Contain COVID or not: "It’s in our hands this week"
The boss of deCODE says it’s 50/50 whether the virus is brought back under control and experts agree that this week will decide one way or the other. Strætó and Heilsugæslan apologise. Þórólfur wants a long-term plan. The mystery of what connects the patients continues. And Apple and Google scuppered Iceland's early app plans.
- The Strætó bus company has issued a statement apologising for confusion over its rules for the use of face masks. Face masks have been compulsory on public transport since Friday, but Strætó was given an exemption. The company first chose not to accept the exemption and to demand face masks anyway, before backtracking and saying face masks would not be compulsory. The rule is now settled, the company says: face masks are compulsory on all Strætó cross-country services that leave the capital city. Face masks are also strongly recommended within the capital whenever a bus is busy and it is not possible to maintain the two-metre rule.
- Heilsugæslan, the capital region healthcare centres operator, has also apologised this weekend after it was revealed that some people who telephoned in were refused COVID-19 testing appointments and were later found to be infected with the coronavirus. The agency’s Sigríður Dóra Magnúsdóttir says what went wrong is under investigation and instructions to telephone operators will be updated. The advice remains: call your local healthcare centre, use web chat through heilsuvera.is, or call 1700 if you have any symptoms of COVID-19. The bar for testing is set low, Sigríður says. Widespread testing and diagnosis is key to success.
- Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason this weekend repeated the warning he has made several times since early this spring: that the coronavirus is likely to hit Iceland in several waves over an extended period of time and that the widely-held idea that tackling the disease decisively this spring would lead to a swift and lasting return to normal life was always unlikely, and has already proven wrong. He says Iceland risks a sort of 'contagion-hygiene-fatigue' as the pandemic drags on for potentially a very long time, and he recommends setting up a public consultation platform to discuss how best to keep COVID-19 in-check at the same time as new, different challenges and discussions come up in the future. Þórólfur admits that even he has been taken by surprise that the spread of the virus has taken so long to peak on a worldwide scale.
- Kári Stefánsson, founder and CEO of deCODE genetics, says his company and the national authorities have jointly agreed to focus testing efforts more towards people with connections to known patients, and away from the initial strategy of testing a wide cross section of the community. Genetic sequencing of samples has revealed that 16 people (as of yesterday) with no obvious connections to one another have tested positive with the new variant. “And it is this one variant of the virus that is spreading over the country.”
- Kári says the next week or so, and how everyone in Iceland behaves in daily life, will dictate whether the rate of infection dips or the virus starts spreading as vigorously as it did back in the spring. “It’s about fifty-fifty,” he claims. Other key experts interviewed by RÚV this weekend all agreed: the number of new cases will likely rise sharply in the coming days and everybody’s behaviour this week (including regular hand washing and sanitising, and respecting the two-metre rule) will decide whether or not the rules need tightening yet further.
- It has come to light that Iceland was able to launch and promote its Rakning C-19 contact tracing app so early this spring (in comparison to most other countries) because when Apple and Google objected to the app’s use of Bluetooth technology to connect phones that had recently come into near contact with the phones of new COVID-19 patients, the developers dropped Bluetooth altogether and carried on with just the GPS component of the app.
- Rakning C-19 is available in a variety of languages and stores location data for two weeks on the device without transmitting anything. When a patient is diagnosed, they are then asked for permission for the authorities to obtain and review the data to help them remember their movements over the past fortnight.
- Of the 83 people who were in isolation with COVID-19 yesterday, 60 are in the capital region and three are aged in their 70s. 27 of them, meanwhile, are aged 18 to 29. Only seven are aged 13-17 and nobody under 13 has been diagnosed with the virus.
- 734 people are in quarantine, including 574 in the capital. Only four people in quarantine are foreigners whose legal address is overseas. Two are Icelanders who live overseas.