Civil protection press conference: the highlights

31.07.2020 - 15:12
Upplýsingafundur Almannavarna 31. júlí
 Mynd: Þór Ægisson - RÚV
[UPDATED] Head of the Directorate of Health Alma Möller, police civil protection chief Víðir Reynisson, chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, and director of the capital region’s Heilsugæslan healthcare centres Óskar Reykdalsson gave a joint press conference on the COVID-19 outbreak this afternoon. The main points raised were:
  • Of 11 new cases diagnosed yesterday, nine of the individuals were not already in quarantine. It is not yet known how those nine people became infected. 
  • Border testing since mid-June has identified 25 active coronavirus cases: ten in Icelandic residents or citizens, 13 in people from high-risk-classified countries, and two in people from Denmark. Around 900 border tests were taken yesterday and revealed one active infection, one old, inactive infection, and one whose results are not yet confirmed. 
  • Most of the domestic infections are related to two distinct outbreaks. One is of unknown origin, while the other is connected to a resident who returned to Iceland on 15th July and was not called to a second test five days later. It is likely the outbreak would not have happened if he had been tested a second time. 
  • The person in hospital with COVID-19 is not in intensive care and is not dangerously ill. 
  • The current outbreak is described as disappointing but not surprising. 
  • Outbreaks are to be expected, despite preventative measures. 
  • The objective is not to keep Iceland totally coronavirus free, but rather to minimise infection and keep the situation under control. 
  • The new rules that came into force at midday will be hard to adapt to again for some people, but we all got used to even harsher restrictions before and this is just a partial step back. 
  • The actions of individuals are most important of all. They are even more important than the actions of the authorities. Everybody is in charge!
  • The wearing of masks is now recommended even though it can give a false sense of security. 
  • Masks must be worn where the two-metre rule is impossible to adhere to; like at hair salons and on public transport. Masks are not mandatory on Strætó public buses in the capital region, however. The section in italics was updated at 16.30 after Strætó announced masks would not be mandatory after initially saying they would be.
  • Mask use is not recommended at other times, however. The two-metre rule works better than masks, and is mandatory. 
  • People should wash and sanitise hands before putting masks on and off. 
  • Disposable masks are best. Reusable washable ones are also acceptable, but must be machine washed every day at the very least. All masks stop being effective when they get too moist. 
  • Masks and gloves should be worn when entering Heilsugæslan healthcare centres, however. 
  • Testing remains key. People should get tested at the first sign of any symptoms. Sore throat, bone and muscle aches, headache, cough, and breathing difficulties are the most common symptoms. Other possible symptoms include changes to sense of taste and smell, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea. 
  • Do not visit healthcare centres to book a COVID-19 test. Instead, telephone them during working hours, or contact healthcare workers online through heilsuvera.is. Out of working hours, it is always possible to call 1700. Staff online or on the phone will direct people to the most appropriate testing station, which is not always their local healthcare centre. 
  • Another key to success is shielding vulnerable groups. More information on how is at covid.is/english
  • It is wise for people to prepare for a possible infection in their own home ahead of time. This includes having sanitation products in, as well as certain other essential supplies. Again, more information is available at covid.is/english
  • Contact sports are instructed to stop for the next week. Sports involving children up to the age of 15 are exempt. 
  • Whether or not Iceland is experiencing its "second wave" is largely irrelevant: these two group-infections are serious and need to be dealt with. Expert predictions during the first wave assumed the virus was more widespread in society than it actually was. It is hoped the same remains true today and that restrictions can be relaxed again soon. 
  • Restrictions will be strengthened if necessary. The logical first stage of that would be to reduce the assembly limit from 100 to 50 people. But that is not on the table right now. 
  • Testing, contact tracing, and virus sequencing will guide policy changes in the coming days and weeks. 
  • Domestic travel within Iceland is still perfectly alright, unlike this spring when people were asked to stay at home indoors. The message is: be careful, follow the rules, but don’t cancel travel plans. 
  • This is quite likely not the only time the rules will be relaxed and then tightened again. The situation is fluid and will remain so for the foreseeable future. 

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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