From Iceland — Gathering Ban Begins; Public Incidence Of Novel Coronavirus Possibly Lower Than Estimated

Gathering Ban Begins; Public Incidence Of Novel Coronavirus Possibly Lower Than Estimated

Published March 16, 2020

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Screenshot/Stöð 2

Just a reminder: the public gatherings ban announced by the Icelandic government last Friday begins today. In addition, yesterday’s news that initial screening conducted by deCODE Genetics indicates an incidence of novel coronavirus at about 1% may be even lower than originally suspected as new samples are taken and tested. Iceland’s chief epidemiologist told reporters that these initial figures may indicate that the virus is not widespread in the general population.

The public gatherings ban, which is now in effect, forbids public gatherings of more than 100 people at a time and it is advised that people maintain a distance from one another of at least two metres. This will not affect ships and airplanes, nor the international airport nor harbours, but shops will not be exempted. Major events such as concerts and conferences will likely be cancelled. This will be in effect for at least the next four weeks.

Vísir reports that deCODE Genetics has tested samples from roughly 1,000 Icelanders in the general population, i.e., people who are not currently in home quarantine. Registration for these screenings is done online. Of these people, only nine have tested positive for novel coronavirus—or 0.899%.

Even with this small sample size, deCODE Genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson is optimistic.

“I calculate that the spread [of the virus] in the general population is even lower,” he told reporters. “Because I believe it’s likely that those who have reason to believe they may have contracted or come in contact with the virus are more likely to come to us.”

As it is, deCODE is currently screening about 1,000 people per day, and some 17,000 people have registered to be screened at the time of this writing. Þórólfur Guðnason, the chief epidemiologist at the Directorate of Health, told RÚV that he found these numbers encouraging, saying, “This gives us an indication that there is not an extensive infection in our society.”

At the time of this writing, there are 174 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland, including those who tested positive with deCODE screenings, with only three admitted to hospital over it.

The Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management have launched a helpful and informative website on COVID-19 containing everything you could possible need or want to know about the virus, including how to protect yourself, how Iceland is responding, and special information for tourists.

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