COVID-19 in Iceland: Icelandic Authorities Take New Approach to Pandemic

Þórólfur Guðnason Chief Epidemiologist

Quarantine and testing regulation changes that took effect at midnight and upcoming steps to relax restrictions despite record numbers of infections mark a change in direction in the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated during a COVID-19 information briefing this morning. The panel also included Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson and Director of Health Alma Möller.

According to the panel, the reason for the change in tactics is the change in the pandemic’s behaviour. With the introduction of the omicron variant, as well as 78% of the nation being fully vaccinated and over 50% having had their booster shot, the National Hospital’s data indicates that the risk of serious illness is much less than it was.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Jan. 25:
Domestic cases: 1,539 (52% in quarantine)
Border cases: 58
Total active cases: 11,744 ⬆️
Hospitalised: 38 (3 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 4,883 ⬆️
Fully vaccinated: 78%
Boosted: 50.7%

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 information briefing, beginning shortly at 11:03 AM UTC. On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and Director of Health Alma Möller.

New regulations on COVID-19 quarantine took effect in Iceland today, aiming to reduce strain on testing centres, schools, and workplaces.

Iceland reported 1,539 new domestic cases yesterday, a slight drop from the previous day, which was 1,558 and a national record.

The briefing has begun. Víðir starts by noting that tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of the first phase of uncertainty declared in response to COVID in Iceland. He discusses the changes to quarantine regulations that took effect at midnight, stating that it’s normal that it takes a few days to get used to what those rules entail. He sends his regards to schools and teachers, stating they are sure to face challenges ahead.

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the numbers. Infection numbers have been rising, especially over the past few days. The National Hospital’s review of COVID hospitalisations has shown that Omicron leads to fewer cases of serious illness and booster shots also provide significant protection against contracting the variant. There are still several COVID-19 hospitalisations per day, but few admissions to ICU. Most of those infected have the Omicron variant. Serious illness caused by COVID is rarer than before, but still, 0.2% of infected people end up in hospital. Increased rates of infection still pose challenges for the healthcare system.

As the risk of serious illness has decreased, the government intends to relax restrictions. The first step is the changes to testing and quarantine that took effect at midnight. The changes mean that fewer people need to get PCR tests, which is helpful as our testing capacity is limited. People can still get tested if they have symptoms. Special infection prevention precautions will replace quarantine for many people, which is much less restrictive.

Þórólfur still wants to lift restrictions slowly, so as not to experience a backlash. Lifting restrictions can lead to a spike in infections, resulting in increased strain on the hospital, Þórólfur says. Þórólfur: When can we expect the pandemic to end or lessen significantly? With an increased number of infections in society, the end is nigh. Preliminary results of a deCODE genetics and healthcare authorities study indicate that up to 20% of people under 40 have already contracted the virus in Iceland. Þórólfur: About 80% of the nation might need to be infected to reach herd immunity, that might take up to two more months. But brighter times are ahead. Þórólfur: Let’s lift restrictions slowly but surely and not let our excitement ruin the success we’ve had so far.

Director of Health Alma Möller takes over to discuss the situation in the healthcare system. The situation at the National Hospital is getting better, thanks to fewer cases of serious illness and the diligent work of the COVID-19 outpatient ward. Surgeries are still on hold and operating theatres are working at 80% capacity. There is much less strain on healthcare clinics now thanks to the new quarantine and testing regulations. The number of hospital staff members in isolation has risen recently, which is one of the biggest challenges faced by the healthcare system. Staffing is a challenge for nursing homes and welfare services due to infections and quarantining among staff. Administrative staff are however ready to take over in necessary positions, and have done so as has been reported in the news. Alma thanks healthcare and welfare services staff for their good work. Alma emphasises the importance of being careful despite the fact that Omicron is milder. People can still get very sick.

The panel opens for questions. “Is this decision to relax quarantine regulations a change of direction? You’ve previously emphasised the importance of testing and tracing.”

Þórólfur says yes, this constitutes a change of direction, as the nature of the pandemic has changed. Quarantine and testing has placed strain on schools and workplaces and we are now taking a new approach. “Þórólfur, are you giving authorities different options as to how to proceed with regulations, as you have in the past? How do you foresee the lifting of restrictions to proceed?”

Þórólfur says the workflow has been the same as before. He gives suggestions and the government makes the final decision. Þórólfur is asked about PCR tests versus other types of tests that are used more commonly abroad. Þórólfur says he is not familiar enough with methods abroad to comment.

“What happens if we get another dangerous variant? Will we place more emphasis on border control?” Þórólfur says we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it, but there will be many factors to take into account, as always. We have experience of both domestic and border restrictions and we know what works and how.

“Will these new quarantine regulations lead to a drastic spike in cases and how will you respond to that?” Þórólfur says case numbers will likely rise but it is hard to say how much. Authorities will have to continue to monitor the situation and will have to be ready to respond if hospitalisations rise.

“Why do we still have to wear masks even when we’re triple vaccinated? Is that not proof that COVID vaccination is not effective?” While most vaccines stop the transmission of illness as well as serious illness, the COVID-19 vaccine protects against serious illness but doesn’t prevent the spread of the disease as much as we would have liked, Þórólfur answers.

Asked about the side effects of vaccination, Alma says all vaccinations have some side effects, but the side effects of COVID-19 vaccines are much rarer than side effects due to COVID-19 infection. Asked whether Icelandic authorities are vaccinating children to fulfil contract requirements with pharmaceutical companies, Alma says the answer is of course that no: we’re vaccinating them to protect children against serious illness and the risk of long-term effects of COVID.

Víðir takes over to address criticism that journalists can only ask one question at the briefings. He says briefings are scheduled for half an hour but all members of the COVID response team are available for interviews and questions at all times.

Víðir mentions that changes to quarantine regulations will take a few days to settle in but encourages everyone to go over the new regulations, particularly what “special infection precaution” entails.  Víðir closes the meeting by reminding the public that Icelandic winters are long and we will likely experience a few bouts of stormy weather before spring, preaching patience and tolerance as we weather the storm that is the pandemic. The briefing has ended.

COVID-19 Information Briefing: Vaccinations And Natural Infections Might Allow For Relaxing Restrictions

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM on the COVID-19 situation in Iceland following the recent surge in infections. On the panel were familiar faces: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson. During the briefing, the team revealed that despite the rise in infections, there hadn’t been a corresponding rise in hospitalisations, inspiring hope that widespread vaccinations paired with a wave of natural infections might boost immunity enough to relax restrictions soon.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Dec. 28:
New cases: 825 (298 in quarantine)
Total active cases: 5,534 ⬆️
Hospitalised: 21 (6 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 1,526.6 ⬆️
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots administered: 157,925 (42.7%)

The information briefing went as follows:

Víðir starts the briefing by sending his regards to the 13,000 people in isolation and quarantine. There’s a strain on testing and contact tracing teams, but they’re still holding on, breaking records every day over how many they can get to in a day. Digital solutions are proving successful and helping the team in their efforts. Víðir asks people to keep up their personal infection prevention, work from home, and avoid large gatherings, noting that the national church is setting a good example by cancelling their New Year’s ceremonies.

