Iceland eases restrictions - all children's activities back to normal
- 97% of patients have recovered, 99,4% of outcomes so far are recoveries, 10 fatalities due to COVID-19 have been confirmed.
- Only two new cases in the past seven days.
- Large scale testing, effective tracing efforts, quarantining, protection of vulnerable groups and remote care hailed as keys to success in combating the virus so far.
- Personal hygienic measures (such as hand washing) and distancing in social interactions considered to be very important for the foreseeable future.
Monday marked the start of substantial easing of the social distancing measures that have been in place in Iceland since 16 March. All children's activities are back to normal, gatherings of up to 50 people are now allowed, businesses that require close proximity with customers can be resumed and several other restrictions have been lifted. However, strong emphasis continues to be placed on maintaining 2 meters separation between individuals, where possible, and the importance of personal hygiene, hand washing and other individualized habits that reduce transmission risk have been highlighted.
"We have been pleasantly surprised to see a very fast deceleration of the pandemic in Iceland. However, it is extremely important to remain vigilant and minimize the risk of a renewed outbreak. If we see any signs of a re-emerging of the virus, we will be prepared to implement appropriate measures to extinguish any localized infection clusters,“ says Thorolfur Gudnason, chief epidemiologist.
Of the 1 799 individuals that have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland, 1 750 are no longer infected. Sadly, 10 people have lost their lives to the disease. The peak in the number of active cases occurred on 5 April (1 096 cases), but currently there are 39 known infections and 3 individuals are hospitalized, none in intensive care.
Social distancing measures
The initial measures in Iceland, imposed 16 March, banned gatherings of 100 or more people. These restrictions were toughened on 22 March when the limit on gatherings was set at 20 individuals. The second phase of the social distancing measures also called for the closures of gyms, public swimming pools, pubs as well as operations that due to their nature require close proximity between people, such as beauty salons, hairdressers, barbers, massage parlours and the like. Many of these restrictions have been lifted, although gyms and public pools remain closed, with the pools set to re-open 18 May if there is no backlash.
Primary schools and day-care centres have been open throughout the period. Many coffee shops and restaurants have also remained open. No lockdowns have been imposed on the Icelandic population. Stricter measures were temporarily imposed in a few areas where there was reason to fear that contagion would become rampant if left unchecked.
Testing, tracing and quarantining
A total of 51 663 tests have been performed, which is 141 931 on a per million inhabitants basis. About two-thirds of the tests have been performed by deCode Genetics on generally asymptomatic individuals. About a third have been performed by the National University Hospital in Reykjavik on people who have shown symptoms that are similar to COVID-19. The testing level is higher than in any other country, except the Faroe Islands.
Every one of the 1 799 cases in Iceland have been successfully identified as being either an imported case or a local transmission. 342 of the cases were imported (98,8% of those were Icelanders who returned home with an infection). The rest were spread locally.
Since the outset of the pandemic Iceland has followed a policy of quarantining individuals who have been in contact with infected individuals, or were for other reasons believed to have been at risk of being infected. A total of 19 380 individuals (more than 5% of the population) has completed a quarantine period of up to 14 days. Currently 743 people are quarantined in their homes.
57% of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 were already isolated in quarantine when they were diagnosed, which is believed to underline the effectiveness of those measures in combating the spread of the virus.
Protection of the elderly population and remote care
Severe restrictions on visitations to nursing homes and hospitals were implemented very early in the pandemic. Older and more vulnerable groups outside such institutions have also shown extreme care in avoiding situations conducive to contagion. The results so far have been that no serious outbreaks in large homes for the elderly have occurred in Iceland and a low proportion of the population aged 70+ has contracted the virus. 86 individuals over the age of 70 have been diagnosed with COVID-19. 66 of those (77%) are no longer infected, 7 have died.
The National University Hospital organized a highly effective system of remote care and monitoring of patients very early on. This has had the effect of reducing the number of hospitalizations, and the constant dialogue between hospital staff and ill patients in their homes, resulted in more timely interventions and reduced the demand for intensive care treatments and oxygen support.
Distancing likely to remain a social norm
The Icelandic health authorities have stated that personal measures will remain the best long-term protection for the population. This includes basic hygiene, such as frequent hand washing. A rule that allows for a distance of 2 meters between people, whenever possible, will also remain in effect in one form or another for some time. The Icelandic authorities have not recommended that the public wears any sorts of face masks or cloths, and such practices are extremely rare in Iceland.
Iceland's position is unusual
It needs to be emphasized that the situation in Iceland is unusual in many ways. The population is small, cohesive and mostly homogenous. "We are an island with one major point of entry from abroad. Many other peculiarities make Iceland’s position different from most other nations. That being said, we have a very sincere hope that our efforts, both in terms of policy and data generation will prove to be valuable for academics and policy makers in the future. The world is all in this together and it is vital that every country draws learnings both internally and externally to improve our readiness for any similar events in the future, or the continuation of this event in the upcoming months and years," says Thorolfur Gudnason, Chief Epidemiologist.
Further press enquiries should be directed to María Mjöll Jónsdóttir at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. E-mail: [email protected]