If you’re looking for a “success story” in the midst of the pandemic, the next candidate being touted in the press is Iceland. Today, the country is opening back up for business almost entirely, while residents are still being warned to practice social distancing as much as possible. So have they “beaten” the novel coronavirus? The numbers don’t lie, and it’s definitely true that they have weathered the storm remarkably well thus far. Their total number of cases and deaths look impressively low, and their ability to conduct comprehensive testing is impressive. Of course, they have some built-in advantages not available to most nations. (Associated Press)
High schools, hair salons, dentists and other businesses across Iceland are reopening Monday after six weeks of lockdown, after this North Atlantic nation managed to tame its coronavirus outbreak.
Iceland has confirmed 1,799 cases of the virus, but just 10 people have died. The number of new COVID-19 cases each day has fallen from 106 at the peak of the outbreak to single digits — even, on some days, zero.
“I didn’t expect the recovery to be this fast,” said Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Gudnason.
I’m happy for the people of Iceland and hope that they continue to be successful in their efforts. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the many factors that played in their favor and why they aren’t some sort of role model for the rest of the world.
First of all, the country has a tiny population to take care of. There are only 360,000 people on the entire island. That makes it a lot easier to monitor what’s going on and swiftly act to reduce transmission rates.
Also, the disease didn’t arrive there until much later than many other places. They didn’t have their first confirmed case until the last day of February. They had time to watch what was going on in other countries and prepare. On top of that, the Icelandic culture is far more used to “big government solutions” without dwelling on things like fundamental freedoms. They began quarantining everyone and anyone as soon as the disease showed up.
Their small population also made it possible for them to quickly conduct testing and subsequent tracing at a faster rate than any larger nation could manage. They’ve already tested a full 13% of their entire population. This effort was made even easier by the fact that the island is home to biopharmaceutical company deCODE Genetics. They rapidly rolled out a testing program looking at asymptomatic people, not just those who were already obviously sick. In the end, they wound up putting more than 19,000 people in quarantine for at least two weeks.
So now Iceland is opening up most of their businesses with the exceptions of gyms and swimming pools. But they are still going to be isolating themselves from the rest of the world. Anyone arriving in Iceland from anywhere on the planet will have to go into a mandatory two-week quarantine and then undergo testing before being allowed out in public. This has sent their tourism industry into a tailspin, and that’s a big portion of their economy.
So, yes… Iceland went through their own virus saga and came out of it pretty quickly. They shared many of the same advantages that New Zealand did. (One of the other countries being hailed as having “beaten” the virus.) They still had to go to some pretty crazy lengths to accomplish that feat, however. But hey… what do you expect from a country that almost turned over their government to the Pirate Party a few years ago?