Testing capacity tested

Þórólfur takes over. He goes over the exponential increase in omicron infections. The growth results from increased omicron cases, but the delta cases tested every day remain steady at around 100 per day. Even though there were slightly fewer cases today than yesterday, it remains to be seen if we’ve reached a peak. The next few days’ numbers will tell. Very many tests were performed yesterday, more than 8000. Just under 7000 tests were processed yesterday, as the number of tests was well over the processing capacity. Some more positive cases might remain from yesterday. Þórólfur asks people for patience in waiting for their test results.

Vaccinations plus natural infections might allow for eased restrictions

Þórólfur states that most hospitalised people have the delta variant, but two have the omicron variant. Despite the surge in cases, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in hospitalisations, so hopefully, that means that omicron causes a milder illness. Þórólfur warns that it’s still too early to tell. The reason that serious illness is rarer than in other variants might be something to do with the nature of the virus or that widespread vaccinations are preventing more serious illness. Whatever the reason, widespread vaccinations paired with natural infections might boost the nation’s immunity enough for us to relax restrictions and slowly return to a more normal way of life. This should serve as an encouragement for everyone to get their booster shot as soon as they’re eligible.

Quarantine and isolation periods not excessive

Þórólfur mentions the new regulations in America regarding asymptomatic people, stating that their main objective seems to be to get people back to work as quickly as possible, raising questions about their infection prevention value. Þórólfur believes it prudent to wait and see but mentions that Iceland doesn’t have as strict rules as some other Nordic countries and has a shorter quarantine and isolation period than recommended by the ECDC. He believes it is not a good idea to cease contact tracing and quarantining, despite the strain on resources caused by the rise in infections.

He wishes everyone a happy new year.

Healthcare staff also experiencing quarantines and isolation

Director of Health Alma Möller takes over. In the weekly surveillance by the Directorate of Health, the situation at the National Hospital is becoming tougher. Healthcare staff catch the virus, get quarantined or isolated just like everyone else and it becomes harder to keep all departments staffed. While hospitalisations due to the virus haven’t increased in line with the number of infections, a group infection at the cardiac ward has led to an increase in hospitalised people with the virus. Even though people were originally hospitalised for other things, taking care of covid infected people requires protective gear and other safety precautions and increases workload for staff. Yesterday, four people were hospitalised and another four were discharged.

Hospital in a state of emergency

The hospital is now at its emergency phase, and management is working closely with the ministry of health and other institutions in the healthcare system. 21 people are hospitalised with covid-19, 18, with an active infection and three battling covid aftereffects. Alma states that the wave of infections might still result in increased hospitalisation, but they don’t know at the moment if those forecasts will materialise. Just under 6000 people are in the care of the hospital’s remote covid department, but increased automation and digital solution has helped to relieve stress. Most have little or no symptoms, 231 patients are colour coded as yellow, indicating an increased likelihood of hospitalisation and two are coded as red.

The National Hospital’s Immunology department which handles COVID test processing is under a great deal of strain and healthcare institutions in other pars of the country are also facing increased strain. Healthcare clinics and the after-hours clinic ask people with symptoms to get PCR tested before arriving, if their illness can handle the wait. All sick people will still be seen and treated and everyone requiring medical attention is urged to get the help they need. The After-Hours Clinic asks people to see if they can get their needs met at their local healthcare clinic during office hours, as their after-hours services are intended for cases that can’t wait. The government’s tracing app was updated recently but Alma reminds app needs to be opened and activated for it to work.

Alma wishes everyone a happy new year and reminds the to mind their personal infection prevention, and to get vaccinated and boosted.

Questions from the press

The panel is now open for questions from the press. Þórólfur is asked about what properties of the pandemic they’re looking for when assessing the state of the pandemic. The severity of illness and the strain on the healthcare system.

Mental health

Alma is asked about the mental health effects of the pandemic. According to the Directorate of Health’s data, it affects younger people more, with many experiencing anxiety. They don’t know how much of it is caused by the government’s restrictions or the pandemic, although research shows that people directly affected by the pandemic were hit harder.

Can viral sequencing shorten quarantine periods?

Þórólfur is asked if isolation or quarantine periods can be affected by which variant causes the illness. Þórólfur states that it’s a possibility but not very practical since viral sequencing results aren’t available immediately. He also states that it likely won’t be necessary if the omicron variant completely takes over. There’s always a possibility that a new variant will appear.

Alma adds that people are asking which variant they have, but they’re working on making that information available to patients.

Hospital capacity based on staff

Alma is asked about the capacity of the healthcare system, replying that the most worrisome threat is healthcare staff being affected. There are plenty of ventilators, 56 but they wouldn’t have the staff necessary to take care of 56 patients on ventilators. The hospital should be able to accept at least 30 COVID patients.

Hotel guests moved to make way for quarantines

With the surge in infections, quarantine hotels are filling up, and healthcare authorities are prioritising people for a spot based on need. If there’s no possibility of isolating in the home or there’s a person in the household with underlying conditions, people have a right to a quarantine hotel. But there’s a waiting list of 100 people. A hotelier moved guests from their hotel to accommodate the quarantine hotels, and the situation is improving, with more rooms in hotels becoming available after the new year when the tourists leave.

Early boosters don’t make sense

Þórólfur states that the current recommendation is that boosters are administered 5 months after the second dose. The best coverage happens when booster shots are administered 5-6 months after their second injection and giving it earlier might have slightly worse results. Statistically, fewer people with booster shots become seriously ill.

Asymptomatic people still infect others

Asymptomatic people might still have a great amount of the virus in them. Even if asymptomatic people might have a slightly less ability to infect others, they still pose a greater danger since they move more freely than people experiencing flulike symptoms.

Suicide rates high but not significantly so

Alma is asked about suicide rates. While suicide numbers for 2021 were high, they weren’t historically high. The small size of the population means that numbers fluctuate greatly between years. The numbers for 2021 won’t be final for a few months. There is an action plan in place regarding mental health efforts and funding was increased.

Children’s boosters not scheduled yet

Þórólfur states that booster shots for children are not yet on the horizon but that at least for the delta variant, children’s vaccionations prove much more effective than in adults. Hopefully, it will be the same for omicron. Þórólfur is asked about booster shots for teachers and if schools reopening after Christmas vacations should be postponed. No such decision has been made.

Publishing data on symptoms of people in isolation is not viable as the situation is liable to change over the course of a day.

Herd immunity on the horizon?

