COVID-19 in Iceland: Gyms Higher Risk Than Swimming Pools, Says Chief Epidemiologist

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In a briefing in Reykjavík this morning, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist addressed criticism of the new social restrictions that took effect today. The restrictions allow swimming pools to open and operate at 50% capacity, but mandate gyms to remain closed. Gym owners have expressed consternation at the decision, with some even considering taking legal action against authorities. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that the number of infections in Iceland that have been traced to gyms is sevenfold the number that have been traced to swimming pools.

Authorities also reviewed guidelines for holiday gatherings in the briefing, encouraging locals to limit their socialising to a closed, 1o-person bubble over Christmas and New Year’s.

 

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 4 new domestic cases, and 2 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 183. 32 are in hospital and 3 in intensive care.

The briefing has begun. Rögnvaldur begins by saying that this year has been different for all of us and that we must accept that Christmas and New Year’s will be different as well. Updated regulations that took effect today will be in effect until next year, Rögnvaldur reminds the public. He encourages everyone to stick to their “Christmas baubles” and meet only a small, closed group over the holidays (of 10 people). That number of 10 for Christmas baubles does not include people who have recovered from COVID or children born 2005 or later.

Þórólfur takes over to review the numbers. They have been positive in the past few days: yesterday there were four new cases, three of which were in quarantine. There were fewer tests taken yesterday than usual. Þórólfur encourages those with any symptoms to go get tested. Despite the lower number of tests yesterday, the percentage of positive tests was still low, one tenth of what it was at its highest during this wave. Just two of those currently in hospital due to COVID-19 have an active case of the disease. All three in ICU are on ventilators.

We can say that the pandemic has been subsiding here and I’m happy to see how few are diagnosed out of quarantine, says Þórólfur. However, we know how little it takes for things to take a bad turn so we need to continue to be careful, says the Chief Epidemiologist.

Þórólfur discusses the new restrictions and addresses criticism that swimming pools were reopened but not gyms. Þórólfur notes that according to authorities’ data, the number of cases traced to gyms is sevenfold the number of those traced to swimming pools. Gyms are classified as high-risk for infection spread according to institutions around the world, says Þórólfur, whereas swimming pools are generally not. Furthermore, the chlorine in swimming pools kills the virus.

Concerning adult athletic training and why only professional sports are permitted under the new regulations, Þórólfur answers that this was a response to requests from sports organisations. Only top leagues are permitted to resume practicing and they are being cautious and easing restrictions slowly. If everyone were allowed to practice sports again immediately, that would not be a slow easing of restrictions, says Þórólfur. He reminds the public that harsh restrictions have shown results, and while the countries around us are having to tighten restrictions, we’re in a place where we can relax them.

Director of Health Alma Möller takes over. She goes over healthcare data and statistics recorded throughout the pandemic. Prescriptions of antibiotics have gone down 25% during the pandemic in Iceland. Infection prevention regulations are decreasing other infection spread than just the novel coronavirus.

The Directorate of Health monitors the public’s mental health and women are doing slightly worse than men and younger people are doing worse than older people. Emotional and mental well-being measured higher in September than during the summer. It took a dip again in October and November. The number of people who say their mental health is good has decreased: 31% in September, 27% in October and 23% in November. However, those who say their mental health is poor have also decreased in number: 6% in September, 3% in October and November. More anti-depressants have been prescribed in this wave of the pandemic than the first. We are a resilient community, we might bend but we won’t break, says Alma. I urge everyone to seek the healthcare they need, physical or mental. Covid.is has information for people who are experiencing anxiety and loneliness, Alma reminds the public.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur is asked about two differing figures he stated regarding the number of COVID-19 infections traced to gyms. Þórólfur says one included a group infection in a boxing facility in Kópavogur and the other did not.

