From Iceland — Kári Stefánsson Reluctant To Help "Arrogant" Health Minister With Airport Tests UPDATED

Kári Stefánsson Reluctant To Help “Arrogant” Health Minister With Airport Tests UPDATED

Published May 28, 2020

Poppy Askham
Photo by
Art Bicnick

Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCODE Genetics, vowed not to help the health department with plans to screen tourists arriving in Keflavík airport from June 15th in an RÚV interview last night. However, following a meeting with the cabinet this morning, it seems that deCODE may collaborate in the project after all, but Kári wants public health officials to lead rather than politicians.

The row over airport screenings reached a fever pitch last night when Kári criticised Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir’s failure to consult deCODE Genetics about the project, despite his offer of advice and equipment.

“I think [Svandís] is the best Minister of Health we have had in a long time. She is good, she is a good fighter for her cause, but from time to time she becomes extremely arrogant like a little ten-year-old girl who does not intend to let anyone say anything,” Kári explained.

Kári was particularly offended by Svandís’ failure to acknowledge deCODE Genetics staff’s contribution to efforts to tackle Iceland’s coronavirus outbreak. In the final press briefing on May 25th, Svandís thanked many of those who helped the government’s COVID-19 response but made no mention of deCODE.

deCODe has been running a free drive-through COVID-19 screening service since March. The three most recent coronavirus cases were detected by the company and staff continue to test up to around hundreds of Icelanders each day.

Kári’s initial vow not to help the health ministry follows the revelation that Landspítali will only be able to test 500 samples per day in a report by the commission investigating the project. In order for the price per test to decrease and for the policy to have a significant impact on the tourism industry, this screening capacity needs to be increased.

In an interview with RÚV on May 26th, Svandís addressed the report’s findings and explained that deCODE has “the analytical capability needed” to boost airport testing levels. She expressed hope that the government would soon come to an agreement with the company.

According to Kári, this was the first time the health department had reached out to deCODE about the project, despite the fact the airport screenings were reportedly his suggestion. He resents the fact that Svandís only reached out to him in the face of uncertainty about the scheme’s viability. “In her arrogance, she has not trusted herself to look to us”, Kári stated.

Kári also jokingly said that he had blocked the mobile number of chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason to stop him calling him for help with the project. Kári explained that he finds Þórólfur “so fun, charming and warm” that he would find it hard to say no to him.

A meeting about the emerging row was held this morning between Kári Stefánsson, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and the cabinet, Fréttablaðið reports. In an abrupt u-turn, Kári stated that it is likely that deCODE will collaborate with the government over the airport screening project when questioned by reporters after the meeting. He has since explained to Visir that he has no quarrel with Landspítali’s virology department and would like Þórólfur to manage proceedings rather than politicians.

Note this article has been updated to reflect the results of this morning’s cabinet meeting. 

You can read our recent interview with Kári about deCODE’s contribution to Iceland’s the COVID-19 response here. 

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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