Þórólfur is asked about the possibility to let the pandemic rip and achieve herd immunity that way. He replies that widespread vaccinations paired with natural infections might lead to herd immunity. The problem is that there are people more sensitive to the illness and some unvaccinated people. He urges caution for the time being rather than having to regret something later.

Víðir closes the briefing by reminding people of what we’re trying to achieve. The goals are the same as they have always been, tempering the pandemic, gathering more information, protecting the healthcare system and sensitive groups with the hope to get back to normal soon.

Víðir thanks people for the unity and solidarity and wishes everyone a happy new year

COVID-19 Information Briefing: Omicron Becoming Dominant

Þórólfur Guðnason Chief Epidemiologist

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 11 AM, the first one since November. The meeting was called in response to rising case numbers, as Iceland reported a record of 494 COVID-19 cases yesterday. On the panel were familiar faces: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Dec. 22:
New cases: 494 (150 in quarantine)
Total active cases: 2,622 ⬆️
Hospitalised: 10 (3 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 735.5 ⬆️
Fully vaccinated: 77% of population
Booster shots administered: 154,002 (41.6%)

The information briefing went as follows:

Víðir Reynisson starts the meeting by going over the numbers. He states that they continue to keep an eye on the healthcare system and the plan is still to flatten the curve to minimise the risk of the healthcare becoming overwhelmed. 

A record number of infections

A record number of infections yesterday means that the infection tracing team can’t keep up and not every newly infected person will get a call from the team, despite added help from red cross volunteers. All newly infected people are asked to contact the people they might have come into contact with 24 hours before experiencing symptoms at a closer distance than 2 metres for more than 15 minutes or repeatedly over the day such as at a workplace breakroom. 

Omicron becoming dominant

Þórólfur takes over. He recollects that people hoped that two shots of the vaccine would keep the virus at bay but that hope was dashed. Similarly, booster shots provide good coverage for delta but the omicron variant can still overcome the vaccine’s protection. Omicron is fast becoming the dominant variant in Iceland. 

 Þórólfur goes over what is known about the omicron, a more infectious virus and a shorter time between infection and illness. That period is 2-3 days for Omicron but was 5-6 for delta.  The illness is different however and there are some indications that serious illness occurs less frequently, although data still varies. 

A milder illness from omicron would be good news but a high number of infections means that the healthcare system can still be overwhelmed. Two infections provide some protection from infection but that seems to wane after five months. A booster shot provides better protection but there is still not enough known about protection against serious illness. 

Hospitalisation rate in next few days uncertain

We don’t know how many people will be infected over the next days and weeks or how many will have to be hospitalized. As of yet, we haven’t seen an increase in hospitalisations but the next few days will tell us more. Hopefully, widespread vaccination coverage will help us in the fight against this new wave. Þórólfur also reiterates the importance of personal protective measures, such as handwashing, avoiding crowds, vaccinations and booster shots, and wearing masks when required. He’s hopeful that restrictions and vaccination campaigns will prove successful and that they can ease restrictions soon. 

Omicron may be milder

Alma takes over, lamenting that they’re standing at the podium once more and that the virus is again interrupting Christmas celebrations. Alma goes over data from Denmark, which seems to indicate that omicron is a milder variant but notes that as of yet, most infections are in younger people. Hospitalisations are around 0.8% but are increasing. 

Improvements at National Hospital but situation still serious

Alma goes over the state of the hospital, which has been under a lot of strain for a long time, especially the ICU and emergency room. According to Alma, authorities have fought to increase hospital beds by 120, nursing home beds increased by 140, improving home nursing services and opening high-care beds for patients that are too sick for general wards but do not intensive care. Despite these efforts to relieve strain on the hospital, the situation is still difficult. Management is wary of what the omicron wave will bring and healthcare institutes have had meetings over the past few days preparing to adapt to the situations and make things work. Emergency plans for patient receptions have been updated and the COVID department’s operations are being updated. Remote covid care will be automated with questionnaires in the online healthcare service instead of personal phone calls to all covid patients but patients will still be able to call in and receive answers. 

Individual protective measures vital

Alma, much like Þórólfur and Víðir, stresses the importance of individual’s infection prevention behaviour, washing and sanitising hands and wearing a mask properly, so that it covers the mouth and the nose. She urges the importance of unity and compassion in fighting the pandemic. 

No single event for infections

The panel is now open for questions. 

Þórólfur is asked about the nature of the infections. He answers that a full analysis is not yet available but that it’s mostly young people and recently, young adults. The ratio of vaccinated individuals with infections remains similar, although the rate of people with two shots is going slightly up. Infections aren’t limited to a single event but people are out and about and infections could have happened anywhere. 

Exemptions not what he recommended

Þórólfur is asked about the temporary exemptions from the new infection prevention regulations. Þórolfur answers that they weren’t a part of his recommendations for a reason, this could be dangerous but it’s not him that sets the regulations, it’s the minister, who has to take more factors into account. 

Staffing is hospital Achilles heel

Alma is asked about the situation at the hospital, have surgeries been postponed and how is the staff doing? Alma states that when infections are widespread, the hospital staff is liable to go into quarantine just like any others and it’s clear that staffing is the hospital’s Achilles heel. Hile some surgeries have been postponed, they haven’t been cancelled completely like in Denmark. That is one option they have if the situation turns dire. 

Vaccines provide some protection

Þórólfur is asked about vaccine efficacy against omicron, replying it’s less than he would have liked but people with booster shots are still less likely to be infected, especially when compared to unvaccinated people. Þórólfur reminds reporters that this is something that they have mentioned several times, that a new variant could cause this situation. 

PCR tests more reliable than rapid tests

Þórólfur is asked about the difference between rapid tests and PCR tests. He states that he doesn’t have enough data on people with negative rapid test results receiving positive cr results but that there is considerable data on people with positive antigen results showing negative PCR results. This is why everyone with symptoms has to take a PCR test and that they’re not relying on antigen tests. 

Pandemic fatigue caused by pandemic, not restrictions

Þórólfur is asked about pandemic fatigue, are they seeing people coming to the hospital for other reasons? Þórólfur replies that the pandemic is affecting people and that people are tired but it’s also because of the disease, not just the government’s reactions. We’re all tired but we just have to keep going. 

Alma states that the healthcare system is aware of this possibility and looked into it, especially during the first part of the pandemic and that research showed that there were some mental effects of the pandemic but they mostly affected people who had experienced the disease, indicating that the pandemic has worse effects on people’s mental health than restrictions to prevent infections. 

As for healthcare staff, Alma mentions that data from other countries shows that in hospital departments hit hard by the pandemic, up to 20% of staff have quit. This would be great damage to our small healthcare system so it’s vital that we latten the curve and protect healthcare staff as much as possible. 

a healthy lifestyle boost immune system

Alma mentions that a healthy lifestyle helps the immune system, sleep enough, eat well and for Icelanders, take vitamin D supplements. The red cross and others provide mental health phone lines if needed. 

