard up. Personal preventative methods have not only helped us contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have also led to fewer viral infections across the board. Antibiotics prescriptions dropped significantly last year, says Alma. Alma hopes that individual infection prevention behaviour is here to stay as antibiotic-resistant viruses are a real problem the healthcare system will face in coming years.

The panel opens for questions. “What happens if an individual refuses a particular type of vaccine, are they put at the end of the line or do they even get a second offer?” Þórólfur doesn’t know, it hasn’t come up so far. Víðir is asked about Ash Wednesday and how people can celebrate the holiday this year (which traditionally involves costumes for children and gatherings). He mentions guidelines for a “different Ash Wednesday” that have been published on covid.is

Þórólfur will wait and see for this week before submitting his next memorandum for relaxed restrictions. Þórólfur is asked about predictability in vaccination efforts. He states that vaccine distribution schedules keep changing frequently and he won’t speculate, only calculate based on the shipments they expect to receive. Asked if twice-weekly information briefings are necessary when there are so few infections, Þórólfur jokingly replies that the last time they decided to drop the information briefings, infections went up so they’re not taking any chances.

Last weekend was the first one since bars were allowed to reopen and things went well. Police kept up strong surveillance but overall it was a success. Víðir mentions that it’s been almost a year: everyone should know how the rules work by now and everyone knows how to count.

Þórólfur’s suggestions for updated border restrictions mostly pertain to making some procedures already in place clearer and the possibility of requiring people to stay in quarantine hotels for the five-day period between border tests. The suggestions also pertain requiring a negative PCR test administered before departure to Iceland.

Þórólfur is asked if Iceland made a mistake by negotiating vaccine contracts through the EU. Þórólfur says that this is a question with no clear answer, he thinks Iceland is not in a bad position and will be vaccinated at the same time as the rest of Europe.

“What’s the state of nursing home restrictions now that most residents have received one or both doses of vaccine?” The Chief Epidemiologist says nursing homes make their own regulations based on authorities’ guidelines. They are still treading carefully.

Þórólfur will not speculate how much more vaccine we’ll receive in coming weeks, it’s up to the vaccine producers’ capacity. Although it’s good news that they claim they’re increasing their capacity, Þórólfur will only base his plans on distribution schedules in hand. We currently don’t know how many vaccine doses Iceland will receive after March.

Will children under 7 be vaccinated? We don’t know, we’ll wait for the results of scientific research. Alma states there’s nothing new to report on the autumn Landakot group infection. Any news of research on long-term effects of COVID-19? Research is ongoing, says Alma.

Víðir ends the briefing by reminding people who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to get tested. We have a precious situation that is nonetheless precarious and we have to protect it.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 briefing, scheduled for Thursday, February 18, 2021 at 11.03am.