Updated, the 15th of April
With this entry, we want to provide further details of the strategy that Iceland has taken against COVID-19. We will provide real data and direct experience of the current situation of the Coronavirus in Iceland. It is the country we are from and live in, so we know the information is swiftly changing. The last update of this article was on the 15th of April. It is then essential to understand that the situation may vary in a couple of days.
Committee in charge
Out of the many news available in the international media, social networks, and blogs, we can conclude there are two main points of view of the situation we are dealing with in Iceland. We have, of course, our own opinion, and we would like to break it down for you. At the end of this article, we will provide a detailed explanation of how to request the COVID-19 test in Reykjavik and Akureyri (only for residents of Iceland with kennitala).
The Icelandic government has entrusted the decision-making process to a group of specialists known as “The Trio.” Members are Iceland’s Chief police officer Víðir Reynisson, the Chief medical officer Alma D. Möller and Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. The commission is in charge of informing citizens of the situation from the very beginning of the crisis. They offer daily press conferences at 14:00, which you can follow right here.
Many people may wonder how Iceland was able to control the epidemic without taking drastic measures. What is the secret of success? Some ask. Meanwhile, other people believe Iceland’s government is merely crazy. We have seen many comments all over blogs, Facebook groups, and social media in general, discussing and asking how they can keep daycare and schools open?
But, as the song states: When it’s over, so they say, It will rain a sunny day!
Iceland’s strategy against the Coronavirus
No quarantines were declared or radical measures imposed. The strategy, and solution, is as simple as extensive testing. It’s all about testing!
Thanks to this, those Icelanders in contact with affected people or areas were isolated, forced into quarantine, and self-isolation. Also, we need to mention how transparent the information has been and the correct dissemination of information related to virus control measures. None of which were drastic, may we add. That translated into a more responsible behavior from the citizens, who decided to take care of themselves, lowering the risk ratio of infection. Right now, the rate is close to zero.
How could Iceland introduce mass-testing?
The country can carry out this task thanks to deCode Genetics, a company dedicated to the human genome in Iceland. The daily average test collection ranges from 800-1,000 samples. The company is performing an analysis of more than 60% of those samples. Here you have an updated graphic of the accumulated screening.
The blue bars correspond to tests carried out by the Department of Microbiology of Iceland’s National Hospital, and the orange bars are those carried out by the private company deCODE Genetics.
At the moment, the country has a reserve to do a large number of tests. Moreover, several Icelandic companies bought around 120,000 testing sticks – besides respirators and PPE. So that both the Icelandic Health Department or deCode can keep on analyzing the population.
The App that helps control the virus: Rakning C-19
The Icelandic Government has just released a mobile app that aims to help control the spread of COVID-19. It is already available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, under the name of Rakning C-19.
The Application stores the users’ last fourteen days of data locally. In the event of a user testing positive for Coronavirus, that data will be shared with the Department of Civil Protection. The app will as well notify and report the risk to any user within the affected areas. It is a fast and effective way for the population to be informed so that we can keep the virus a bit more under control.
So far, there are already more than 150,000 Icelanders registered in the app. However, experts warn that there have to be at least 230,000 people enrolled to perform reliable calculations.
If you live in Iceland, download the app!
What is the current situation in Iceland?
As of today, on the 12th of April, we have around 1,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland. Many people throw up their hands when they check the ratio of infection: 1,700 cases per 350,000 inhabitants. We have one of the highest rates in the world! They say. And they are right, but that doesn’t imply the data is terrible per se.
As mentioned previously, the number of cases is a direct result of the large number of tests carried out. Such tests confirmed a considerable amount of asymptomatic people. According to the statistics, 50% of infected people do not show any symptoms. We can then deduct that the number of infected people would’ve been much lower, had we not broad tested.
Right now, out of those 1,700 cases, there are:
- 900 people who have overcome the disease.
- 800 people as active cases.
Here is a graph with the total number of infected people, along with the proportion of recovered cases (in orange) vs. active cases (in blue).
Besides the provided data, there are almost 800 people in household-isolation plus 2,800 people forced into quarantine. Of all the patients, there are 37 cases admitted to the hospital, of which ten are in ICU. So far, the death toll had risen to 8 instances. The mortality rate is then a 0.47%.
Actions taken and future strategies
So far, measures taken are focused on significantly limiting public gatherings in one place:
- Groups of more than 20 people are not permitted.
- Properties such as swimming pools, hairdressers, sports centers, etc. will remain closed during the state of alarm. Gatherings with less than 20 people at any workplace are required too.
- Colleges and Universities are closed.
- Places like supermarkets should limit the number of customers shopping at one time. And we can bear witness such controls are indeed taking place.
- People must keep a distance of at least 2 meters between each other as outdoor etiquette.
Measures vary from region to region. In the Westfjords, the gathering size is limited to 5 people as the virus is striking them harder.
