Countries around the world are scrambling to find a cure for the deadly coronavirus. However, Iceland is taking a different approach.
The small island country of 350,000-some citizens is testing a large percent of its population — even if a person doesn’t show any symptoms of COVID-19.
Iceland’s government recently noted that it tested a higher proportion of its citizens than anywhere else in the world.
“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,” said Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Guðnason, in an interview.
So far, the number of individuals tested for coronavirus by the country’s health system is 3,787, which roughly translates to 10,405 per million. In comparison, South Korea has tested about 5,203; 2478 in Italy; and 764 in the UK.
Of those 3,787 individuals tested, a total of 218 positive cases have been identified at the moment. Almost half of those infected contracted the virus while traveling to high-risk areas in Europe, such as the Italian Alps.
“Early results 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. The other half displays very moderate cold-like symptoms,” Guðnason continued. “This data can also become a valuable resource for scientific studies of the virus in the future.”
Although testing on such a massive scale is unlikely to be feasible across larger countries, it can provide insight to better fight the coronavirus. For example, the magazine Science found that for every confirmed case of the virus, there are likely 5 to 10 other people who have undetected infections. Due to this, the World Health Organization has urged countries to test more suspected cases.
“You cannot fight the fire blindfolded, and we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected,” director-general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said this week. “We have a simple message for all countries: Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.”