Iceland’s testing yielded new leads for scientists about how the virus behaves. Early results suggested 0.6 percent of the population were “silent carriers” of the disease with no symptoms or only a mild cough and runny nose.
Preliminary research suggests one-third of those who tested positive at deCODE infected someone around them, providing evidence that silent carriers do transmit the disease but much less than symptomatic patients.
In a random sample of 848 children under the age of 10 none of them tested positive, which guided Icelandic authorities’ decision to keep schools open for children under 16.
Alongside the testing, civil defense authorities set up a Contact Tracing Team, including police officers and university students, which used legwork and phone calls to identify people who had come into contact with infected individuals. A mobile phone tracing app was up and running a few weeks later.
Gudnason said the approach’s success is shown by the fact that about 60% of people who tested positive were already in quarantine after being contacted by the tracing team.
Altogether, 19,000 people were ordered into two-week quarantine. Everyone else carried on with a semblance of normality. Primary schools remained open, and some cafes and restaurants kept operating, following social distancing rules: no more than 20 people gathered at once and everyone 2 meters (6.5 feet) apart.
Starting Monday, gatherings of up to 50 will be permitted, high schools and colleges can resume classes and all businesses except bars, gyms and swimming pools can reopen.
The entire country, however, must self-isolate from the rest of the world for the time being. Everyone arriving from abroad faces a 14-day quarantine.