Is social unity gone?

V’iðir is asked about societal unity, is it gone? Víðir says no, it’s not gone but people are becoming very tired and trying to find new ways to deal with the situation. Alma agrees, she sees no sign of unity waning, people are incredibly ready to follow the rules and wear masks. The University’s social studies department has polled trust and they’ve found that people are still ready to trust healthcare authorities. 

Tests available and encouraged over holidays

Þórólfur is asked if holidays would mean that people are less likely to get tested. He says he’s not too worried but that fewer people might get tested resulting in lower infection numbers. He encourages everyone experiencing symptoms to go get tested. 

Mixing generations might cause problems

Alma agrees and adds that as many young people are getting infected these days, in Denmark, they’re worried about generations mixing over the holidays, and the young people infecting their older loved ones, adding to the urgency of getting tested if experiencing any symptoms.  

Get vaccinated

Þórólur states that we’re not as well off against the omicron variant as we thought we were against the delta but still states that all in all, we’re doing pretty well. This should not discourage us from getting vaccinated but encourage us and hopefully, the booster shot will mean that fewer people will have to be hospitalised. 

Not over until it’s over

Þórólfur is asked about new medications against the virus and the hope that a milder omicron variant marks the beginning of the end of the pandemic, replying that we need to get more information and more experience before we can rely on the medications. “We’re always hoping for the next thing that will finish the pandemic off for good but we have to continue to be prepared for the possibility that new variants will cause even more problems.” 

The virus is a disappointment

When asked if it’s a disappointment to have such harsh restrictions two years into the pandemic, Þórólfur replies yes, of course, but we have to look at the situation as a whole and adapt to the situation, rather than closing our eyes and ears to reality. Alma states that the virus itself is a continuous disappointment and how clever it is at breaching our defences.

V’iðir likens the virus to a natural disaster, we can’t be annoyed at a volcanic eruption, it just happens and we have to deal with it. 

Children’s vaccinations go ahead in January

Vaccinations for children are scheduled for the second week of January. For children aged 12-15, two shots of vaccinations seem to be working a lot better than for adults. Comparing vaccine efficacy doesn’t show much of a difference as of yet. Asked about vaccine supplies, Þórólfur stated that the situation is pretty good, and we will receive shipments of the Pfizer children’s vaccine soon. 

Þórólfur is asked about the legal status of isolation and quarantines and both Víðir and Þórólfur state that there is legal authority to quarantine and isolate people. People have taken this to court with rulings in healthcare authorities favour.

Víðir ends the briefing by reminding people of the authorities goals, tempering infections to keep the strain on the healthcare system at bay and finding ways to live in as open a society as possible while minimizing the risk of infection.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Tightened Restrictions And Booster Shots For All Over 16

COVID-19 Iceland

Icelandic authorities’ gave a COVID-19 information briefing at 3:00 PM, the first one in nearly three months. The meeting was called in response to rising case numbers that are putting strain on the healthcare system. Iceland reported 167 COVID-19 cases yesterday. Health authorities have stated their goal of curbing daily case numbers to 40-50 per day so as not to overwhelm Iceland’s healthcare system. Authorities have also announced that about 160,000 people will be called in for booster shots before the end of the year. People who are eligible to be vaccinated but haven’t yet been vaccinated are encouraged to do so. On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Iceland’s authorities were set to lift all domestic restrictions on November 18. In a cabinet meeting today, the government decided to tighten restrictions instead, in an effort to curb the ongoing wave of infection. As of midnight, mask use will once again be mandatory in Iceland in shops, on public transportation, and in services where it is not possible to maintain a one-metre distance. Other tightened domestic measures go into effect next week.

Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers Nov. 4:
Domestic cases: 167 (45 in quarantine)
Border cases: 12
Total active cases: 1,096
Hospitalised: 16 (5 in ICU)
14-day incidence rate per 100,000: 345.0
The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by saying that alarm bells are ringing. The rising case numbers have an impact on many people’s daily lives as well as the healthcare system.

“We’ve fought this battle for 22 months and we know what we have to do. By showing solidarity, we’ve tackled this before. There is no other option than to accept the situation before us. The healthcare system is simply reaching the point of not being able to handle the number of people who need hospitalisation. So there is no other option but to tighten restrictions,” Víðir says.

This is the reality many countries are facing, not just Iceland, Víðir adds. Víðir: For the many who don’t want restrictions but want to depend on individual responsibility, I remind them that we also have a social responsibility to others.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason takes over. He states that the current wave of the pandemic is the largest we’ve seen yet. Infections are spread over the whole country but the majority are in Reykjavík. Group infections have started from choir rehearsals and karaoke parties. In these situations, ventilation is often not sufficiently good.

The situation at the National Hospital in Reykjavík and the Akureyri Hospital is difficult. If infection numbers continue to rise, we might be heading into an emergency situation. This is the same situation that’s occurring all over Europe, Þórólfur specifically mentions Romania, where the ICU is full.

Þórólfur wants to avoid such a situation and states that the most important thing is individual behaviour. Stay away from crowded places where infection prevention is insufficient. Event organisers should reconsider large events, Þórólfur says. We can take preventative measures even if some activities are not outright banned by the regulations.

Everyone over the age of 16 will be offered a booster shot. Scientific research from abroad shows that booster shots are effective in preventing infection and serious illness and side effects of vaccination are rare. People will be called in for booster shots once at least five months have passed from their second shot. People who experienced side effects when receiving their first two injections and people with autoimmune disorders are asked to consult with their doctors on whether they should accept a booster shot.

This booster shot program and personal infection prevention is what Þórólfur hopes will bring us out of this next surge of the pandemic.

“To those who have been questioning the severity of the pandemic, I ask you to join us in fighting the disease and keeping the pandemic at bay,” Þórólfur says.

Þórólfur encourages everyone who has been invited for vaccination but has not accepted, to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Around 11% of those who have been invited for vaccination in Iceland have not accepted the invitation.

At this point in the briefing, the broadcast was interrupted due to technical issues and was cut short. A recording will be released later today and this article will be updated.

Read more on the status of COVID-19 in Iceland

COVID-19 in Iceland: Restrictions Imposed to Combat Delta Variant Uncertainty

Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir infectious disease specialist

While there is data showing vaccinations prevent serious illness due to COVID-19, there is uncertainty regarding how the rapidly spreading Delta variant will affect Iceland’s majority-vaccinated population, Director of Health Alma Möller stated in a briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Authorities reimposed domestic restrictions in the country last weekend in response to rising infection rates. According to Alma, the goal of the restrictions is to protect the healthcare system as well as vulnerable groups.

Iceland reported 96 new domestic cases yesterday and the number may rise yet, as samples from the day are still being processed. Total active cases thus number at least 709, up from 60 just under two weeks ago.