Will you ease or tighten restrictions before January 12 if the situation changes? Þórólfur has no plans of altering the regulations at the moment but he’ll continue to monitor the numbers. There is a clause in the current regulation permitting changes before January 12 if necessary.

Asked about the decision to allow professional athletes to resume training but not reopen gyms, Þórólfur says the distinction between professional athletic training and gyms open to the public is that in profession training, there are limited groups that practice but gyms are open to everyone, increasing the likelihood of spreading the virus wider.

When asked about allergic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, Þórólfur says authorities will look into the research and the pharmaceutical company’s directions. Allergic reactions are a known risk of vaccines but severe cases are rare. If they are around 1% that’s serious and could exclude many from getting the vaccine. This will have to be investigated further.

Asked about the timeline for vaccination in Iceland, the Chief Epidemiologist says it depends on how quickly we’ll get the vaccine doses and how many of them we receive to begin with. If we get all the doses we have ordered at once, we could vaccinate very quickly. But if we get them over several months it would take longer. What we do in the meantime (until the majority of the population is vaccinated) will remain to be seen. It depends on how the pandemic develops domestically, says Þórólfur. Current border regulations are in effect until Feb 1 and I can’t say at this moment what I will recommend, there are several different factors that will come into play, says the Chief Epidemiologist. The faster we can vaccinate domestically, the more we can relax, says Þórólfur.

When asked about the possibility of Christmas church services, Þórólfur states that the Health Minister has received requests for in-person services but reminds people that we must ease restrictions slowly. Restrictions are affecting everyone: businesses, shops, gyms, and he is not excited at the prospect of easing restrictions particularly for religious services.

Þórólfur says that his recommendations are based on infection prevention. A doctor always tries to cure his patients with as little treatment as possible in order to prevent harsh side effects. The best way to prevent infection would be if no one went out at all, says Þórólfur, but that would never work and everyone can see that.

When asked why the entire country was still red according to the new COVID risk warning system, despite the low number of infections in some regions, Þórólfur stated that there were several factors that decide the colour. The country was still fully red as the current wave of the pandemic is dying down and we need to remain careful to avoid a relapse. When asked if different gathering limits for funerals (50), restaurants (15) and gatherings at home (10), were too convoluted, Þórólfur answers that behaviour in these situations is different and the numbers aren’t random, rather are based on the likelihood of infection. He adds that the reality is indeed complicated and that this has happened every time that restrictions have been eased: there is unrest over who gets to gather and how. Þórólfur asks the public to look at the big picture instead of picking apart the details.

Rögnvaldur closes the briefing by reminding the public that the pandemic isn’t over, even though there are fewer new cases. “Just look at what’s happening in the countries around us. We don’t want to be where they’re at. This is in our hands: let’s use masks, disinfect, and wash our hands. Let’s do this together.”

 

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ briefings every Monday and Thursday at 11.03am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Current Restrictions Extended Until December 9

Blaðamannafundur Covid-19 Corona Flensa Almannavarnir Ríkislögreglustjóri

Iceland’s Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to extend the current COVID-19 restrictions until December 9. Authorities had suggested the possibility of slightly relaxing restrictions from December 2, but a new uptick in cases in recent days led them to reconsider the plan. The minister’s decision to maintain current restrictions is in line with Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations.

Iceland has reported an uptick in new domestic cases in recent days, following several weeks of declining numbers. Current restrictions, which include a gathering limit of 10 people and closure of bars, swimming pools, and gyms, were originally valid until today, December 1, and set to be replaced with new regulations tomorrow, December 2.

In his recommendations submitted to the Health Minister last week, the Chief Epidemiologist suggested a minimal loosening of restrictions from December 2. He later rescinded those recommendations after case numbers began to rise again.

