National University Hospital to handle Covid-19 testing at the border

Ásgeir Ingvarsson

mbl.is

A solution has been found to continue testing passengers arriving in Iceland for signs of Covid-19. As Mbl.is and Iceland Monitor reported on Monday genome research company deCode made the surprise decision at the start of the week to no longer handle Covid-19 testing at the border after Monday July 13th. Authorities were left scrambling for a way to keep testing in place but with no obvious alternative in sight.

A dedicated testing facility was opened at Keflavik Airport on June 15th with all arriving passengers required to receive a nasal swab for same-day testing for Covid-19 markers. DeCode had, as a preliminary measure, assumed responsibility for running the facility.

The CEO of deCode, apparently unhappy with how slowly the Icelandic government was proceeding with plans to transfer the task of testing to a government-run institution, had suggested that the National University Hospital could quickly take over if given adequate support to do so. However the head physician of the medical microbiology and virology lab at the hospital responded Monday that his department did not yet have the capacity to test the large number of samples gathered daily at the border, and that it would be “absolutely impossible” for his laboratory to replace deCode.

Will test ten samples at a time

After careful consideration it seems the University Hospital will indeed handle the task. