COPENHAGEN – Mass tests, tracking and isolation have allowed Iceland to contain the COVID-19 pandemic like few other countries in Europe, to the point that next week it will begin to lift the restrictive measures implemented in March.
More than 90% of the 1,797 infected have recovered in this Nordic country, where for three consecutive weeks the number of cured patients exceeds that of those infected, the mortality rate is one of the lowest in Europe (2.83 per 100,000 people) and has There were ten deaths, the last one on the 19th.
In Icelandic hospitals there are only six people admitted by COVID-19, none in intensive care for four days, and in the last week there have been hardly any new cases, with several days without positive results.
“No new infected yesterday. This is the first time this has happened since the start of the pandemic in Iceland. An important milestone in the fight against COVID, in which we have followed the recommendations of the WHO,” he wrote on the social network Twitter. on the 24th the Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdóttir.
No one has proportionally performed more tests of COVID-19 than Iceland (13.4% of the country’s population, with about 360,000 inhabitants), which started doing so in early February, almost a month before detecting the first positive in the country .
They first tested those who returned from high-risk areas; Then, with the help of the Icelandic company deCODE (world leader in human genome analysis), two more studies were carried out, one with volunteers and the other with randomly selected people, which have allowed us to better understand the virus and its spread.
Research by experts from deCODE, the Health Directorate and the National University Hospital (Landspitali) reveals, for example, the high number of asymptomatic carriers and the lower susceptibility of children and women to a virus of which 291 own mutations were found after sequencing it.
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Along with the high number of tests, the other two pillars of the Icelandic strategy have been the tracking of contacts of the infected and the isolation of the sick and those suspected of carrying the virus, which has contained contagion in society.
Patients receive phone calls almost every day and can record their symptoms through an application, which has allowed close monitoring of cases, explains Martin Ingi Sigurðsson, head of intensive care at the Reykjavik Landspitali.
Martin Ingi is one of the authors of a prospective study, pending review, carried out by experts from Landspitali and the Akureyri hospital (north) on Icelandic intensive care units (ICUs) in relation to COVID-19, with very positive.
Only 1.5% of those infected have needed intensive care, compared to 5-10% in Lombardy and China at the start of the pandemic; and less than 15% of these patients have died, when in countries such as Italy, China and the United Kingdom the percentage ranged between 50 and 90%.
Health authorities updated the list of symptoms of the disease, which already leaves more than 200,000 dead worldwide.
“We did quite well guiding and giving recommendations on which individuals needed intensive care, that improved the results. It was very helpful that there was not a long delay between the time they needed that care and the time they received it,” he says. in telephone conversation.
The strategy adopted, the speed of action and the experiences of other countries that were ahead in the epidemic, made Iceland “never experience chaotic situations, the infected could be treated almost immediately”.
Iceland’s island-state status, with a single large international airport and the lowest population density in Europe (360,000 inhabitants in 100,000 square kilometers) also play a role in the success of the strategy.
“Iceland is a small country, people follow the rules, trust the authorities, that makes everything much easier,” says Martin Ingi, who believes that the Icelandic strategy – which according to a recent survey, 96% of the population believes right – it is “scalable” and can serve as an example to larger countries.
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Endorsed by the good numbers, Iceland begins a first phase of reopening this Monday: nurseries and schools will work again normally after operating at 50% of their capacity; Institutes and universities will do it with restrictions and will open hairdressers and beauty salons.
The number of people who can gather will be increased from 20 to 50 people and sports will be allowed with restrictions in outdoor spaces for children and adults, but the rule of keeping two meters away remains in force and swimming pools, gyms, bars and restaurants will remain closed .
“We must be vigilant in the coming months to prevent a second and more extensive surge,” epideórólfur Guðnason, chief epidemiologist at the Health Directorate, said this week, warning against the “false security” of the few positives recorded in recent days.
Experts assume that the reopening will lead to an increase in infections, but Martin Ingi hopes that monitoring and isolation will be enough to prevent a flare-up of the epidemic.
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AID TO BUSINESSES AND WORKERS
The coronavirus crisis has hit the economy of Iceland especially hard, a country that has tourism as one of its main sources of income and whose government has launched up to three aid packages for companies and workers.
Unemployment stood at a record 9.2% in March – one tenth more than the maximum during the 2008 crisis and double that of the previous month – but the Labor Directorate has another significant increase in April.
Iceland, which is part of the European Economic Area (EEA), has joined the ban on the entry of non-EU citizens into the country and has established a mandatory 14-day quarantine for foreign travelers until mid-May, although the measure does not appear is going to have a lot of application.
Over the Easter weekend 99 passengers arrived at Keflavik International Airport; a year ago, 84,000.