Read More: Icelanders Advised to Form Christmas Bubble

Þórólfur’s memorandums to the Health Minister always include a clause that his suggestions may change if the situation takes a turn for the worse. He stated that the current rise in numbers was due to small gatherings. “What we’re seeing now is the effect of what happened a week ago, because it takes about a week before the numbers reflect the changes. This is the result of gatherings, not necessarily huge parties. Any gatherings, within families or outside them, are a clear risk factor. This is a time when people get together, especially families. We want to ask people to be very careful and stay away from such gatherings so we won’t be hit hard in the coming weeks.”

Authorities issued specific recommendations for holiday gatherings yesterday.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Indications Infection Numbers are Rising

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Icelandic authorities held a bi-weekly COVID-19 briefing at 11.00am this morning in Reykjavík. Though Iceland reports the lowest infection rate in Europe, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason expressed concern over the number of new infections in recent days, and the proportion out of quarantine. The data indicate the current wave could be on the rise again.

Below is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live tweets of the briefing.

 

On the panel: Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson. Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson, a fixture at authorities’ briefings, has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation. He is currently not experiencing any symptoms.

Numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 11 new domestic cases yesterday, 3 in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Total active case numbers continue to drop and are at 166. 45 are in hospital and 2 in intensive care.

Rögnvaldur begins the briefing. He says while the Advent season is typically one of gatherings for Icelanders, this year will be different. There are nevertheless many ways we can celebrate together. Authorities are preparing guidelines for Christmas festivities and gatherings that will be published soon.

Þórólfur goes over the numbers. In general, the wave we are fighting is waning, but in recent days we have been diagnosing more people outside of quarantine which is a certain cause for concern. 11 people were diagnosed yesterday, only 3 of them in quarantine. All new cases were in the capital area. A similar number of tests were conducted yesterday as in previous days and Þórólfur urges everyone experiencing symptoms to get tested.

Domestic cases have been going down thanks to public solidarity but we’re seeing indications that the trend might be changing, due to the increase of cases out of quarantine. This is also supported by data from the University of Iceland statistics team, says Þórólfur. Many of the infections can be traced to large shopping centres and house parties. Þórólfur urges the public to be careful when gathering in the coming days. We’re seeing more cases at the border and we need to be careful.

Þórólfur has sent his recommendations for updated restrictions from December 2 to the Minister of Health but he is not ready to divulge the details at this point. If the community spread of infection is more than previously anticipated, he may revise these suggestions. Many of the public are calling for restrictions to be lifted, but we can’t lose what we’ve worked so hard to achieve, says Þórólfur. It’s the actions we’ve taken that have given us this success, says Þórólfur, we have to stay vigilant.

Director of Health Alma Möller takes over. The healthcare system is under less strain than in the past few weeks and healthcare centres outside the capital area are mostly doing well. The Directorate of Health monitored the status of healthcare institutions and medical services during the first wave and issued a report. It will do so again for this wave. There has been less disruption to healthcare during his wave, more communication with patients but it has been increasingly electronic. Joint replacement surgeries were postponed less this wave than during the first one but waiting lists have now increased, even though many such operations were done this summer.

The panel opens for questions. Þórólfur and Alma are asked about visits to hospice/palliative care wards. Visitations are heavily restricted. If the pandemic is increasing again, is it time to review these restrictions? Þórólfur says the guidelines are issued by the wards and institutions themselves. Alma adds that they are taking into account the safety of not only patients but also staff and that it’s their prerogative.

Have you thought about long lines outside shops? Yes, we have. All gatherings are a concern. We encourage everyone to be careful wherever they come into contact with others. Restrictions are reviewed regularly.

Þórólfur is pressed to discuss his recommendations for restrictions from December 2. He says it’s a long time until then and if the pandemic’s development is in fact changing, they might change as well. He will not discuss his suggestions in further detail at this point. Þórólfur says he is considerably concerned about the numbers in recent days, especially as infections can be traced to people being less careful, for example at social gatherings.

Businesses and institutions have called for more predictability in measures. The Civil Protection Department discussed setting up a warning system similar to the weather warning system. What is the status on that? Þórólfur expresses his understanding that it’s hard for businesses to plan ahead and he wished it was easier to predict the pandemic. But it is hard to be predictable with preventative measures when the pandemic itself is unpredictable. The colour-coded warning system is in the final stages of development and will be presented to the Minister of Health today and likely to the government tomorrow.

Þórólfur underlines the success of border testing and restrictions, which have managed to prevent around 400 active cases from spreading into the community. Þórólfur says infections are not limited to one demographic or specific groups.

Will the police be on alert tomorrow at shopping centres because of black Friday? There are no particular measures planned, says Rögnvaldur but encourages the public to practice personal preventative measures. Online shopping is a safer option. Þórólfur agrees and expresses concern that people are being herded into large shopping centres. Anything could happen.

Are most positive cases at the border among tourists or Icelanders? Þórólfur says the vast majority of those who have tested positive at the border are local residents. Asked about COVID-19 vaccines, Þórólfur says the Icelandic government has a deal with AstraZeneca, the European Union has negotiated with others and we have an option to negotiate with Pfizer. It looks like Iceland will have enough vaccines for everyone.

Will we be able to lift restrictions once at-risk groups are vaccinated or do we have to wait for the less vulnerable to be vaccinated as well? Þórólfur says it is much too early to discuss such details but mentions that vaccines will require two doses separated by a few weeks. Þórólfur says he has no definite information about when a vaccine will be available in Iceland.

How is Víðir feeling? Rögnvaldur says that Víðir has begun to experience mild symptoms but is doing well. Víðir sends his greetings. Rögnvaldur ends the briefing by reminding the public to practice personal preventative measures and work together to fight the pandemic.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ briefings every Monday and Thursday at 11.03am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Arrive by December 18 to Avoid Christmas in Quarantine

As Iceland’s domestic COVID-19 cases dwindle, its Chief Epidemiologist says maintaining vigilance at the border is crucial to avoiding a new local outbreak. At a briefing in Reykjavík today, authorities went over both border regulations – set to remain the same until at least February 1 – and domestic restrictions, which will likely be loosened minimally on December 2.

Iceland’s reported three domestic cases yesterday, two of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. The number of active cases is currently 198 and has been steadily dropping since mid-October. Iceland currently has the lowest COVID-19 incidence rate in all of Europe. Strain on the healthcare system is decreasing, and Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland has discharged all COVID-19 patients.

Guidelines for Christmas Parties Forthcoming

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason said he would be submitting his recommendations for updated restrictions sometime around the weekend. The new restrictions would take effect on December 2 and likely remain unchanged until the end of the year, according to Þórólfur.

At today’s briefing, authorities celebrated Icelanders’ success in containing the current wave of infections but emphasised the need to stay alert and continue practising personal preventative measures. Guidelines on infection prevention for holiday gatherings will be released later this week, Þórólfur stated. Director of Civil Protection Víðir reminded those returning to Iceland from abroad to arrive in the country by December 18 in order to be out of quarantine by Christmas.

Border Testing Remains Crucial

Iceland’s current wave of infection was largely brought about by one strain of the virus that arrived in the country in mid-August. Recently, however, a few new strains of SARS-CoV-2 have emerged. Most of these have been traced to border cases, which have caused small group outbreaks. The origin of one of the strains has not yet been discovered.

Though he was not particularly concerned about these small outbreaks, Þórólfur stressed the importance of monitoring people who test positive at the border closely and making sure they are well informed. Testing at the border has been made free of charge in December and January in an effort to encourage travellers to opt for testing rather than 14-day quarantine.

Iceland Review live-tweets Icelandic authorities’ information briefings on Mondays and Thursdays at 11.03am UTC.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Christmas Parties Pose Danger to Progress

Icelandic authorities caution the public to tread carefully when it comes to social gatherings leading up to Christmas. In a briefing in Reykjavík today, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that while Icelanders can rejoice that domestic infections are on the decline, the public must maintain preventative measures and restrictions throughout the normally social holiday season to avoid a new uptick in cases.

