Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.

COVID-Positive No Longer Required to Isolate in Iceland

mask walk outdoor covid

PCR testing for COVID-19 will no longer be available to the general public in Iceland. People with COVID-19 symptoms are instead encouraged to undergo a rapid antigen test. Those who test positive on a rapid test will not be obligated to isolate for five days, though it is recommended. The use of PCR tests for COVID-19 will be limited to those with severe symptoms or underlying illnesses, on the recommendation of doctors.

The changes were announced in a notice from Iceland’s Directorate of Health. According to the notice, the healthcare system’s testing capacity was surpassed some time ago, and the wait for PCR test results has gone from as little as six hours to 2-3 days. In order to reduce strain on testing, the general public will not longer be offered PCR tests when they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, they will have access to rapid antigen tests. Such tests can be booked through the Heilsuvera website for those with an Icelandic kennitala (ID number), as well as through private companies, who offer the tests for free thanks to a government contract.

Isolation still recommended

Those who test positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test will not be required to isolate for five days, but health authorities nevertheless recommend they do so. Those who have little or no symptoms may go to work, but practice infection precaution measures. These include avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people and using a mask when around others outside of the household.

According to the current regulations, those who test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test are still required to isolate for five days. While PCR tests are no longer available to the general public, they will remain available to those who require a PCR certificate for travel abroad, for a fee.

As of the time of writing, Iceland’s cabinet is meeting to discuss recommendations for changes to domestic COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities have previously announced a plan to lift all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 this Friday, February 25. An announcement from ministers is expected shortly.

Chief Epidemiologist to be Appointed by Health Minister if Amendment Passes

Þórólfur Guðnason Chief Epidemiologist

If proposed amendments to Iceland’s pandemic legislation are passed, the Chief Epidemiologist would be appointed by the Health Minister rather than Iceland’s Director of Health. An epidemiological committee would also participate in the drafting of the Chief Epidemiologist’s recommendations for infection prevention measures. Both the incoming Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason have a positive view of the amendments, which are intended to clarify Iceland’s infection prevention legislation.

Experts say that Iceland’s current legislation on infectious diseases is adequate but could use streamlining, particularly in decision-making when disease control measures are implemented that affect the public. The amendments also aim to clarify the role of the Chief Epidemiologist within the administration.

Chief Epidemiologist and Minister of Health approve

The proposals are built on a report written by Páll Hreinsson, President of the EFTA court at the request of the Icelandic government last year. “When we made changes in the parliament as a response to the pandemic and relatively quickly, there came a report from Páll Hreinsson that stated that we needed to do a comprehensive review of the legislation,” Willum Þór told RÚV. He expressed support of the idea that the Minister of Health would be responsible for appointing the Chief Epidemiologist. “I think it could be a good arrangement. I think it’s perhaps a constitutional issue in terms of responsibility and communication.” He added that he looked forward to hearing other points of view on the matter from fellow MPs and from critics.

While the Chief Epidemiologist is currently appointed by the Director of Health, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has pointed out that the Director of Health is appointed by the Health Minister. “I think [the amendments] are not illogical because the law stipulates that the Chief Epidemiologist works under the Minister and submits his proposals to him,” Þórólfur stated in an interview this morning. “The administrative position of the Chief Epidemiologist is being clarified, I think it’s time to do that.”

A working group has been appointed to draft the bill, consisting of representatives from the Health Ministry, Ministry of Justice, capital area healthcare centres, the Directorate of Health, the Chief Epidemiologist’s office, the National Committee on Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases, the National University Hospital, and the National Police Commissioner’s Office. It is expected to submit a draft of the amendments by February 1.

Civil Protection Calls for Airport Bus to Discourage Quarantine Violations

Flugrútan Flugrútur Farþegar Leigubíll Leigubílar Keflavík Airport flybus

There are still too many cases of locals breaching quarantine regulations by picking up travellers at Keflavík International Airport, says Sigurgeir Sigmundsson, Chief Superintendent of Keflavík Airport Police. Travellers arriving from abroad are permitted to take a rental car, their own car that has been parked at the airport, or a taxi to arrive at their quarantine destination. Bus service between the airport and the capital area was suspended indefinitely last month, but the government is now considering subsidising the service so it can be reinstated.

All travellers arriving in Iceland from abroad are required to undergo testing upon arrival, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. To arrive at their quarantine location, travellers are permitted to pick up a rental car at the airport, take their own car which has been parked at the airport or take a taxi. Friends or family members that pick up arriving travellers are required to go into quarantine with them. Authorities however strongly advise against this option and urge locals to avoid picking up travellers from abroad.

Taxi Drivers with Antibodies Sent to Airport

Unlike friends and family members, taxi drivers are not required to go into quarantine after transporting travellers from Keflavík Airport. They are, however, required to operate according to strict infection prevention guidelines. Vehicles are disinfected between each set of passengers and travellers are required to put in and take out their luggage themselves. Many drivers have also set up partitions in their vehicles, though they are not required according to current taxi regulations. Both drivers and passengers are required to wear masks for the duration of the trip.

Stefán Bachmann Karlsson, a taxi driver at BSR contracted COVID-19 in October of last year. He says that he and another co-worker, who has also recovered from COVID-19, are often sent out to the airport to spare other drivers at the company who are more at risk. “Many drivers are seniors, maybe have underlying illnesses and are reluctant to go on these trips, so we are used for them,” Stefán told RÚV reporters.

Government Considers Subsidising Bus Transport

Until late January, arriving travellers were also permitted to take airport buses to their quarantine location. Buses were operated according to strict infection prevention regulations, much like taxis. The privately-operated bus service was however discontinued last month as the drastically reduced flight schedule made the service unsustainable.

The Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department has since sent the government a formal request asking for bus operations to be subsidised. “We see that the cost of taking a taxi on the one hand and a bus on the other is significant,” stated Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, the Department’s Director. “Of course, we must also try to ensure equality in this, how much the government should be subsidising people’s travel and such. It is not necessarily easy to intercede in this but this is something that we want to be examined in a formal way and a conclusion be made.” The government is considering the request.