Iceland tests higher proportion of citizens than any other country yielding valuable insights into the behaviour of Coronavirus

Running tests: Iceland Government press conference. Credit: Government of Iceland


Iceland health authorities and deCode Genetics have undertaken comprehensive screening for the virus that causes COVID-19 among the Icelandic population. The testing by deCode Genetics started Friday 13 March and the results of the first 1800 diagnosed tests have yielded 19 positive samples. Currently, a total of 1868 samples have been diagnosed by the healthcare system. The healthcare system’s testing has yielded 199 results indicating infection. Out of 1800 samples analyzed by deCode so far 19 are positive.

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At least half of those infected contracted the virus while travelling abroad, mostly in high-risk areas in the European Alps (at least 90).

Current efforts to estimate the prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus within the general, largely non-symptomatic, non-quarantined, population in conjunctions with very expansive testing already performed on those who were symptomatic or were for other reasons considered to be at-risk for having contracted the virus, have resulted in a total of 3787 individuals in Iceland being tested out of a population of 364 thousand. In terms of tests per one million inhabitants, Iceland has now tested 10 405, which is the highest proportion in the world. In the coming days about 1000 tests will be performed by deCode every day and at least 100 by the Icelandic health care system.

This leads to a greater confidence in our efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease in the country. The combined efforts also provide a very valuable insight into the spread of the virus. In the coming days, more results from testing in the general population will continue to elicit a much clearer picture of the actual spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in Iceland.

The results of the additional tests performed by deCode give a strong indication that efforts to limit the spread of the virus have been effective. In Iceland, these measures have focused on testing, contact tracing of infections, social distancing, public efforts to increase basic awareness of hand sanitation, voluntary self-quarantine measures (currently about 1,700 individuals), and strict measures at healthcare institutions, nursing homes and the likes.

A ban on gatherings of 100 people or took effect on March 15 and are planned to remain for four weeks. Secondary and tertiary education institutions have closed, but primary schools and kindergartens will remain open with specific measures implemented to limit infection risks. Icelanders abroad have been advised to consider returning home early, but Iceland has not banned travel to or from the country.

It will remain the focus of Icelandic authorities to slow down the spread of the virus in order to protect the infrastructure of the healthcare system. Iceland will also focus on using its geographic location and high testing capabilities to provide information and data to the global scientific community in order to contribute to a better understanding and help limit the damage being done by the pandemic.

Thorolfur Gudnason, Chief Epidemiologist, says that the data being collected provides valuable information. “There are strong indications that our efforts to contain the spread of the virus have been effective. About half of the diagnosed cases are from individuals who had been quarantined. Our focus is to protect those most vulnerable from contracting the virus while trying to ensure that the overall spread of the virus remains slow. We are optimistic that the combined efforts to test a large part of the population will provide insights that can contribute to the world’s response to this pandemic.”

“It is amazing to see how the community is coming together as one to deal with this threat. Here at deCode people are working 24/7 to screen for and to sequence the virus. The screening tells us where the virus is and the sequencing how it differs between the places where it is and how it continues to mutate”, said Kári Stefánsson, CEO of deCode.


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