The Advent season leading up to Christmas is normally a very social time for Icelandic locals. Extended families gather to make laufabrauð, friends meet over drinks in each other’s homes, and workplaces host large Christmas parties for their staff. Attending at least one Christmas concert is a tradition among many families as well.

Despite Iceland’s relative success in managing the current wave of infection, Þórólfur stressed the importance of continued distancing, handwashing, and other preventative actions to avoid a resurgence of cases before Christmas. Director of Health Alma Möller also stated at the briefing that authorities were considering issuing guidelines for private parties during the holidays.

Wave on the Wane

Iceland reported 4 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, 2 of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. The country now has the lowest incidence rate in all of Europe, at 50.7. The number of active cases is at 233 and has been declining since mid-October. Strain on the healthcare system is also decreasing, though 52 are currently hospitalised due to COVID-19 and 3 in intensive care.

Þórólfur praised Icelanders for their actions and solidarity, which had helped contain the current wave of infections. He stated he would suggest an easing of restrictions after December 1, but expressed concern about holiday gatherings. If you deem it safe to meet with older relatives or others, he stated, make sure you continue practising distancing and other preventative measures.

Vaccinations and Priority Groups

While news of vaccine development is promising, Þórólfur pointed out that no COVID vaccine is ready at this point. A plan outlining how vaccinations will be administered once they are available should be completed by the end of the year, stated Þórólfur. Neighbourhood health centres will administer the majority of vaccinations, but how they will be distributed depends on many factors, including how many doses Iceland receives at first.

The Ministry of Health is still working to determine which groups would be prioritised in vaccination, but the Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that healthcare staff should be one of those groups. Authorities stressed the importance of continued social distancing and restrictions until a vaccine has been administered.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Updated Regulations Take Effect Today

barber shop hair salon

Slight changes to Iceland’s COVID-19 restrictions take effect today, November 18. The changes are minor and mostly affect school operations and children’s activities, though hair salons and massage parlours have been permitted to reopen. Authorities have emphasised the need for continued restrictions over the coming weeks in order to avoid a resurgence in new cases.

Following a summer with low COVID-19 infection rates, Iceland experienced a new wave of infection that started in mid-September. Active case numbers and the country’s incidence rate have been dropping steadily since mid-October, however.

Most Rules Have Been Extended

Most of the country’s regulations, implemented on October 31 or earlier, remain unchanged in the new regulations, which will be in effect for two weeks. A gathering ban on groups over 10 remains in effect, and bars, clubs, swimming pools, and gyms remain closed. Regulations for restaurants remain the same: they may operate but must close no later than 10.00pm.

As per the previous regulations, grocery stores and pharmacies may take in 50-100 customers at a time, where space allows for 2-metre distancing. Mask use remains mandatory in shops and on public transportation.

Changes to Gathering Limits in Schools

Most of the regulations that have been relaxed affect schools and children’s activities. Athletics and recreational activities for children of preschool and primary school age are permitted to resume from today, both indoors and outdoors. In order for such activities to take place, the mixing of different groups at this age is now permitted.

Groups of up to 50 are permitted for children in preschools and grades 1-4, whereas children in grades 5-10 may be in groups of up to 25. Mask use is no longer mandatory for children in grades 5-7 and neither is 2-metre distancing.

In junior colleges (where students are generally aged 16-19), groups of up to 25 are permitted, up from the limit of 10 yesterday. Some junior colleges have reported, however, that they will continue online teaching for the remainder of the term. Students and staff at junior colleges are required to use masks where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained.

Hair salons and massage parlours are also permitted to reopen as of today, and driving and flight lessons are permitted once more. Mask use is mandatory for all commercial activities requiring contact or close proximity. The updated regulations will remain in effect until December 1.

