Wave of Respiratory Illness in Iceland

COVID-19 vaccine vaccination Iceland

Many people in Iceland are sick with respiratory illnesses and the situation is expected to continue. The peak of infections has not been reached, according to Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund, as fewer people than expected received vaccinations for Covid and influenza this fall. “It’s been Covid, influenza, RSV, and other respiratory infections and viruses,” she told Vísir.

New Covid variant spreads

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified JN.1, an Omicron variant, as a Covid “variant of interest” due to its rapid spread. “Covid is highly infectious and it’s causing illnesses and many people get very sick,” Guðrún said. The symptoms of JN.1 are similar to previous variants, Guðrún added, but there has been no uptick in hospital admissions as a result of this wave.

However, many people have been admitted for other illnesses. “We always have some people admitted with Covid,” Guðrún said. “There’s also been an uptick in admissions where people have influenza or RSV. Especially young children.”

Campaign to get people vaccinated

Guðrún urges people to get vaccinated for influenza and Covid. Health care providers still offer this service and it is strongly recommended for people over 60 years of age. “The participation has unfortunately not been very good this fall, but there was an increase last week when the health care centres campaigned to urge people to come,” Guðrún said.

She added that even though people may have become tired of the discussion about Covid vaccinations, it remains important to get shots. “These are well-researched vaccines that billions of people have used,” Guðrún said. “They’ve been shown to be effective and protect against serious illnesses and deaths.”

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.






Fourth Vaccination To Be Offered In Laugardalshöll

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

The latest vaccination campaign will begin in Laugardalshöll today, September 27, offering the fourth COVID-19 booster shot and influenza vaccines to individuals 60 and over.

Health care professionals state that some 30,000 in the capital are eligible for this newest round, and expect up to 4,000 per day. Similar services are also being provided outside of the capital region.

The current round of vaccinations will run until October 7, every weekday between 11am and 3pm.

Read more: 80+ Offered Fourth Dose

In April of this year, individuals 80 and over were offered their fourth shot. With much of this demographic covered, it is hoped to increase protection for other vulnerable segments of the population.

Ragnheiður Ósk Erlendsdóttir, director of nursing in the Capital Region Healthcare System, stated to Vísir that this round of vaccinations will have a slightly different format than before, with both the booster vaccine and also influenza vaccine offered.

“People can come here and kill two birds with one stone, get both or one of them depending on what suits them,” she said. “We are going to have three booths, one will only be influenza and one will only be COVID-19, and then there will be one booth that will be both.”

According to the latest statistics from covid.is, 78% of the population is considered fully vaccinated, and 27,644 individuals have received their fourth dose of the vaccine.

Is It Really Over?

Reykjavík Nightlife after COVID

LOITERING BENEATH THE AWNING OF AN ASIAN RESTAURANT Raindrops are pattering on Laugavegur, and I’m debating whether or not to invest in a disposable vape pen. I’ve recently gone frigid turkey-bird but have made the concession of vaping during nights out on the town. Despite the exhilaration inherent within this escape clause, I forgo the […]

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COVID-19 Information Briefing: Chief Epidemologist Considers Exempting Boosted People From Quarantine

Chief Epidemiologist Iceland Þórólfur Guðnason

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM on the COVID-19 situation in Iceland and the upcoming children’s vaccinations. On the panel were Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Physician and project manager with the Chief Epidemiologist’s office Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir, and Acting Director of the National Hospital Guðlaug Rakel Guðjónsdóttir. During the briefing, panellists gave statements on the upcoming children’s vaccinations and discussed the situation at the hospital. Þórólfur mentioned the possibility of exempting people from quarantine mandates after receiving their booster shots, stating that this could be the start of relaxed restrictions.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Jan 4:

New cases: 1,238 (459 in quarantine)
Total active cases: 9,125 ⬆️
Hospitalised: 30 (8 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 3,037.4 ⬆️
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots administered: 160,357 (43.4%)

The information briefing went as follows:

Þórólfur starts the briefing by discussing the current covid-19 situation in Iceland. The pandemic’s spread has been growing domestically as in the countries around us. More than a thousand new cases were detected yesterday, and only about 43% were in quarantine when tested. New border cases remained unusually high, most likely due to the number of people returning home after Christmas vacations. Most new cases have the omicron variant, around 90% but around 100 people still test positive for the Delta variant daily.

Omicron seems to cause milder illness than delta

Hospitalised COVID-19 patients continue to increase. From  December 1, the omicron variant has accounted for about 40% of hospitalisations but the last few days, the majority of new hospitalisations have the omicron variant. All in the ICU have the delta variant and most of them have not yet been vaccinated. The omicron variant seems to be more common in young adults but the delta variant spreads with children. Schools have now started again after Christmas break so in the next few days, we’ll see if the omicron variant will start to spread among children. The omicron variant seems to be 30-50% less likely to cause serious illness than delta.

