As countries around the world scramble to fight back the spread of the coronavirus, Iceland is doing things a little differently from the rest — and the approach could have a much larger impact on our understanding of the virus.
The small island nation of 364,000 is carrying out large-scale testing among its general population, making it the latest country to put aggressive testing at the heart of its fight against the pandemic.
But — crucially — the testing also includes people who show no symptoms of the disease.
Iceland’s government said it has so far tested a higher proportion of its citizens than anywhere else in the world.
The number of individuals tested by the country’s health authorities and the biotechnology firm deCode Genetics — 3,787 — roughly translates to 10,405 per million, which compares to about 5,203 in South Korea, 2478 in Italy, and 764 in the UK.
“Iceland’s population puts it in the unique position of having very high testing capabilities with help from the Icelandic medical research company deCode Genetics, who are offering to perform large scale testing,” Thorolfur Guðnason, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, told BuzzFeed News.
“This effort is intended to gather insight into the actual prevalence of the virus in the community, as most countries are most exclusively testing symptomatic individuals at this time.”
Of 3,787 individuals tested in the country, a total of 218 positive cases have been identified so far. “At least half of those infected contracted the virus while travelling abroad, mostly in high-risk areas in the European Alps (at least 90),” the government said on Monday.
Those numbers include the first results of the voluntary tests on people with no symptoms, which started last Friday. The first batch of 1,800 tests produced 19 positive cases, or about 1% of the sample.
“Early results from deCode Genetics indicate that a low proportion of the general population has contracted the virus and that about half of those who tested positive are non-symptomatic,” said Guðnason. “The other half displays very moderate cold-like symptoms.”
“This data can also become a valuable resource for scientific studies of the virus in the future,” he added.