Pregnant women in the Reykjavík capital area will be invited for vaccination at Suðurlandsbraut 34 this Thursday. Authorities encourages residents of Iceland returning from abroad to register for testing on heilsuvera.is, whether or not it was officially required in their case.

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

 

On the panel: Kamilla S. Jósefsdóttir Deputy Chief Epidemiologist, Director of Health Alma Möller and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s numbers are up on covid.is. Iceland reported 82 new domestic cases (23 in quarantine) and 4 border cases. Total active cases: 695. Two are in hospital. 68.58% of the population is fully vaccinated. Pregnant women have been encouraged to get vaccinated due to rising case numbers. They will receive an invitation for the Pfizer vaccine in Reykjavík at Suðurlandsbraut 34 this Thursday, Vísir reports.

The briefing has begun. Víðir begins by reviewing the border regulations that are currently in force. He encourages all residents of Iceland and those who have a social network within Iceland to get tested upon arrival to the country though it is not an official requirement.

Kamilla takes over to review the numbers. There were 96 new domestic cases yesterday, a higher number than previously reported as some cases were added later. Kamilla reviews that quarantine regulations have been updated. The same regulations will apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated people in terms of the length of their quarantine. There are few cases with serious symptoms, which shows that vaccines are working in preventing serious illness among those infected with COVID-19, Kamilla says. Kamilla adds that pregnant women in the Reykjavík capital area will be invited for vaccination this Thursday.

Alma takes over. She discusses the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, spreading now in Iceland. It binds better to cells and multiplies faster. It is also believed to cause more serious illness and even more fatalities than other variants of the virus. She says that vaccinations are however very effective in preventing serious illness, including from the Delta variant [among those unvaccinated]. There is also published research on the effectiveness of Moderna vaccines against the variant.

We imposed domestic restrictions due to the uncertainty, Alma says. We do not know how many serious illnesses the Delta variant will cause in a majority-vaccinated country like Iceland. We are monitoring other countries that are at a similar place regarding vaccinations, especially the UK and Israel.

The reserve force in the healthcare system has been activated now for the third time and Alma encourages people with healthcare credentials who are not currently working in the healthcare system to register. There is also a reserve force for welfare services and a need for other types of workers in the healthcare system, such as in kitchens and to assist with testing. Alma concludes by saying there’s nothing else for us to do but continue onward, continue to gather information, particularly on the Delta variant, and do our best to protect those at risk and the healthcare system.

The panel opens for questions. “Is it necessary to tighten restrictions once more considering the numbers of cases being diagnosed?” It’s too early to say at this point, Kamilla responds. If more patients are hospitalised, then we will of course have to reconsider measures, says Alma.

“Europe will soon release a new COVID-19 map, what colour will Iceland be?” Víðir says according to the data it will be labelled orange.

Alma says that of course it is disappointing to be in the situation once more where we must impose restrictions but there is data from abroad showing that vaccinations are minimising the rate of hospitalisation, which is positive.

“Is it the Janssen vaccine that is not proving as effective as others?” It’s not fair to judge according to this current wave, says Alma, as in this wave it is mostly young people that are contracting COVID-19 and they are more active in society. More young people happened to receive Janssen so it is not accurate to assume that it is less effective than other vaccines administered in Iceland.

Alma says the short-term goal of restrictions is to curb infections and buy time but there is uncertainty regarding the effects of the Delta variant regarding how much serious illness it will cause, especially among vaccinated people.

“Is it not disappointing that our restrictions-free summer has been cut short?” Víðir says all crises are characterised by uncertainty and unpredictability. Hopefully we will have more good times as many people did over the past few weeks.

“What’s the status of research on vaccinations for children? Is vaccination safer than infection with COVID-19 for children?” Kamilla says that depends on the situation in each country. We have been lucky in that there have been low infection rates so we haven’t been vaccinating all children even though the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for older children. There are certain side effects of course so we must proceed carefully, but considering that we are in a wave right now, it will likely happen that we will recommend vaccinations for children 12-15 at some point in the future.

As for younger children, the chances of serious illness from COVID-19 is low and there is not data on the effects of vaccination for that group as of yet. Much of preschool staff received the Janssen vaccine, and plans are in place to offer them a booster shot. We hope the timeline will be such that they will have additional protection when the fall season begins.

“There are four people in Iceland being monitored because they appear to have been infected a second time with COVID-19. Are they exceptions and have they been vaccinated?” Kamilla says that none of the four had been vaccinated. It has been a relatively long time since they were infected the first time. We know from cases abroad that there have been reinfections of COVID-19. Such reinfections are more common among people who have immune disorders, Kamilla says. Alma adds that reinfection is however generally rare.

“In the US and UK, they have 7-10 day isolation for people who are infected with COVID and we have 14 days. Are you considering shortening this period or offering testing to people to minimise the time they have to spend in isolation?” Kamilla: Testing doesn’t help in that context because people can test positive for a long time after infection. Regarding shortening the isolation period, we have done that before but we reversed that decision when the Alpha variant took over as symptoms lasted longer.

Víðir takes over to close the briefing. We still have the same goals: protecting vulnerable groups and the healthcare system. We will do everything we can to limit infections crossing the border and curb infections within the community so we can minimise restrictions. Keep washing your hands, use hand sanitiser, compartmentalise workspaces, social distance. Residents returning to the country from abroad can register for testing on heilsuvera.is. Víðir encourages them to do so even if testing is not officially required in their case. The briefing has ended.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Group Infection Linked to H&M

H&M miðborg downtown Reykjavík

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist encouraged customers who had visited H&M’s downtown Reykjavík location in recent days to proceed carefully and monitor their symptoms in a briefing this morning. A group outbreak has emerged involving at least two employees at the clothing store, but as the shop followed infection prevention regulations well, it is unlikely any customers were infected. The store’s customers do not have to go into quarantine as a result of the outbreak.

Over 20% of Iceland’s population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 while over 42% have received at least one dose. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason underlined that while these numbers are good, they are not enough to prevent large group outbreaks. Þórólfur stated the outbreak was a reminder that the nation must proceed slowly when it comes to relaxing restrictions. The current restrictions, which cap gatherings and 50 people and mandate 2-metre social distancing, expire on May 27.

Pressure on Border Control

The number of cases at Iceland’s borders has been decreasing in recent weeks, which Þórólfur attributes to the government’s current border measures. The rising number of tourists does present a challenge for officials, who must review vaccination and antibody certificates as well as conduct testing of all arriving travellers. The Ministry of Health has asked biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics to help process PCR tests through June, which will relieve pressure on the National University Hospital, according to Þórólfur.

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson encouraged the public to tread carefully in the next 4-6 weeks, which he referred to as the “final sprint” in the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities stressed the importance of ongoing individual infection prevention as well as groups such as athletic organisations doing their part to prevent infection spread. Icelandic athletes heading to the Olympics will be vaccinated with a special delivery of doses from vaccine manufacturer Pfizer.

