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Medical response to end of covid rules

24.02.2022 - 13:58
Mynd: RÚV / RÚV
The chief epidemiologist says widespread infection is the only way out of the pandemic, while the health minister says extremely tough restrictions would be needed to contain the virus at this stage—and that such restrictions might not work anyway. The acting head of Landspítali says she would have preferred the former timetable of staggered relaxation of rules to stay in place.

Hard to restrict 

It would be extremely difficult to restrict the spread of the Omicron variant without extremely hard restrictions—and it is not clear even they would bring results, Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson told RÚV’s Kastljós programme last night. “In and of itself, it’s great that we are announcing the removal of it all and the simplification of our lives. I think that in light of the scale of the spread we are seeing, and we can also look to neighbouring countries that have been going through this wave and have even been a bit ahead of us, that there would need to be very hard restrictions here in order for them to restrict the spread.” 

Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason says the pandemic is not over, and will outlive even the end of the Omicron wave, and that it is not clear whether the removal of restrictions will have a major impact on the infection rate. He says Iceland is in a good position today, with most people vaccinated and few becoming seriously ill, but that the country needs to remain alert for new variants. 

Voluntary isolation 

Þórólfur says the wide spread of the virus is now the best way out of the pandemic, which involves most people contracting it. This is happening naturally, and people with symptoms should still remain at home to protect others. While the rules are changing, the general policy is not, Þórólfur says. 

“We still have this policy and ask people who test positive to step back and stay home for five days before they carry on--especially if they have symptoms. The same principle applies as before. Now it is just not a legal requirement to go into isolation, that is really the only difference,” Þórólfur says. 

No point in border checks 

On the subject of border restrictions, Þórólfur says removing measures for people entering Iceland makes little difference in the bigger picture. Only five to ten percent of new infections are coming through the border, he explains, and there are few scientific reasons to keep strong restrictions in place. To prevent any new variant entering Iceland, every arriving passenger would need to be tested, which is unrealistic, he adds. The country must continue to monitor the pandemic and be ready to reintroduce border measures at very short notice, he says. 

Hospital fears 

Þórólfur also confirms that the rate of illness among unvaccinated people and those with underlying medical conditions is likely to rise, but that these consequences will likely be temporary and slow down when around 80 percent of the population has had the virus—likely by mid to late March. 

Guðlaug Rakel Guðjónsdóttir, the acting director of Landspítali national university hospital, said yesterday the decision to remove all restrictions brings even more uncertainty for the health system and that she would have preferred Iceland to stick to its previous timetable of staggered relaxation of restrictions. 

Do you think it is a reasonable decision to take now?

“No. In reality I don’t. I think it would have been good to wait a while and take it in the steps that were originally decided, and not to rush it in this manner,” Guðlaug said. 

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Alexander Elliott
Fréttastofa RÚV