Flu Epidemic Likely Following Decline in COVID Cases

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason believes that the waning COVID-19 pandemic is slowly being replaced by an influenza epidemic. The health authorities encourage individuals with underlying conditions to receive flu shots.

Brynjar Níelsson gets the flu

Last week, Brynjar Níelsson, Assistant to the Minister of Justice, published an essay on the subject of “pushy people” on his Facebook page.

While the former MP’s meditations were mildly interesting, the disclaimer that accompanied his post was even more noteworthy.

“I am extremely sick with the flu and nearly delirious,” Brynjar wrote (ensuring that any controversial statements could be chalked up to the delirious effects of the flu).

… but Brynjar Níelsson isn’t the only one who’s been suffering.

Up to 3,000 visits daily

In an interview with the radio programme Reykjavík síðdegis on Wednesday, Óskar Reykdalsson – Director of Capital Area Health Clinics – observed that the annual flu appeared to be “circulating among the populace in full force.”

Óskar estimated that up to 3,000 people visit capital-area clinics every day, complaining of common-cold symptoms, fever, and a cough.

Among those who have had reason to complain is singer Heiðar Örn Kristjánsson (who competed with Pollapönk in the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest) whose upcoming gig at Gamli Enski in Hafnarfjörður was cancelled for this very reason.

“Heiðar Örn has the flu and has lost his voice,” Gamli Enski announced on its FB page in early March. “In light of this, DJ Drinkalot will be filling in.”

If only Heiðar Örn had taken preventive action …

Flu shots are sensible

The health authorities in Iceland imported 95,000 doses of flu vaccine last year, and an estimated 68,000 individuals have been vaccinated since last fall. There is still plenty of vaccine available.

“It’s not too late to get vaccinated,” Óskar Reykdalsson stated in his interview with Reykjavík síðdegis, “so long as you haven’t been exposed to the flu.”

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason made the same point in an interview with RÚV this morning, where he encouraged everyone to get their flu shots. “Especially those with underlying conditions.”

“We’ve also been encouraging doctors to treat people with underlying conditions as quickly as possible in the event that they become sick. That undoubtedly helps prevent serious illness.”

Social restrictions to blame

The reason why the influenza epidemic is so forceful this year owes to the social restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years.

According to Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, these restrictions prevented common annual bugs from spreading.

“So we can expect a significant circulation of these bugs now, because the flu hasn’t been spreading for the past two years,” Þórólfur remarked this morning. “This usually means that immune systems are much weaker than they otherwise would be.”

“What’s happening now is what I suggested could happen, that is, that we’re getting an extensive influenza epidemic,” Þórólfur continued. “We don’t know how extensive it will be, or how serious, because it’s just beginning.”

Out-of-Pocket Payments of Patients to be Lowered

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has introduced an ISK 3.5 billion ($28.6 million / €25.8 million) plan to lower the out-of-pocket healthcare payments of patients in Iceland, Vísir reports. The plan is to reduce the payment participation of patients so that payments account for less than 15% of current spending on health. 

Emulating the Nordic Countries

In a press conference yesterday, Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir introduced plans to lower the payment participation of patients in Iceland.

“First of all, because that’s what patients in the Nordic countries pay, and we want to emulate the Nordic system. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has identified that figure as a kind of threshold of pain; when out-of-pocket payments account for more than 15% of spending on health, patients begin to forgo healthcare services for economic reasons,” Svandís stated. 

A higher percentage of patients in Iceland has had to forgo medical service for financial reasons compared to the other Nordic countries, especially in terms of dental healthcare.

In 2016, 8% of Icelanders reported that they could not afford dental care. Among the lowest-income bracket that number was almost 15%. In the other Nordic countries, the figures are closer to 5-10%. 

Increased Subsidies

The Minister of Health plans on increasing dental subsidies to pensioners from 50% to 75%. Pharmaceutical subsidies and subsidies for specified assistive technology will also be increased. Rules regarding travel costs will be loosened.

Facility fees at healthcare centres will also be lowered from ISK 1,200 ($9.80 / €8.90) to ISK 700 ($5.70 / €5.20) as of January 1, 2020. The fees will be completely abolished as of January 1, 2021. 

In an interview with Vísir, Óskar Reykdalsson, CEO of the Healthcare Clinic in the Greater Reykjavík Area, stated that the new legislation would guarantee everyone primary healthcare regardless of income. 

“Those of us who interact with patients know that some of them forgo tests or visits to the clinic due to financial reasons. The abolition of facility fees means that this will no longer be the case,” Óskar stated.

Article updated 18:22