The National University Hospital’s Virology Department has fully taken over Iceland’s COVID-19 border testing program, RÚV reports. Private biopharmaceutical company deCODE genetics, which had been assisting with the administration and processing of COVID-19 tests conducted on travellers arriving from abroad has now fully withdrawn from the initiative. The Virology Department’s head doctor says testing is going well and the department will be able to continue its efforts as long as necessary.
“It’s gone incredibly well until now and if it continues like this then we don’t have many concerns,” stated Karl Gústaf Kristinsson, head doctor of the Virology Department. The department had to scramble to increase its testing capacity when deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson announced on July 6 his company would pull out of the border testing program. Besides the Virology Department, deCODE was the only facility in Iceland with the capacity to process COVID-19 samples and had a capacity more than three times that of the National University Hospital’s Virology Department.
Facilities Renovated, New Staff Hired
The Virology Department has expanded its facilities and hired 18 new staff members to accommodate the increase in COVID-19 samples. “And we also needed to change the working method as now we’re combining five samples in each test. Instead of having one sample in each dish we have five,” Karl explained. If the combined samples test positive, then they are each tested individually to determine which is (or are) infected. This method has been a key factor in allowing the department to increase its testing capacity from around 500 samples per day to 2,000.
Another factor that has helped decrease pressure on the department is Iceland’s decision to exempt travellers from four additional countries from both testing and quarantine upon arrival. Germany, Norway, Finland, and Denmark were added to the list of “safe countries,” which includes the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
The department expects to receive new equipment in August and in the fall that will further increase its testing capacity. “We should be able to continue this as long as needed,” Karl stated.