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

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers have been updated on covid.is:
Domestic cases: 4 (3 in quarantine)
Border cases: 2
Total active cases: 50 (3 in hospital)
Vaccinated (at least one dose): 156,058 (42.2% of pop)
Fully vaccinated: 76,259 (20.6% of pop)

The briefing has begun. Víðir starts by mentioning quarantine monitoring, a recently-started initiative. He says it has largely been successful partly thanks to a diverse staff with varied language skills.

Þórólfur goes over the numbers, stating that yesterday’s four infections were mostly among people who had very recently gone into quarantine. All cases diagnosed yesterday were connected to a workplace group infection. Widespread testing around the people who tested positive today and yesterday has begun and Þórólfur exects more cases to surface. “It’s clear the virus is still out there and we must continue to expect small group infections to occur,” Þórólfur says.

Infections at the border continue to decline, Þórólfur believes that is due to the government’s border measures. The new domestic cases are of the British variant. While the Indian variant has been detected at the border, authorities have not detected any domestic spread of that variant. Þórolfur mentions that an increase in tourism is expected over the coming weeks, leading to increased pressure on border testing staff.

Þórólfur believes that by mid-June, vaccinations will be widespread enough for further relaxations of border measures if nothing unexpected comes up. In June, we will have data and experience from current restrictions allowing us to make informed decisions on changes to border regulations. The Ministry of Health has asked deCODE genetics to help process PCR tests throughout June which will lighten the load for the National Hospital. Þórólfur thanks the company for their help. (deCODE will be helping with processing border tests.)

Þórólfur mentions research into serious side effects of vaccinations in Iceland, which will be performed by independent parties. The Icelandic Medicines Agency has received around 20 reports of deaths and 20 reports of blood clot issues in Iceland following COVID-19 vaccination. Most are among elderly people with underlying illnesses and therefore unclear whether there is a link to the vaccination. There has been no general increase in blood clots within the population since vaccination began in Iceland. That’s a good thing, says Þórólfur, though the reports will be investigated further.

We can realistically be hopeful for brighter times ahead by mid-June, says Þórólfur. We should be in a good situation by then and be able to relax restrictions. While vaccination is progressing well, we’re seeing younger people test positive and be hospitalised, so widespread group infections could still have serious effects.

The panel takes questions. Þórólfur is asked about relaxing restrictions, including mask use. He replies that loosening mask requirements is one of the relaxations we can start to implement soon. While requirements will be lifted, Þórólfur believes that there will still be a group of people who want to wear masks. Authorities will continue to lift restrictions despite low numbers of new cases. What’s most important now is individual infection prevention/individual behaviour, says Þórólfur.

There are no indications at the moment that vaccines are ineffective against certain variants. If that becomes the case, it will be necessary to impose restrictions once more. That could prove difficult as people start to travel again.

Þórólfur is asked about the latest group infection. He states that he expects more cases to surface but infection prevention in the workplace (a downtown clothing shop) was adequate and he hopes that will prevent further infections. H&M customers will not need to quarantine but are encouraged to monitor their health and get tested if they have even the mildest of symptoms.

Group infections in small communities such as those that have come up in Þorlákshöfn and Skagafjörður can be contained relatively easily, it’s harder to contain them in the city, Víðir says. There’s always a risk of contact tracing and curbing the virus spread taking longer in Reykjavík than in less populated communities. Víðir is asked about infection prevention in sporting events, stating that he’s unhappy after seeing images of improper mask use and lack of infection preventions at sporting events. As sporting events start up once more, sports clubs will have to rise to the challenge of ensuring proper infection preventions. They need to do better. Þórólfur agrees, adding that the sports industry put great pressure on authorities to lift restrictions on athletic events and now they have to show that they can do so safely.

Þórólfur is asked about priority vaccinations granted to Iceland’s Eurovision Song Contest delegation. He stated that the government was sending a group of people on Iceland’s behalf to a high-risk area where groups from across Europe gather and spend a long period together. Their assessment was that it was risky for the delegation, and the assessment proved correct as two members of the delegation have contracted the disease. It would have been better to vaccinate them sooner as the vaccine had not yet reached full efficacy to prevent infection but hopefully it would help these two individuals stave off serious illness.

As for other groups in similar situations, such as athletes set to compete abroad, Pfizer doses are being imported to Iceland specifically for athletes headed to the Olympics. These doses are an addition to the vaccine allocated to Iceland through contractual agreements. Þórólfur believes he was right in granting the Eurovision delegation vaccinations before their trip but of course, people can and will have differing opinions.

Þórólfur is asked about women under the age of 55 who have already received a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine before its use was restricted to outside their age group. They have the option to accept the second dose of AstraZeneca or receive a dose of another vaccine instead. Þórólfur will not give out specific advice for these women but notes that people with underlying conditions shouldn’t get their second shot of AstraZeneca. If everything went well the first time, it’s highly likely that the second shot poses no threat. If not, they should choose another vaccine. It’s OK to get two doses of different vaccines but there’s an increased possibility of mild side effects such as muscle aches & fever.

Víðir closes the briefing, calling the next 4-6 weeks the “final sprint.” Let’s stick it out, he says. Go get tested if you’re experiencing even the most minor symptoms.
Let’s watch out for each other and have a good day.

COVID-19 In Iceland: “Every Reason To Be Optimistic For the Summer,” States Chief Epidemiologist

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

While fewer people are testing positive for COVID-19 out of quarantine, authorities remind the public that the virus is still out there, during the COVID-19 information briefing today. On the panel were Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, and infectiologist Kamilla Sigríður Jósefsdóttir who discussed vaccinations. A new infection prevention regulation is expected to take effect next week and if the situation continues to be good, Þórólfur expects to start lifting restrictions.

COVID-19 numbers for May 5:
New domestic cases: 2 (both in quarantine)
New border cases: 5
Total active cases: 139 (down from 173 yesterday)
In hospital: 5
Individuals with one or both doses of the vaccine: 124,014 (33.36% of Iceland’s population)

The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

Víðir starts the briefing by thanking the Icelandic community for their effort this winter, as well as police and fire departments who’ve helped during the pandemic. He also commends smaller municipalities that have dealt with group infections in the community.

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the numbers. In the past week, there were 28 positive covid tests domestically, 26 of which were in quarantine. Þórólfur reiterates that despite there’s a good chance we’ve curbed further spread from the group infections, the virus is still out there and we have to continue to be careful. More than 200 people are still in quarantine and we can expect that around 5% of that group will test positive for the virus.

Border cases have gone down recently, perhaps thanks to new border measures. Work on implementing these new border measures is going well. 450 people are currently in the government’s quarantine facilities. Five people are in hospital, of which three have an active infection. None are in ICU.