Alma Möller, the Director of Health, has declared today that measures will be applied until the 4th of May. The committee of experts is analyzing how they can gradually relax the rules depending on how the situation evolves. The social transmission rate is low, and we can say it is due to the actions applied so far. Authorities are regularly taking into account the real risk of this virus. Therefore, they have stated that they will use stricter measures if necessary.
The peak tourist season is lost; many companies within the sector are having a hard time, just like the sectors mentioned above. As a result, the Icelandic government announced the implementation of a package of measures two weeks ago. These measures aim to mitigate the forthcoming events for workers and companies.
If you are looking for direct information, you can visit the official website of the Icelandic Government right here. Information in English is also available. You can also have updated data and statistics every day at 1:00 P.M.
Update of the 15th of April:
From the 4th of May on, the measures taken will be relaxed:
- Gatherings are now limited to 50 people instead of only 20.
- Schools will reopen but keeping the gathering limit aforementioned.
- Pools, Bars, and gyms will remain closed.
- Hair and beauty salons, as well as dentists, can open from the 4th of May.
- External borders of the Schengen area will remain closed.
Things Iceland has got wrong
A recent survey shows that the Icelandic society is, generally speaking, very satisfied with how the committee of experts has managed this crisis. The public opinion shares a feeling of proudness for the government’s handling of the situation.
However, we want to go a dig a little deeper, and we are going to list a series of problems and errors we consider were made.
- The tourism industry and visitors were not forced into quarantine even though Icelanders were required to. Most of those Icelanders were returning from affected areas and had to stay at home for at least 14 days. It created a somewhat Dantesque situation, as in the meantime, tourists from the USA, Spain, Germany, Italy, or France were able to enter the country with no restriction whatsoever.
- Control measures were too soft for those in quarantine. There were numerous cases of people breaking the self-isolation. Many traveled to the Northern region or any of the 13,000 summer vacation houses spread across Iceland.
- Specific sectors of society are accusing the Icelandic government of being late in implementing stricter measures, which are now being applied. E.g. Pools were open right in the middle of a sanitary crisis. That was counterproductive for many.
Despite this, we are satisfied with the government and the committee’s response to the virus outbreak.
How to do the COVID-19 test in Iceland?
The process is somewhat simple. However, do know you must have an Icelandic ID or Kennitala to apply for the test. Requests are arranged through this website. There, you can make an appointment, choose the day and time, and as long as there is availability, a date will be assigned.
The system usually shows a full calendar, we recommend you to keep on trying though, as new available dates are continually being added.
Once you get through, you will get an SMS text with an appointment confirmation as well as a link with the location of the building. In our case, it was Þjónustumiðstöð rannsóknaverkefna. In case you need to cancel or modify your appointment, there is also a link within the SMS text. Simple as a pie!
IMPORTANT: This test, carried out by deCODE Generics, is intended for asymptomatic people who are neither in isolation nor in quarantine. Those who do have symptoms or are not feeling well must contact the 1700 line. It is essential to keep this in mind as the security guard of the building will not let in anyone showing mild symptoms. That is necessary for the sake of those asymptomatic people who will be tested.
On the very same morning of your appointment, you will receive an automatic message. We have attached a sample on this post, but we removed certain information to protect the data and privacy of the owner.
The place we mentioned in the first paragraph is in Kópavogur, right in Smáralind, the shopping mall. You can find the entrance to the testing area right in from of the Bonús Supermarket. As the building is quite big, here you have a picture for a clearer view.
Once inside, you will soon notice there is tape on the floor. That is to delimit the distance between attendees right before getting into the elevator. An assistant will then ask you if you have any symptoms or if you are in isolation. You will be able to continue as soon as the assistant authorizes you to. Only three people can get into the elevator at once. Testing area is on the fourth floor. There will be other assistant when exiting the elevator, who is in charge of letting you know where to go next. Assistants assign each batch of three people a different room, where two deCODE employees will proceed with the test.
The assistant will ask the same questions one more time. First, they will take a sample from your nose and then one from your mouth. Honestly, the nose sample can be a bit uncomfortable, but it takes just a second to make. Results are ready within 2-3 days, and you can look them up online. However, if the result is positive, a medical assistant will call you to provide further instructions on how to proceed.
In our case, we got the results in less than twelve hours. You will get an SMS text stating you got a new notification on the Heilsuvera webpage (the centralized online health portal):
Once inside the website, you can see the result of the analysis in your inbox. Here you have ours:
In our case, we have not contracted the Coronavirus, at least not yet. It’s impressive to see the results in just twelve hours. In case of doubt or if you have any question, you can contact Þjónustumiðstöð at the local phone number 520 2800 (+354 520 2800). For general inquiries, please dial 1700.
We wish you all the best during this painful and uncertain times; please take care of yourselves!