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.

In Focus: Upcoming Parliamentary Elections

Photo by Golli

Icelanders will head to the voting booths on September 25, where individuals from the country’s various parties will vie for 63 seats from the country’s six constituencies: the Northwest (8), Northeast (10), South (10), Southwest (13), Reykjavík South (11), and Reykjavík North (11). The elections could mark the first time that women gain a majority […]

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COVID-19 In Iceland: Still Uncertain When AstraZeneca Vaccinations Resume

Icelandic healthcare authorities have not yet decided when they will restart vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine, RÚV reports. A spokesperson for the European Medicine Agency stated yesterday that the vaccine was safe and effective and that fewer people had experienced blood clots than expected in the general population.

The European Medicine Agency’s Scientific Advisory Board found yesterday that there was no reason to hold off on vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some countries, including Iceland, had suspended the use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure based on reports of blood clots in people who had received the vaccine. A spokesperson for the European Medicine Agency stated yesterday that the vaccine was safe and effective and that fewer people had experienced blood clots after the vaccination than expected in the general population. The EMA’s safety committee found “the benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects; the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots (thromboembolic events) in those who receive it; and that there is no evidence of a problem related to specific batches of the vaccine or to particular manufacturing sites. However, the vaccine may be associated with very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, i.e. low levels of blood platelets (elements in the blood that help it to clot) with or without bleeding, including rare cases of clots in the vessels draining blood from the brain (CVST).” The committee also stated that these were rare cases. Of the 20 million people who had received the vaccine, the EMA had reviewed only 25 cases of blood clot conditions, 7 cases of blood clots in multiple blood vessels (disseminated intravascular coagulation, DIC) and 18 cases of CVST (Cerebral venous sinus thrombosis).

While authorities in France, Germany, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Italy and Spain have declared that they will restart vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine in the next few days, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told RÚV yesterday that it was still unclear when Iceland would resume AstraZeneca vaccinations. Vaccination efforts are ongoing and 37.865 people ( over 10% of Iceland’s population) have received the first jab of the vaccine. The government’s goal is to have a majority of the nation vaccinated by the end of July. Infectious disease specialist and University of Iceland Professor Magnús Gottfreðsson told that while Iceland’s situation was currently a good one and there wasn’t any pressure to restart AstraZeneca vaccinations immediately, it wouldn’t surprise him if it happened sooner rather than later and that is was the rational result of the European Medicine Agency’s findings.


COVID-19 in Iceland: Case Numbers Drop Domestically, Rise at the Border

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Today’s COVID-19 briefing was led by Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Rögnvaldur Ólafsson, Assistant to Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson. Iceland reported four new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, two of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. There are currently 75 in isolation and 233 in quarantine, and both figures have been decreasing slowly but surely.

Border Case Rate Increases Tenfold

The same is not true for the rate of cases at the border, however. Þórólfur stated that the proportion of arriving travellers testing positive for COVID-19 has been rising. While in June and July, the percentage of arriving travellers testing positive was 0.03%, in recent weeks it has averaged 0.3%. Sixty percent of those testing positive at the border are residents of Iceland, Þórólfur stated.

Current domestic restrictions will remain in place until September 27. Þórólfur hopes to ease restrictions in stages from that date, each lasting 2-3 weeks. Authorities are also looking into the possibility of shortening quarantine from 14 days to 7, with a test administered on the seventh day.

Suicide Prevention Programs Strengthened

Director of Health Alma Möller focused on a different important issue in today’s briefing. September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and Alma emphasised the importance of support and co-operation in ensuring early intervention for those at risk of suicide. Alma reported a slight increase in suicides and calls to suicide hotlines since the pandemic began. Authorities have responded by strengthening existing prevention programs, such as the Pieta organisation.

Iceland’s official COVID-19 website has also updated its (Icelandic language) statistics page. The number of individuals in quarantine due to travel is now visible, and data from Iceland’s first wave this spring has been consolidated into the case numbers graph.

Iceland Review live-tweeted today’s briefing and will live-tweet the next one, scheduled for Monday, September 14 at 2.00pm UTC.

COVID-19 Antibodies Last for Months, Icelandic Research Shows

COVID-19 test tubes

An Icelandic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that COVID-19 antibodies last at least four months without declining. The research suggests there is little likelihood of developing COVID-19 twice. It also suggests vaccines could be effective in preventing infection over a long period, even with just one or two doses.

The study measured antibodies in samples from 30,576 people, including 1,237 who had recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection. Among those who had recovered, antibodies proved higher in older people and those who were hospitalised. Men tended to develop more antibodies than women, and there was a positive correlation between the severity of illness and the amount of antibodies. Those who showed only slight symptoms or were asymptomatic general developed fewer antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

One- or Two-Dose Vaccine

Kári Stefánsson, CEO of DeCODE genetics, which conducted the study, told RÚV that in light of the study results, a vaccine could provide relatively long-term protection from infection. “This indicates that antibodies formed during vaccination should be able to last considerably,” Kári stated. “You do not need to be vaccinated more than once or maybe twice, but in any case, it seems to last considerably.”

Read More: Iceland to Buy 550,000 Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine

Reports of Reinfection Not the Norm

Kári stated that rare reports of cases abroad where individuals are believed to have been infected more than once should not cause alarm for the average person. “When 25 million people have been infected with this virus, it must have reached people who are diverse when it comes to the immune system. But that doesn’t mean that ordinary people who have been infected are at high risk of reinfection.”

Changes to the 2-Metre Rule Announced

The Ministry of Health has announced changes to the rules regarding public gatherings. The new rules will come into play on August 28 and will be in place until September 10 at the least. The changes are not substantial, and previous releases and instructions are still in full effect. The main change is that the so-called 2-metre rule has been changed, along with allowing contact in sports, stage rehearsals, music performances, and film-making.

Previously, the rule stipulated that business operators ensure that there was a minimum of 2-metres between members of different households. This rule came into play, for example, in restaurants were spaces were created between tables.

The rule has now been amended to stipulate that distance restrictions should be in place between people who do not have close relationships.

This was revealed in a press release from the Ministry of Health earlier today.

The main changes are as follows:

The 2-metre rule: Changes to the restrictions for distance between individuals. Business operators previously had to ensure that there were 2 metres between individuals that do not share a household. The new stipulations state that business operators have to ensure that individuals that do not have close relationships stay 2 metres away from each other.

Sports: The new stipulations allow the practice of sports in general. Sports that are not part of The National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland shall set instructions themselves or follow the same instructions for similar sports that are members of The National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland.

Stage art, music, and film-making: Contact is allowed in stage rehearsals, music performances, and film-making. The same rules apply here that do for contact in sports.

Gyms: Restrictions due to risk of infection in gyms are the same as in swimming pools. Guests may not exceed half or less of the maximum approved visitor number in each place, according to the operating license.