Not just flattening the curve: this is how Iceland completely crushed the corona virus


Iceland had every reason to succeed in the fight against the corona plague. It is an isolated island, sparsely populated, relatively rich and with inexhaustible energy sources, which in addition to all has become in recent years a kind of global medical laboratory because of the genetic proximity of its inhabitants and studies on them.

It is a homogeneous welfare state, forged together after the economic collapse of 2008, and which managed to escape the bankruptcy to which it was then led by several businessmen and politicians. But in the early days of the corona plague in Europe, in early March, it did not look good.

Like other European countries, and despite the geographical remoteness, Iceland also experienced a significant corona eruption in early spring, originating from tourists from the mainland or Icelanders returning home after a ski holiday in Italy and Austria. The government has announced both countries as risk areas, and the closure of borders to residents outside the union (the country has signed the Schengen Convention) – but not fast enough.

Icelanders do not wear masks, Reykjavik, this month / Photo: John Sibley, Reuters

On March 1, the first two cases were recorded in Iceland, and from there the number increased. Tourists and other visitors brought the virus from the western United States, where it spread under the radar at the time, and also from Britain, which has aviation ties and trade with the island. Patients began to spread the corona in Iceland and caused infections within the community.

Two weeks after the first two cases, 30 cases were recorded per day, a month later 85, and the number increased to 100 patients per day, making Iceland the Scandinavian country with the largest morbidity rate at the time in relation to population size (Iceland has only about 350,000 people ).

Authorities had to recover quickly

But the rate of immigration and the fear of the corona have led the authorities to recover quickly, too, and have taken a series of steps that have made Iceland a success story so far in the war on the virus. Like New Zealand on the other side of the globe, Iceland has set itself the goal of not only flattening the disease curve in Corona, but smashing it. Germany or Italy can not hope for such a result, because of their relatively open land borders. Iceland and New Zealand, and to a large extent also Israel of the first wave – countries that can be closed at once – can try.

Iceland was run according to an orderly plan of its health system. She was not tempted to adopt the Swedish model, and although she refrained from declaring a comprehensive closure – the government took steps equivalent to it. She gradually closed the nightclubs and then the barbershops. It banned gatherings of more than 20 people, suspended high school and university classes, and reduced elementary and kindergarten attendance.

At the same time, the state conducted an array of epidemiological investigations and isolations that was aided by the relative abundance of technically feasible tests. Iceland has invested heavily in medicine in recent years, and various companies are conducting genetic research on its inhabitants, especially because of their unique history as descendants of Vikings and Europeans who sought a new place to settle, and remained relatively isolated for centuries. One of the big companies, DeCode by name, is a member of the government and started conducting tests on its behalf at the beginning of the crisis.

Thus, already at the end of March, the authorities together with the private company examined about 3.5% of the island’s population, which was then the highest rate in the world. In addition to investigations, the government offered residents free corona tests even if they did not show suspicious symptoms, and even if they were not in the vicinity of verified patients. At that time, out of about 1,000 cases recorded in the country, 30% were as a result of out-of-state infection, and 70% as a result of local infection.

The epidemiological measures worked, and were also accompanied by public campaigns about keeping distance. In one of the ads, which went viral in Europe, the government illustrated that the required distance between two people is two sheep standing one after the other – about two meters. “The politicians did not intervene and failed to spoil the Icelandic medical response,” an expert told The New Yorker, who devoted an article in the summer to the Icelandic success story.

Government ad: "Maintain 2 feet" / Photo: Associated Press Government ad: “Keep 2 meters” / Photo: Associated Press

A modest second wave relative to other countries

Since August, Iceland has also experienced a “second wave”, but is very modest compared to other places. Similar to what is done in New Zealand, a large proportion of cases are local contagion chains resulting from corona cases coming from abroad.

The government is trying its best to combat the phenomenon, which is common to countries that have managed to smash the curve, such as China, and now requires those who come to it from abroad to perform two corona tests – one with landing, and the other after five days of isolation. Negative result.

The cost (about $ 150 for both tests) is borne by the auditor. Alternatively, the authorities allow the choice of 14-day isolation as a precautionary measure. The corona still exists in Iceland, but the plague is kept on very little fire. Yesterday, three new cases were recorded in it.

The data provide a glimpse into the extent of the effort in Iceland. To date, about 250,000 corona tests have been performed in the country, which have detected about 2,200 cases of the disease. 25,000 people have been placed in solitary confinement since its eruption. The total death toll in Iceland is 10. In the last two weeks, the rate of infection within the community has been 11 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, and five cases per 100,000 among those entering the country. Its borders are open only to residents of the union and the Schengen area. There are zero hospitalized patients.

A crushing victory A crushing victory

Morbidity data, by the way, may be the closest to “real”, because it is assumed that almost all patients – including asymptomatic ones – are diagnosed in Iceland. According to the data, the overall mortality rate from the corona virus is about 0.45%, but it should be taken into account that the population in Iceland is relatively young (average age 38, compared to 43 in Europe) and other effects such as sources of infection.

The war in Corona demanded drastic measures

The important question now facing the state is regarding its economic future. The crash of the Icelandic curve required drastic measures, and according to Eurostat (the European equivalent of CBS), Icelandic GDP was hit by 9.1% in the second quarter compared to the previous quarter – the highest drop in all Scandinavian countries.

Experts explain the impact mainly on the collapse of tourism to the country, which has become a source close to 25% of Icelandic GDP in recent years. They warn that summer was supposed to be the most lucrative tourism period and that due to the ban on tourists from the US (Iceland is only a few hours away) From the East Coast) – the trend may also be recorded in the third quarter, and thereafter.

Therefore, alongside the public guidelines on keeping distance (but not the use of masks, which is not acceptable in the country) the government has launched campaigns to encourage domestic tourism, and also to try and attract European tourists who do not shy away from having two corona tests and starting their week of isolation.

The government in Reykjavik hopes that Icelanders will prefer ski resorts within the country this year, also for fear of contracting Corona in Europe. To the disappointment of the tourism sector, the government has not eased the entry conditions for tourists in the last month, making it clear that the costs of re-crushing the curve will be higher than those of reducing tourism by strict inspections and strict entry conditions.

Only 350,000 residents live on the northern island • Half of them are located in the capital Reykjavik • Area: 100 square kilometers (5 times Israel) • GDP: $ 18.2 billion (153 worldwide) • GDP per capita: $ 53.3 thousand (21 worldwide) • One more thing: Althingi, the parliament of Iceland, is the oldest in the world


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