An increase in travellers is our main challenge in the coming weeks. About 3000 people arrived in the country last week, 600 went to quarantine facilities but 1500 had certificates of vaccination or previous infection. Our current situation is a good one but we haven’t reached herd immunity and we need to continue our work, lifting restrictions lowly and taking care of our personal infection prevention efforts. A new regulation is set to take effect next week and Þórólfur assumes they will continue lifting restrictions.

Kamilla takes over to discuss the vaccination process. Younger people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine before the decision was made to limit it to older age groups, can choose if they want a different vaccine for their second shot or not. Research is currently ongoing if getting a different vaccine for the second shot yields the same results or not. Some people choose to get the same vaccine as there is some concern if vaccination certificates with two different vaccines will be acceptable when crossing borders.

The Jansen vaccine will be used for everyone over the age of 18 as the already rare side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine seem to be even rarer for the Jansen vaccine. Most nations have made the same decision.

People should show up for their vaccination when they are asked to, not when it’s more convenient for them. Not everyone can get their shot after office hours. Information and answers to questions on vaccinations are available with local healthcare clinics, their website is very informative and information on covid.is has also been updated.

The panel is now open for questions from the press. Asked about illness following Jansen vaccinations Kamilla stated that they had not received news of more serious illness than with other vaccines.

When asked about the future regarding increased tourism while the nation is not yet fully vaccinated, Þórólfur stated that at the moment, we were gathering important data, such as if it was safe to stop testing vaccinated individuals at the border. Once we have more data, we can start lifting border measures based on sound evidence.

Þórólfur is asked if optimism for the summer was grounded in reality, he replies that there’s every reason to be optimistic for this summer but we’ll continue to monitor the situation and if anything changes we have to be able to react.

People who have already contracted COVID-19 will also be vaccinated once people who have never contracted the disease are protected. It is by no means dangerous to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if you’ve already contracted the disease, Þórólfur stresses.

When can we go partying again? Þórólfur replies that it’s up to people’s own discretion but that we can’t let happiness and joy cloud our judgement. “we can have fun but we must be careful.”

Kamilla states that no cases of AstraZeneca’s most serious side effects have been documented in Iceland. The decision to not vaccinate women younger than 55 with the AstraZeneca vaccine was made to be as careful as possible for a group most liable to blood clots.

When asked if AstraZeneca vaccination will be accepted for travellers to the US, Þórólfur replies that he can’t answer for US politics but he doesn’t know why the US wouldn’t accept vaccinations that they themselves have taken part in researching.

Víðir ends the briefing by urging people to be careful during the pandemic’s final stretch. “as mountaineers will know, sometimes the way down from the peak can be just as difficult.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Reports of Xenophobic Bullying Following Group Infections

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason and Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson

At an information briefing earlier today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that although the number of cases outside of quarantine is cause for concern, he does not believe that it’s necessary to tighten restrictions unless infection rates change for the worse. Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson disclosed that the police had been notified that both children and adults connected to group infections were receiving extreme bullying and xenophobic remarks and admonished against such behaviour.

COVID-19 numbers for April 28:

New domestic cases: 10 (7 in quarantine)
New border cases: 2
Total active cases: 191 (up from 183 yesterday)
In hospital: 4
Individuals with one or both doses of the vaccine: 98,008 (26.59% of Iceland’s population)

The following is a lightly edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

Víðir starts the meeting by thanking the contact tracing team for their work and the people of Ölfus municipality for their solidarity in curbing the group infection. He also thanks teachers for their work during the pandemic.

On a sadder note, Víðir states that both children and adults affected by group infections are receiving hateful and xenophobic messages, and being bullied for being from a certain country. He discourages this behaviour, stating that when a group infection occurs, it’s because we couldn’t limit the spread of infection and no group should be blamed for the actions of certain individuals. “We’re all responsible and we all need to participate by getting tested when experiencing even the slightest symptoms.” He adds that authorities were doing their best to make sure that everyone knows what to do.

Þórólfur takes over and goes over the latest numbers. While the infections in quarantine can be traced to group infections, the incidents outside quarantine can’t be traced to known group infections with certainty. “We’re still finding cases with no known connection to earlier infections, which is worrying,” Þórólfur states. He adds that random testing found no infections, which indicates that community-spread infection isn’t widespread. Þórólfur encourages everyone to get tested as soon as they experience even the slightest symptoms. Three of yesterday’s ten new infections were people outside quarantines.

While the British variant is rumoured to cause more serious illness than others, Iceland currently has a hospitalisation rate of about 2.5%, which is similar or slightly lower than earlier waves of the pandemic. It is affecting younger people than earlier waves of the pandemic, however. Þórólfur notes that the samples are small and it’s risky to extrapolate too much from this data.

There are currently 421 people in quarantine after possible being exposed to the virus. Around 5 % of people in quarantine test positive, meaning that if authorities were to lose control over infections, the spread of the pandemic would be similar to what happened in previous waves of the pandemic.

The regulations currently in place are in effect until May 6. Þórólfur is working on his suggestions for the regulations that will replace the current ones but is not yet ready to disclose any details. He will likely send his memo to the Minister of Health next weekend. The execution of the latest border measures are going well.

While authorities feared that fewer people would turn op for AstraZeneca vaccinations, the ratio of people turning up for their vaccinations is the same as for other vaccines

The priority group currently being vaccinated is a big one and it will take time to send out vaccination appointments for all of them so Þórólfur encourages people to be patient and wait for to receive a notification.

Vaccine shipment schedules indicate that Iceland will have received at least 360,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of June. That’s not counting doses from AstraZeneca and Janssen who are yet to reveal their distribution schedules for May and June. Þórólfur is asked if infections out of quarantines will require tighter restrictions. Þórólfur says it’s possible, some infected people show little to no symptoms but adds that the current restrictions seem to be curbing the spread. He notes that everyone should continue to practice personal infection prevention, and get tested if experiencing even the slightest symptoms. He will monitor the situation closely but at this moment, he does not consider it necessary to tighten restrictions.

The infections out of quarantine yesterday were in different regions of the country. They’re waiting for the result of viral sequencing to gain more insight into how the virus spread and if the cases are connected to known group infections or not.

Asked about the 80% attendance rate of vaccination appointments, Þórólfur states that they’re happy with the public’s participation, over 70-year olds have a 95% vaccination rate, and no-shows might have different reasons and might show up later. He had feared participation would be lower due to the negative discussion surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine. He himself got vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday and isn’t experiencing any side effects yet. He is hoping they’ll turn up later today, as mild side effects are a sign of the vaccine working.

When asked about the government’s plan for lifting restrictions, Þórólfur states that he’s happy that such a plan exists and that it’s an optimistic one. He notes that such a plan does not affect his work which is to monitor the status of the pandemic and react to the rate of infections at any given time. When asked how likely it is that the government’s schedule will pan out as planned, Þórólfur states: “If everything goes according to plan, I think this can work.”

