No Problems, Only Solutions; Border Screening Must Go On

No Problems, Only Solutions; Border Screening Must Go On

Published July 8, 2020

Sam O'Donnell
Photo by
Screenshot From Livestream Via Vísir

Various potential solutions are underway on how screening at the border can continue after Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCODE Genetics (ÍE), announced that his company will no longer be responsible for these border screenings. These solutions were brought up in a press briefing on July 7th.

Present at the briefing were Chief of Police Viðir Reynisson, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnasson, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Director General at the Prime Minister’s Office Páll Þórhallsson.

Possible Solutions

Many possibilities exist as to how to carry on in the future, but Þórólfur made a point of thanking ÍE. “Icelandic society is indebted to [ÍE],” he said.

One possible solution is to stop screening travellers from certain areas where the fight against COVID-19 has been successful, as has already been done in the case of the Faroe Islands and Greenland. Þórólfur said that this is being strongly considered.

Another potential solution is to analyse several samples at once. Þórólfur said that this has gone well in Germany, and it could save a lot of work and material costs, but it would be less effective than the implementations that have been used in this country so far. It is also being considered to limit the number of travelers. As there is already a restriction based on screening capacity, further restrictions are not being ruled out.

Weakness In The System

One of the things that must be addressed is the fact that the Hospital and Virology Department of Landspítali Hospital can only analyse 500 samples a day, while ÍE was able to analyse considerably more. As of this writing, ÍE has screened 72,500 people for the virus.

A major question at the press briefing was why the government had not strengthened Landspítali’s diagnostic capacity instead of relying on ÍE.

“Of course, many weeks or months ago, it was decided to strengthen Landspítali’s germ and virology department,” Alma said. “Because of this, our weakness is that we are unable to diagnose as many people as possible.”

Þórólfur echoed this sentiment, stating that the laboratory’s limited capacity was a weakness in their system. “I think it’s quite straightforward that this is a breakdown in our capabilities, and this is one of the things we need to review when we fix this epidemic.”

The Waiting Game

Alma added that Iceland is on the waitlist for devices that would significantly increase diagnostic capacity. “Orders have long been placed for such devices, but of course the whole world is after these devices, so there is a wait.” She concluded that it is likely that the wait will be until October.

Páll Þórhallsson, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, stated that while Landspítali waits for these devices, work was underway to improve other equipment that is already available at the hospital.

The meeting was broadcast live on Vísir and on Stöð 2.

As ever, those looking for more information or advice should go to the Icelandic Government’s excellent COVID-19 help page.

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