Iceland sets up committee to examine COVID-19 response

A man walks past a tourist shop in Reykjavik in this September 2020 file photo. “The Chief Epidemiologist notes that the spread of the virus following the removal of all domestic restrictions at the beginning of July was fast and he therefore emphasised caution in lifting domestic and border restrictions in the near future,” the Icelandic government said in a recent news release. (John Sibley/Reuters)

Iceland’s Prime Minister has appointed a committee to assess the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katrin Jakobsdottir has tasked the group to examine all aspects of the pandemic including: preparedness, decision-making, information dissemination and the social impacts, the government said in a news release on Tuesday. 

The committee will be made up of Asthildur Elva Bernhardsdottir, an associate professor at Bifrost University, Gudny Bjork Eydal, professor at the University of Iceland, and Trausti Fannar Valsson, associate professor at the University of Iceland.

The committee will issue its final report by March 2022.

Iceland has been widely praised by the international community for its response to the pandemic, including it’s early procurement of PPE, letting public health authorities lead the response, and the sequencing of samples allowing authorities to easily understand which variants were circulating where in the country.

Navigating fourth wave
A man in a public swimming pool in Seltjarnarnes, Iceland on February 12, 2021. This week, the government allowed swimming pools and gyms to operate at 75 per cent capacity as domestic COVID-19 infection continues to plummet. (Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/via Getty Images)

Iceland is still navigating its fourth wave but with case counts dropping, lifted some restrictions on August 28.

As of Saturday, swimming pools and health and fitness facilities have been permitted to operate and full capacity.  Also, the 1 metre social distancing rule will no longer be required for sports spectators or people attending staged events were the audience is seated.

These new rules will be in place until September 17 and then reviewed.

The government said the infection spike after domestic restrictions were lifted this summer means the ongoing loosening of restrictions will be carefully considered.

Iceland lifted several testing and public health measures early this summer but had reinstated many by the beginning of August after a surge in cases related to the Delta variant.

“The Chief Epidemiologist notes that the spread of the virus following the removal of all domestic restrictions at the beginning of July was fast and he therefore emphasised caution in lifting domestic and border restrictions in the near future,” the government said in a news release on Friday. 

Rapid testing coming September 3

The government also plans to introduce rapid testing for large events that would allow up to 500 seated people to gather at a time in one place.

As of Tuesday, Iceland was reporting a 14- day incidence of 287.7 domestic infections per 100,000 people, and 15.3 cases per 100,000 people at the border.

Write to Eilís at 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Inuit region of Arctic Quebec to adopt provincial COVID-19 passport, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Berry firms moved harvesters from Lapland to East Finland even if exposed to, infected with COVID-19, Yle News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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