When asked about what would impede lifting restrictions, he mentioned problems in vaccine distribution, more difficult strains of the virus, or if the pandemic gets more serious domestically.

People with a history of certain blood clots aren’t called in for an AstraZeneca vaccination. People are asked to be patient while waiting for information on vaccinations, everyone will get their turn.

Þórólfur does not have information on how certain vaccinations will affect people’s ability to travel to other countries. When asked about the level of protection offered by the first shot of the vaccine, Þórólfur states that it does offer some protection, perhaps most importantly against a serious illness if an infection occurs. While being infected after one dose of the vaccine might cause a milder illness, it would not make the disease any less contagious, which is what worries Þórólfur when it comes to lifting restrictions once the majority has received one shot of the vaccine.

Víðir takes over and preaches patience, as it’s only two months until plans suggest the majority of Icelanders will be vaccinated. “we’ve been doing this for fourteen months now, two more months is nothing,” he states. The briefing has ended. Full story coming on (icelandreview.com)

COVID-19 in Iceland: Widespread Testing to Determine Scope of Virus Spread

Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller

Iceland’s health authorities will conduct both targeted and randomized SARS-CoV-2 testing in the coming days to help establish how far the virus has spread in the community. The results of the testing will determine whether harsher restrictions are necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19. Iceland reported a spike in cases over the weekend linked to two group infections, which can be traced to individuals breaking traveller quarantine.

Iceland reported 27 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, most connected to a group outbreak at a Reykjavík preschool. Authorities stressed the importance of getting tested immediately when experiencing even the mildest symptoms that could point to COVID-19 and staying home until a negative result is received. Symptoms of COVID-19 can be very mild and can include fever, fatigue, cough, muscle aches, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhoea, and sudden changes to sense of taste or smell.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of today’s COVID-19 briefing.

 

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

Numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 27 new domestic cases yesterday (just 2 out of quarantine) and 2 at the border. Total active cases: 97; 3 in hospital. 29,686 have been fully vaccinated, 8% of the population. Most of yesterday’s cases are connected to a group outbreak at Jörfi preschool in Reykjavík, according to a representative of the Civil Protection Department.

The briefing has begun. Víðir says authorities are tracing the group outbreaks that are ongoing. He encourages the public to not judge everyone based on the actions of a few, although those actions have had consequences.

Þórólfur goes over the numbers. Several people tested positive over the weekend in two group infections, one linked to a preschool in Reykjavík. Both group infections can be traced back to people breaking quarantine and going to work while experiencing flu-like symptoms. Many people were tested yesterday and even more will be tested today but the situation shows that just one infection can set off a wave of new infections if people aren’t vigilant.

Þórólfur: These group outbreaks show the importance of going to get tested when experiencing even the slightest symptoms. Go and get tested if experiencing even the mildest symptoms and stay at home until you receive your results. Both group infections involve the British variant of the virus. At the moment, it’s not clear if we need to tighten restrictions but Þórolfur reminds the public that the infections we’re discovering now occurred before changes were made to border restrictions.

Authorities are conducting broad testing to determine the spread of the virus including randomised testing to see if the virus has spread further into the community. The results of these tests will help determine if tighter restrictions are needed.

Vaccinations continue this week: 10,000-15,000 are scheduled to receive a dose this week. The AstraZeneca vaccine will continue to be used for people over the age of 60.

Þórólfur urges the public to keep up their personal infection prevention practices and get tested as soon as they experience even the slightest symptoms. Alma takes over, calling the development of cases over the weekend “a disappointment. We can’t let this get us down, instead let’s focus on what we need to do and what we need to do better.”

She repeats Þórólfur’s statement about people needing to get tested when experiencing even the slightest symptoms and goes over the list of possible symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms can include fever, cough, muscle aches, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrhoea, and sudden changes to sense of taste or smell. Some people can experience very mild symptoms. Alma reminds people to stay at home after the test until they receive their result. The easiest way to book tests is online at heilsuvera.is but you can also contact your local healthcare clinic or call 1700.

We’re still learning about this British variant, says Alma, and healthcare authorities have a feeling, albeit unconfirmed, that the British variant isn’t detectable as early as the other variants we’ve seen here. This hypothesis is based on the data that shows more people are now testing positive in the second border test than the first one.

Companies should be ready to support people who need to stay out of the workplace due to symptoms. While the majority of people testing positive yesterday were in quarantine, most of them hadn’t been quarantined for long so there’s a possibility that they infected others before going into quarantine.

The panel takes questions. Þórólfur is asked about the need for requiring travellers to quarantine in government-run hotels. Þórólfur states that the quarantine regulation infractions occurred before the increased surveillance of home quarantines began. Þórólfur still believes, however, that requiring people to quarantine in quarantine hotels would have minimised the risk of people breaking quarantine. Capital Area Police are looking into the case of the person who broke quarantine, Víðir does not have information on if they will be charged.

Police are not yet making home visits to people in quarantine but they’re making more calls and there’s a “low threshold” for police reaction if there’s the slightest indication that people are breaking quarantine. There are ongoing legal procedures to verify the legality of home visits to enforce quarantines and the police want to be extra sure there is a legal basis for making home visits.

Teachers will be vaccinated around the start of next month and preschool teachers will likely take precedence as preschools are strategically important for keeping society running. Authorities reacted as soon as they learned of the quarantine breaker but the disease doesn’t reveal itself until a week or two has passed since the infection, making it hard to suppress. At this point, we don’t know how the future with the virus looks. We might have to vaccinate annually but we don’t know at this point.

Asked if the quarantine period between border tests is too short, Þórólfur states that the cases of people testing positive after two negative border tests are so rare that it’s not necessary to start thinking about changing border procedure (for ex. requiring longer quarantine). 70% of those who test positive upon arrival from abroad have presented a negative PCR test certificate before departure.

Víðir ends the meeting by stressing the importance of getting tested if you’re feeling even slightly different from normal. When experiencing the slightest symptoms, such as an upset stomach, dry throat, unusual fatigue, or headache: get tested. Víðir: “Let’s not relax now.” The briefing has ended.

 

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 briefing here.

Customers of “The Icelandic Bar” from April 9 Invited for COVID-19 Testing

Íslenski barinn the Icelandic Bar

All customers of the Icelandic Bar on Ingólfsstræti in Reykjavík on April 9 have been invited to undergo a COVID-19 test. A COVID-positive individual went to the bar on that day. Bar guests do not have to go into quarantine but are asked to keep to themselves until they receive their test results.

Over 20 people tested positive yesterday, a spike compared to case numbers in recent days. Most of the cases are linked to a group outbreak at a Reykjavík preschool. It has yet to be confirmed how many of the cases were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis.

Icelandic health authorities will hold a COVID-19 briefing at 11.03am UTC today, which Iceland Review will live-tweet here.