From Iceland — Fastsplaining: How the Covid-19 Came To Iceland - A Lesson To Be Learned

Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick

As you know, Iceland is a small country with a population of about 350,000—and we only have one international airport. So you would think that Iceland would be quite safe when it came to outbreaks like the coronavirus, COVID-19.

And you would not be blamed for thinking that, as Icelanders also thought they were relatively safe from the virus and it would come slower to the country than it has.

But right now, we have 103 confirmed cases (they are 109 at the time of this writing) of COVID-19. And perhaps the irony is that three of those were Americans, who just issued a travel ban on Iceland and other Schengen countries.

Proportionally, 109 cases in Iceland would be like if the USA would have 95,000 individuals with the virus.

Rich tourists

So, how did it get to Iceland? The answer is simple: from upper-class Icelanders who could afford to travel to Italy and Austria for a ski trip in the Alps in February. Almost 80% of the infected were Icelandic ski tourists or connected to them. Now, we have 109 infected and 23 domestic infections, not directly connected to flights abroad, only 13 days later.

The government and health workers have done an incredible job, both by identifying the virus amongst tourists, as well as quarantining the affected population. We have tested around 1,000 people and we have quarantined about the same number. Iceland appears to have the virus under control.

Here are the facts

So, if we look at the trajectory of how Icelanders got the virus, these are the key facts:

Icelanders went on a ski trip, came back home, and slowly transmitted the COVID-19 virus. None of the original transmits came from a foreign tourist in the beginning, according to the best available data – although it’s changing now, as more get infected in the world.

But tourists are not believed to infect domestically for they are not in the same contact with the society as the locals. In short; a flight ban similar to the one in the US would not have changed a thing. Unless we would have grounded rich tourists and done it early enough.

Perhaps there is a lesson to learn from this.


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