Iceland Could Start Vaccinating for COVID-19 Early Next Year

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

A COVID-19 vaccine that has proved 90% effective in phase 3 trials could spell the beginning of the end of the pandemic, stated Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason in a briefing in Reykjavík today. Þórólfur, often admired for his straightforward manner and sticking to the facts, expressed clear optimism about the vaccine, developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Iceland has already acquired the right to buy the vaccines developed by the companies when it is ready.

Vaccination Could Begin Early Next Year

“This is the first time, in my opinion, that we can truly start seeing land in terms of vaccination against COVID-19, though many of the conclusions from research on these vaccines are yet to come, which could possibly obstruct their development,” Þórólfur stated. “But I think the information from the last few days gives us hope that we can start vaccinating at the beginning of next year. This information should inspire us to hope that we are possibly looking toward the end of COVID-19, though of course, various things could arise in the near future that may get in the way of those hopes.”

Þórólfur emphasised the importance of continued social distancing and personal preventative measures such as hand washing, use of sanitizer, and disinfection of shared surfaces. He stated that Iceland’s current restrictions would be relaxed slowly, starting on November 18.

Case Numbers Dropping in Iceland

Iceland reported 18 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, a similar number to previous days. Only four of those cases were diagnosed outside of quarantine, suggesting that community transmission is on the decline. The number of active cases in the country has been dropping since late October and is now at 472. While a significant number of COVID-19 patients remain in hospital, that number has also dropped significantly in recent days.

At the briefing, authorities thanked the public for their efforts, but emphasised that small group outbreaks are still occurring at workplaces, among families, and wherever people gather. Þórólfur has nevertheless submitted recommendations for relaxing restrictions to the Health Ministry, which is now reviewing his suggestions. Though he declined to go into detail as to what his recommendations entailed, he did say they constituted loosening restrictions, though not as much as some people may have hoped.

 Hospitals Still Under Strain

Though the healthcare system is operating within capacity, authorities emphasised that Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland and Sólvellir nursing home in Eyrarbakki were experiencing additional strain. The National University Hospital in Reykjavík was expected to lower its state of emergency to a state of alert later today. Optional surgeries, which had been postponed due to the current wave, will resume at the hospital shortly.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Authorities Optimistic as Case Numbers Drop

COVID-19 test tubes

Iceland’s third wave of COVID-19 appears to be subsiding, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing today. He warned, however, that there is an ongoing risk of group infections that could reverse the numbers’ descent. If the curve continues to trend downwards, Þórólfur stated restrictions could be eased as early as November 18.

Iceland reported 25 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Only five were not already in quarantine at the time of diagnosis, and that number has not been so low since August 27. Authorities stated that containing this third wave of infection was going well and they felt they had the nation’s support.

Hospital Still Under Strain

The healthcare system is still under heavy strain, though the strain remains fairly steady, Director of Health Alma Möller stated at the briefing. Two cases were diagnosed yesterday among hospital staff that are possibly connected to the group outbreak at the National University Hospital’s Landakot location, though this has not been confirmed. Authorities praised hospital staff, many of whom face difficult conditions at work and have even isolated themselves from their families.

Pregnant Women’s Healthcare Access Vital

The briefing’s special guest today was Hulda Hjartardóttir, Head Doctor of Maternity Services at the National University Hospital. Hulda stated that while pregnant women are not more likely to contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus than others, there is some research that suggests they can experience more severe symptoms than others in their age group. In addition, conditions tied to pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, can be exacerbated by COVID-19. Hulda urged pregnant women to continue to seek out necessary healthcare, and stressed the importance of making sure expectant mothers don’t avoid check-ups due to fear of infection.

In response to reporters’ questions, Hula revealed there had been 50 cases of pregnant women contracting COVID-19 in Iceland since the pandemic began. In some cases, women gave birth while they had an active infection. Such cases have been challenging for everyone involved: the women, their partners, and healthcare staff.