Considering easing quarantine regulations for triple vaccinated

Þórólfur states we need to continue to have a tight hold on the infection rate so as not to overwhelm the healthcare system. Personal infection prevention, social restrictions and widespread vaccinations are key but they’re now considering easing quarantine regulations for the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur encourages everyone to get vaccinated if they can. Children’s vaccinations have begun and will continue this week and the next when larger shipments of the children’s vaccine will arrive. Þórólfur believes that in the next few weeks, we’ll manage to create enough immunity in society for infections rates to start going down and we can return to a more normal life. He is not ready to say that it will mark the end of the pandemic in Iceland.

Children’s vaccination campaign takes off next week

Kamilla takes over and gives a briefing on the children’s vaccination program. Vaccine for children 5-11 started arriving in December and since Christmas, around 250 children have received the first dose. The first major campaign will start next week when enough vaccine has arrived. They will be performed by local healthcare clinics, in healthcare clinic buildings or borrowed spaces. In some cases, the borrowed space will be school buildings.

All parents or guardians will have to approve their child’s vaccination

All parents and guardians will be notified that their child will be offered vaccination, receiving an email containing a link where they can express their stance on their child’s vaccination. If the parent has two guardians, both will be able to express their will and if there’s a discrepancy, the child will not be vaccinated. If the parents or guardians don’t state their will, the child will not be vaccinated so Kamilla urges parents to reply and let their stance be known.

National hospital in a state of emergency

Guðlaug Rakel takes over and goes over the situation at the National Hospital, which is now operating according to a state of emergency. Thirty people are hospitalised with COVID-19, 25 with an active infection and five in recovery. Individuals in the COVID outpatient ward are colour coded according to their state of health, more than 200 people are coded as yellow and 7 as red, meaning that hospitalisation is very likely. As the forecast looks now, the hospital is facing a steep hill, And Guðlaug notes that the hospital’s COVID forecast is as bad as the weather forecast today (extreme conditions expected). They’re doing everything they can to communicate and cooperate with other healthcare institutions to move patients from the hospital and to borrow qualified staff, for instance for the ICU.

207 hospital staff are in isolation, and several others are in quarantine, which also affects the hospital’s operation. Guðlaug states that for the hospital staff, the support from the people and the support from the government is vital. It’s very important that that support doesn’t break.

The unvaccinated get sicker than others. Six of eight people in the ICU are unvaccinated despite 91% of people in Iceland over the age of 12 being fully vaccinated.

The panel is now open for questions.

Guðlaug is asked about the percentage of hospital staff who have received booster shot. She believes the rate is currently at about 80% although some are still waiting to be eligible, and notes that participation has been strong.

The panel is asked how they communicate the importance of vaccination to parents. Kamilla replies that in the age group that is now being offered a vaccination, delta is still dominant and adult vaccination research shows that serious illness is less likely for vaccinated people against the omicron variant as well. Data shows that in children, two shots provide as much coverage as three for adults.

The frequency of hospitalisation since omicron was first discovered in Iceland is very similar to what is happening in the other Nordic countries. Þórólfur met with colleagues in the Nordic countries this morning and Iceland is facing a similar patterns as them.

Þórólfur is asked about the children’s ombudsman’s comments on the children’s vaccination program. The chief epidemiologist has been in contact with several people and institutions when preparing the children’s vaccination’s program. The operations is based on what local healthcare providers believe is best for their community, people with decades experience in children’s vaccinations.

Þórólfur is asked if vaccinations will now start to provide people certain privileges, such as the proposal to lift quarantine mandates for the triple vaccinated. Þórólfur states that yes, that is a possibility that this is the beginning of relaxing restrictions. This would be in accordance with epidemiological facts, as well supportive for the economy.

Guðlaug Rakel can not provide information on the reasons why the six unvaccinated people in the ICU have not received their vaccinations.

The children’s ombudsman has also pointed out the lack of research into the pandemic’s effect on children. Þórólfur replies that research has been done and is ongoing. He believes that it’s very important, both the effect of the pandemic and also the effect of the restrictions put in place.

When asked if they’ve considered postponing vaccinations and relying on rapid tests in schools instead, Kamilla says she doesn’t know why they would postpone children’s vaccinations when the need is as dire as it is now. Þórólfur adds that rapid tests wouldn’t come in the place of vaccinations, they are two different things.

Has the omicron wave reached its peak? Þórólfur replies that it’s a good question, we can wonder if we’ve reached the peak already as we’ve seen similar numbers for a few days now. We don’t have forecast models that give us the answers, in Denmark, they don’t expect to reach the peak until late January. We’ll need to monitor the situation.

Guðlaug adds that 8 hospitalised people have omicron and 15 with delta, 7 where the variant hasn’t been sequenced. She believes it important to note that people with Omicron also get hospitalised.

When asked about vaccine side effects, Kamilla replies that parents and guardians will receive all information on the vaccine and possible side effects. The Icelandic Health Insurance will continue to cover patients experiencing side effects like before.

