Iceland Halts U.K. Covid Variant at the Border

Iceland has so far managed to contain a highly contagious British variant of the coronavirus that’s threatening to wash across Europe with systematic border testing, preemptive quarantines for visitors and the full sequencing of Covid-19 cases detected in the country.

“So far we have been able to keep the British variant out,” Chief Epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason said in an interview in Reykjavik. “We have diagnosed more than 40 individuals at our borders but have been able to prevent it from spreading further within the country.”

The British mutation of the coronavirus has contributed to a new lockdown in the U.K. and has now been found in several European countries.

Denmark, which ramped up its own sequencing following a scare involving a variant found among its minks farms, has so far registered 464 cases of the B.1.1.7. lineage. And while overall cases of Covid-19 have been falling from their mid-December peak, the British variant is spreading at alarming rates, prompting Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to warn that it may take over as the dominant form of the virus in Denmark already by the middle of February.

The variant is now causing alarm in the rest of the Nordic region. While the numbers are still relatively low in Norway, Sweden and Finland, the true extent of its presence there is harder to establish due to limited data available.

Icelandic Prevention

Iceland’s success in containing the British variant is the result of a number of factors, including a positive response from the population to social distancing rules and other Covid-related restrictions pushed through by the government of Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.

“The other factor is the measures we have been taking on our borders since June of last year,” Gudnason said, pointing to systematic tests and quarantine for virtually all visitors landing at Keflavik Airport. The result is that “we have prevented 450 variants of the virus from entering the country,” he said.

That kind of data is only available thanks to DeCODE Genetics, an Icelandic company that has played an instrumental role in shaping the country’s Covid strategy.

By sequencing 100% of positive cases, “we can study whether some variants of the virus will escape the vaccine, for example.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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