Private biopharmaceutical company deCODE will extend its participation in Iceland’s border testing program by one week, RÚV reports. The company’s CEO Kári Stefánsson had announced deCODE would pull out of the border testing program after today, citing dissatisfaction in relations with the government and the urgency of resuming the company’s regular operations. DeCODE’s testing capacity is around three times that of the National University Hospital’s Virology Department – the only other facility in the country that can test COVID-19 samples.
Last week, deCODE genetics announced it would halt its participation in Iceland’s COVID-19 border testing after July 13, leading many to question whether the nation would be able to continue screening travellers entering from abroad for COVID-19. Following deCODE’s announcement, the National Hospital’s Virology Department began preparations to increase their testing capacity from around 500 samples per day to 2,000. The challenged proved insurmountable and deCODE has now agreed to extend their participation until the Virology Department completes the massive efforts required to increase its testing capacity.
Limited Testing Capacity May Lead to Flight Cancellations
The number of travellers entering Iceland has been steadily increasing since the country implemented COVID-19 tests at its borders as an alternative to mandatory quarantine on June 15. With deCODE genetics’ participation, the country has tested between 500 and 2,000 arriving travellers per day, setting a daily record of 2,118 yesterday, July 13.
These numbers have reached the upper limits of the country’s testing capacity, and RÚV reports that some airlines may be asked to cancel flights in the next two weeks in order to avoid exceeding daily testing limits. Icelandic authorities are meeting today to discuss the matter. The Virology Department’s intention to test COVID-19 samples in groups of 10 could presumably prevent such cancellations if implemented soon.
Authorities Consider Other Options
The border testing program has only found 12 individuals with active COVID-19 infections, of some 30,000 tested. These low positive rates mean that it may be possible to exempt travellers from certain areas from testing and quarantine and thus accept more travellers from abroad – currently only those arriving in Iceland from Greenland and the Faroe Islands are exempt from testing and quarantine. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has said, however, that more countries will not be added to this list until August. Authorities are also considering accepting foreign COVID-19 test certificates in lieu of border testing or quarantine.