Guðlaug Rakel is asked how many hospitalised COVID patients tested positive after being hospitalised for something else and how many were hospitalised because of covid. She says that these details don’t matter for the hospital, as the treatment requirements are the same. Every patient is tested on arrival and they’ve found many patients testing positive for covid, even though they were being hospitalised for a different reason. Around half of omicron patients have arrived because of covid and the other tested positive on arrival.

Þórólfur is asked about the Israeli plans for a fourth shot. Will we need to be injected every 4-5 months while this blows over? Þórólfur states that the question is interesting, Israel is ahead of the curve regarding vaccinations. He states that they’re not administering the fourth shot to everyone, only seniors and people with underlying conditions. As for the second question, Þórólfur states that this will have to depend on how the pandemic evolves, the answers aren’t clear at the moment.

Guðlaug is asked how many hospitalised people were found to have covid after they were hospitalised, and the answer is eight.

Þórólfur underlines that the problems they’re facing in the fight against covid-19 are the same as in the countries around us. That’s why conferring with other Nordic nations is very important and he is in constant contact with his Nordic colleagues. Our own experience and knowledge are also important. The most important thing is that we’re united in our efforts and what needs to be done.


Doctor’s Orders

Þórólfur Guðnason

Over the past 18 months, Þórólfur Guðnason has gone from quasi-anonymous medicine man to bona fide historical figure. Along with Director of Health Alma Möller and Director of Civil Protection and Emergency Management Víðir Reynisson, Þórólfur forms the so-called “troika” – the face of the government’s response to COVID-19. He’s Iceland’s Anthony Fauci: the imperturbable voice of reason and restraint. It’s a complicated role predicated mainly on credibility, demanding a certain immaculateness when it comes to personal precautionary measures.

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COVID-19 In Iceland: Icelandic Medicines Agency To Approve Pfizer Vaccine For Ages 5-11

bólusetning mass vaccination Laugardalshöll

The Icelandic Medicines Agency is set to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 for children aged 5-11 today, Director of the Icelandic Medicines Agency Rún Hauksdóttir Hvannberg told RÚV. The use of the vaccine for this age group was approved this morning by the European Medicines Agency.

EMA’s human medicines committee (CHMP) has recommended granting an extension of indication for the COVID-19 vaccine Comirnaty to include use in children aged 5 to 11. The vaccine, developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, is already approved for use in adults and children aged 12 and above.

The dosage of Comirnaty for this age group is smaller than the one approved for older people, 10 µg instead of 30 µg. As in the older age group, it is given as two injections in the muscles of the upper arm, three weeks apart.

Rúna added that healthcare authorities in Iceland will now decide if and when to offer vaccinations for this age group.

Government Announces New Social Restrictions

Katrín Jakobsdóttir COVID-19 mask

With COVID cases on the rise, the government has announced new restrictions. A 500-person limit on social gatherings will come into effect next Wednesday, and masks will be mandatory in certain places starting tomorrow. A record number of COVID cases were reported today.

Mask mandate beginning tomorrow

In light of the sharp rise of COVID cases, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason submitted proposals on new restrictions to Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir yesterday. Following a cabinet meeting this morning, Svandís – speaking to Vísir – confirmed that the authorities would be tightening social restrictions next week, although masks will become mandatory in those places where individuals cannot maintain a one-metre distance beginning tomorrow.

Children 15 years and younger will, however, be exempt from the mask mandate and so willl those individuals who provide up-close, personal services (e.g. barbers, masseuses). High-school students may also remove their masks after classes begin (even if it is not possible to observe the so-called “one-metre rule).

Bars and restaurants made to close early

Starting next Wednesday (November 10), the following restrictions, among others, will come into effect:

  • The maximum number of people allowed in the same location will be 500 people.
  • The business hours of restaurants and bars will be shortened by two hours so that restaurants that serve alcohol will have to close at 11 pm, and patrons must vacate the premises by midnight.
  • Up to 1,500 people may attend an event if all guests bring a negative result from a rapid antigen test and wear masks.

These restrictions would be in effect for four weeks (until and including December 8).

According to Svandís, there is nothing preventing Christmas concerts from being held and nor do theatres need to cancel shows.

Will not have the intended effect

Despite these new regulations, it is unlikely that these measures will have the intended effect; as noted by RÚV, Þórólfur’s proposal from November 4 contained three possible sets of restrictions. The restrictions that the authorities decided to adopt – which Svandís referred to as “the middle road” – are similar to those that were in effect between September 15 and October 20. In his memo from November 4, Þórólfur stated that if the authorities chose this route, it could “be argued that infections will continue to rise;” between September 15 and October 20, the daily number of cases rose from 20 to just over 60.

A record-number of new cases

A record number of new COVID new infections were diagnosed yesterday, or 167. Not since the pandemic began have so many new cases been reported over a 24-hour period. Sixteen individuals are currently hospitalized with infections, and five are in intensive care.

“If we do nothing, things will take a turn for the worse; we’ll begin to run into real trouble in the hospitals,” Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated in a radio interview this morning.