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Stricter measures intended to stop new outbreak in Iceland

  • Gatherings mostly limited to 10 people
  • All in-person teaching halted, least until after Easter
  • Measures to remain in place for three weeks
  • Iceland will use AstraZeneca jab for those over the age of 70

The Government of Iceland announced yesterday measures to prevent a potential new wave of COVID-19 infections. After multiple clusters of infections were detected (largely in two primary schools in Iceland), these new measures will remain in place for three weeks. A total of 89 people in Iceland are currently in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19. This is the highest number in isolation since 20 January. 

The new measures have been rolled out following the identification of cases of a new variant in Iceland, which has increased transmissibility and potentially more serious health consequences for young people.

The B.1.1.7. strain has been shown to have more serious implications for older children. This has led to the decision to include all children born in 2014 or earlier in the 10-person limit on gatherings that will now apply in most settings.

All schools, except for preschools, will be closed until after the Easter holidays at the earliest with primary school closures to be re-evaluated in time for their scheduled return after the holidays. This marks the first time during the pandemic that children under the age of 16 will have their schooling impacted. This is in part due to emerging information about more serious symptoms among older children infected with COVID-19.

"Our experts agree, and our experience shows, that early intervention is much preferable to a wait-and-see approach. We are facing the potential of an onset of a new wave of infection at a time when the current level of vaccination does not offer sufficient protection against the virus. Therefore, we will exercise utmost caution in the belief that our test-and-trace system will help us get this wave under control as soon as possible. We are all looking forward to a future, not very far off, when the risks posed by the virus will become much more manageable through increased protection with vaccination. Until that time we will make the necessary sacrifices to limit the spread of the virus, and the Icelandic people have shown great resilience and we all have a strong sense of being in this battle together," says Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland.

Iceland is part of the EUs common procurement programme for vaccine and is entitled to receive vaccines on the same schedule as other countries that form the alliance. This commitment has been reiterated by the EU after yesterday's news that Iceland was no longer exempted from the EUs authorisation mechanism for vaccine exports. 

"While it is extremely important to have received assurances that there will be no implications in terms of deliveries of vaccine to Iceland, we have expressed our disappointment to our EU partners and fully expect that the law and spirit of the EEA agreement will be respected especially during these tense times," says Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development Cooperation of Iceland.

Iceland’s Minister of Health has announced that the use of AstraZeneca vaccine will be resumed in Iceland after a pause while possible side effects have been examined. The vaccine will be used for people over the age of 70.

Overall, Iceland has had comparatively low levels of infections, hospitalisations and fatalities throughout the pandemic, all while enjoying long stretches of time with only relatively mild restrictions on social and economic activity. A strategy of early testing, contact tracing, isolation of cases and quarantine for those exposed to infection has been in place since the beginning of the pandemic. These efforts, as well as the co-operation of the public, remain the cornerstones of Iceland's COVID-19 response.

The current 14-day incidence rate per 100 thousand is 9.3 and one person is hospitalized due to COVID-19. No one is in intensive care. A total of 6,158 cases has been identified since the beginning of the pandemic. 29 people have died of COVID-19 in Iceland.

 

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