May 6, 2020 / 6:07 PM / 18 days ago

Iceland close to full recovery from coronavirus: govt

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Iceland has all but eliminated the coronavirus outbreak as 97% of infected patients have recovered and only two new cases have been confirmed in the last week, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

After declaring its first confirmed cases in early March, the north Atlantic island nation went into a lockdown, closing schools and banning large public gatherings, and it put in place a rigorous testing and tracing strategy to curb the outbreak.

That enabled the country of around 360,000 people to announce a partial reopening of society in mid-April after the outbreak peaked earlier in the month and showed clear signs of slowing.

“We have been pleasantly surprised to see a very fast deceleration of the pandemic in Iceland. However, it is extremely important to remain vigilant and minimize the risk of a renewed outbreak,” chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason said in a statement.

Iceland has performed tests on 51,663 inhabitants, or more than 14% of people overall - a great proportion than in almost any other country, thanks in part to its small population.

Most restrictions were eased on Monday, with the opening of schools, hair salons and museums, and gatherings of up to 50 people now allowed.

“57% of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 were already isolated in quarantine when they were diagnosed, which is believed to underline the effectiveness of those measures in combating the spread of the virus,” the government said.

A two-metre social distancing rule will remain in place for some time, while gyms and pools will stay closed. Businesses requiring close proximity with customers would be allowed to resume and all children’s activities are back to normal, it said.

A total of 1,799 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland, and 1,750 of those are no longer infected. There are now only 39 known infections and three people hospitalised by the virus.

Ten people diagnosed with the virus have died, seven of whom were over 70 years old.

Since the outbreak, the government has injected around $2 billion into the tourism-dependant economy in financial aid to businesses as well as measures to help vulnerable groups, students and jobseekers.

Around Europe, countries including Austria, Portugal and Denmark have announced similar measures to lift lockdown restrictions, with Germany following suit earlier on Wednesday.

Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Sandra Maler and Hugh Lawson

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