As the government waits for chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s green light to start COVID-19 screenings at Keflavik airport, a new report has warned of the obstacles to re-opening the country to tourism.
The national hospital, Landspítali, will only be able to analyse 500 tests per day according to a report released by the commission investigating the government’s travel proposal. It will take the hospital around five hours to obtain results from screenings, but samples received after 17:00 will have to be analysed the next day unless staffing increases.
It is hoped that later in the summer Landspítali will improve its testing capacity – the report suggests a goal of 1,000 samples per day by mid-July. But in comparison to previous years, this aim is still extremely low for Keflavik airport. On the airport’s busiest day last year, 2,018 people landed in Iceland, according to Guðmundur Dadi Rúnarsson, Director of Business and Development at Isavía in a conversation with Visir.
Many more than 500 tourists per day will need to be let into the country in order for the easing of travel restrictions to have a positive impact on Iceland’s economy, Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, chairman of the Association of Tourism told RUV. Given levels of international interest in the government’s proposal, Bjarnheiður believes that there will be high demand for flights to Iceland this summer. However, increasing testing capacity to meet this demand may prove difficult.
The commission warns that increasing its testing capabilities will require significant investment to train new staff and purchase more equipment. Questions also surround the availability of supplies needed for testing. In late March, Iceland faced a troubling shortage of swabs and reagents and there are fears that the issue may re-emerge this summer.
Concerns at Landspítali
CEO of Landspítali Páll Matthíasson has also issued an open letter warning that the reopening the country to tourists poses “significant risks” for the hospital. There are currently no COVID-19 patients at Landspítali but Páll warns that the hospital will automatically raise its risk level if another case is admitted. Increasing the risk rating will severely disrupt the hospital’s functioning.
Páll also explains that Landspítali may face staffing problems in the event of a second wave over the summer. After several exhausting months of tackling Iceland’s coronavirus outbreak, many healthcare workers are expected to go on holiday in the coming months.
As reported, the government intends fund the scheme initially but in the longer term tourists will be expected to pay. At least 107 tests will have to be processed per day if the cost of each test is to be below the government’s goal of 50,000 ISK, according to the commission. If 500 tests are completed each day the individual price will fall to 23,000 ISK.
So far the government has indicated it will pay for at least two weeks. The commission’s report estimates that if three planes arrive per day in this period the project will cost around 160 million ISK. No firm decisions about how the project will be funded after this period have been made yet.
Now that the commission has released its findings, the government is expecting Þórólfur Guðnason to submit his formal proposal. Þórólfur acknowledged that the airport screenings are not a “perfect solution” in a conversation with Vísir about the commission’s findings. Although he stressed the danger of false negative test results, he explained that the measure will “significantly reduce the likelihood of the virus returning.”
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