Public Encouraged to “Travel In-House”

Víðir encouraged the public to stay at home over the weekend. He underlined the importance of continued preventative measures such as distancing, hand washing, and use of hand sanitizer. He added that he believed the public had been following the rules well so far. “Let’s keep doing that.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Tightened Restrictions Imminent

COVID-19 Iceland

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that he will recommend COVID-19 restrictions be tightened as soon as possible. Þórólfur was not ready to discuss the details of the impending restrictions in a briefing held in Reykjavík this morning, but did say they would apply across the country.

Iceland reported 42 new domestic cases yesterday, 52% of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Although the number was lower than in recent days, Þórólfur stated that community transmission appears to be trending upwards. A record 62 COVID patients are currently in hospital and 2 of them in intensive care. The country reported two deaths from COVID-19 in the last two days, bringing its total to 13.

Tightened Restrictions for 2-3 Weeks

“Community-transmitted infections haven’t gone down, in fact, there are indications they are rising so there is no room for relieving restrictions. In fact, I will suggest restrictions will be tightened,” Þórólfur stated at the briefing. He declined to discuss what specific changes he would recommend but stated that authorities would aim to clarify restrictions and minimise the number of exceptions granted to the new rules. The tightened regulations would last for 2-3 weeks, according to Þórólfur.

Iceland’s current COVID-19 restrictions include a 20-person gathering limit and mandatory two-metre distancing, with further restrictions or bans on restaurant and bar operations, as well as services requiring close contact. Mask use is required in situations where two-metre distancing cannot be maintained, such as on public transportation.

Hospitals Continue to Face Strain

At the briefing, Director of Health Alma Möller stated that healthcare centres in North Iceland were facing increasing strain due to a proliferation of cases in the region. “It seems this strain of the virus is more contagious than others we have dealt with,” she stated, adding that both local case numbers and research from abroad support that hypothesis. DeCODE genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson also stated in an interview yesterday evening that the so-called “French strain” of the virus that arrived in Iceland in mid-August appears to be more contagious than previous strains. The hypothesis remains, however, unproven.

Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson, also present at the briefing, acknowledged that the community was facing pandemic fatigue, as case numbers continue to rise abroad. It is, however, more important than ever to maintain personal preventative measures such as handwashing, social distancing, and staying home when sick, particularly as the National Hospital was operating according to a state of emergency.

Group Outbreaks

A cluster outbreak at the National University Hospital is a big factor in the added strain on the healthcare system. So the outbreak was responsible for around 140 cases, 90 direct infections and 21 indirectly related, leading to worries that it has begun to spread into the community. Víðir pointed out, however, that group outbreaks can occur anywhere and the hospital is no exception. There were currently 50 active group outbreaks among Iceland’s roughly 1,000 active cases.

Víðir ended the briefing with the usual reminders to wash hands and use sanitizer; disinfect common surfaces; use masks and keep a mask on your person in case you need one, and stay home when sick. He encourages the public to be conscious of the discourse around those who get sick. Shaming others is the last thing we need, as it discourages those who get infected from disclosing everyone they have been in contact with. Víðir called for Icelanders to make a “strong sprint” to minimise community transmission in the coming weeks, saying “it is still in our hands.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Country Reports 12th Death

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

The National University Hospital of Iceland reported the country’s 12th death due to COVID-19 today. The patient is the second to die of the illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 since the country’s third wave began in mid-September. The hospital expressed its condolences to the loved ones of the deceased.

Iceland reported 86 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday. The number of cases diagnosed outside of quarantine does not appear to be dropping. Around 120 of Iceland’s 1,062 active cases are traced to a group outbreak at the National Hospital’s Landakot location.

Due to these and other factors, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that he will be submitting recommendations for updated restrictions to the Health Minister shortly.

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ COVID-19 briefing tomorrow at 11.00am UTC at the link below.