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Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister's Office, Ministry of Health

Large scale testing of general population in Iceland underway

From a Government Press Conference. Daily press conferences have been held since the end of February.   - mynd

Updated on March 21, 2020, at 17:20 GMT

  • Iceland has tested 9 768 individuals for COVID-19, which translates to 26 762 per million, compared with 6 343 in South Korea and 13 999 in Bahrein
  • Iceland has tested a higher proportion of inhabitants than any other country after deCode genetics started offering free screening among the general, non-symptomatic, non-quarantined population
  • deCode has published the results of a total of 5 571 tests. Those have yielded 48 positive results (0.86%) indicating that the prevelance of the virus is modest among the general population.
  • A total of 473 cases have been identified in Iceland since the first case on February 28th. One person with COVID-19 has died. Twelve individuals with COVID-19 are hospitalized. 

Iceland health authorities and deCode Genetics have undertaken comprehensive screening for the virus that causes COVID-19 among the Icelandic population. The testing by deCode Genetics started Friday 13 March and the results of the first 5 571 diagnosed tests have yielded 48 positive samples.

To date a total of 4 197 samples have been diagnosed by the healthcare system. The healthcare system's testing has yielded 425 results indicating infection. About a third (34%) of all cases can be traced to overseas travel, mostly to high-risk areas identified in the European Alps. More than a quarter (32.7%) of cases have been traced to domestic transmission. The rest (33.2%) have not been conclusively traced to a source of transmission.

Current efforts to estimate the prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within the general, largely non-symptomatic, non-quarantined, population in conjunctions with very expansive testing already performed on those who were symptomatic or were for other reasons considered to be at-risk for having contracted the virus, have resulted in a total of 9 768 individuals in Iceland being tested out of a population of 364 thousand. In terms of tests per one million inhabitants, Iceland has now tested 26 762, which is the highest proportion we are aware of in the world.

This leads to a higher confidence in our efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the country. The combined efforts also provide a very valuable insight into the spread of the virus. In the coming days more results from testing in the general population will continue to elicit a much clearer picture of the actual spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Iceland.

The results of the additional tests performed by deCode have given an indication that efforts to limit the spread of the virus have been effective so far. In Iceland, these measures have focused on testing, contact tracing of infections, social distancing, public efforts to increase basic awareness of hand sanitation, voluntary self-quarantine measures (currently about 5 448 individuals), and strict measures at healthcare institutions, nursing homes and the likes. Of the 473 cases identified 13 are individuals over age 70, considered to be the most at-risk group.

A ban on gatherings of 100 people or more took effect on March 15 and are planned to remain for four weeks. Secondary and tertiary education institutions have closed, but primary schools and kindergartens will remain open with specific measures implemented to limit infection risks. Icelanders abroad have been advised to return home early, and Iceland has decided to join the EU/Schengen ban on non-essential travel from outside the area.

It will remain the focus of Icelandic authorities to slow down the spread of the virus in order to protect the infrastructure of the healthcare system. Iceland will also focus on using its geographic location and high testing capabilities to provide information and data to the global scientific community in order to contribute to a better understanding and help limit the damage being done by the pandemic.

Thorolfur Gudnason, Chief Epidemiologist, says that the data being collected provides valuable information. "There are strong indications that our efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been effective. About half of the diagnosed cases are from individuals who had been quarantined. Our focus is to protect those must vulnerable from contracting the virus, while trying to ensure that the overall spread of the virus remains slow. We are optimistic that the combined efforts to test a large part of the population will provide insights that can contribute to the world's response to this pandemic."

"It is amazing to see how the community is coming together as one to deal with this threat. Here at deCode people are working 24/7 to screen for and to sequence the virus. The screening tells us where the virus is and the sequencing how it differs between the places where it is and how it continues to mutate”, said Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCode.

Svandís Svavarsdóttir, Minister of Health says that the Icelandic government's focus remains on minimising the effect of the pandemic. "Our number one priority is to limit the damage of the pandemic to the health of our citizens and to our social and economic infrastructure. We have followed the policy of adhering to the best available advice of the medical community in Iceland. The large scale testing by deCode Genetics among the general population will hopefully inform improved decision making throughout the current crisis, and more importantly, serve a useful purpose for how the world prepares for similar events in the future.“

Further press enquiries should be directed to María Mjöll Jónsdóttir at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. E-mail [email protected]


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