From Iceland — COVID-19 Round Up: Drop In Infections, Tourist Policy To Be Reconsidered

COVID-19 Round Up: Drop In Infections, Tourist Policy To Be Reconsidered

Published April 8, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Ross / Wikimedia Commons

Significant Drop In New Cases

As of midnight last night, there are 1,586 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Iceland, just 24 more than yesterday. On 5th April there were 74 new cases and 70 were recorded on 4th April. Speaking in today’s press conference, Þórólfur Guðnason, the Chief Epidemiologist, warned against reading too much into today’s dramatic drop in new infections, Frettabladid reports. He explained that experts won’t be able to determine whether Iceland has gone past the peak of the epidemic until a couple of days’ time when more data has been collected. It’s also worth noting that the number of tests taken yesterday was half the number taken on 5th April, which may go some way to explain the sudden drop in new cases.

Nevertheless, the remarkably low increase in cases today is a positive sign for Iceland. The number of people in quarantine has also dropped by 846 and 99 more recoveries have been recorded.

The picture is less optimistic in Iceland’s hospitals where 39 patients are currently being treated, 13 of whom are in intensive care. Both figures have increased by two over night. The healthcare system is currently coping, but if figures continue to rise, it will be put under considerable strain. There are only around 50 ventilators in the country, so the slow but steady rise of patients in intensive care is somewhat concerning.

Record Day For COVID-19 Screening
Figures released yesterday showed that a new Icelandic record was set on Sunday for the number of COVID-19 screenings carried out in a single day. A total of 2486 Icelanders were tested for the virus by deCODE genetics and the National University Hospital. Almost 29,000 Icelanders, around 8% of the population, have been screened for the virus so far.

Testing has been particularly rigorous in the Westman Islands. Nearly 2,000 people, 45% of the region’s population, have been screened for the virus. Íris Róbertsdóttir, the mayor of the Westman Islands has thanked Kári Stefánsson, deCODE CEO, for his company’s contribution of 1,500 testing kits to the local hospital. She notes that if the same extraordinarily high level of testing had been carried out across the entire country, 170,000 Icelanders would’ve been tested by now.

Cruises and Changes To Tourism Policy
In yesterday’s press briefing Þórólfur Guðnason expressed the view that the government’s policy regarding tourists arriving in Iceland should be reviewed, Frettabladid reports. There has been much criticism of the government’s decision to exempt tourists from mandatory quarantines for people entering Iceland. It’s highly likely that Þórólfur’s public recommendation that tourist restrictions be tightened will prompt a change in government policy in the coming days.

Policy regarding cruise ships has also been under scrutiny in recent days. Around 189 cruises were set to visit Iceland’s shores this summer, the first of which is scheduled to arrive on May 21st. The operators of 26 cruises have already announced they will not sail to Iceland this year, Visir reports and it is likely many more will follow suit. The cruises that visit Iceland this year will be under a high level of scrutiny. Exact procedures for arriving cruise ships have not been announced yet, but it has been suggested that there may be selective screening of passengers before they are allowed to disembark.

Uncertainty Over Future Flights
The Foreign Ministry has once again urged Icelanders abroad to return home using the repatriation flights provided by Icelandair. The airline is currently flying a minimum of 6 flights a week from Stockholm, Boston and London in exchange for an 100 million ISK government loan. The agreement is due to come under review on April 15th. The Foreign Ministry has stated that “air transport will not completely cease after April 15th, but it is still unclear what it will be like,”. Read more on this story here.

COVID-19 In Parliament
The Alþingi has announced that another employee has tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number of infected Alþingi workers to seven. So far four parliament employees have recovered and it’s hoped that another will be released from isolation in the next couple of days.

Tune into our daily COVID-Cast for a deeper dive into the day’s developments.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

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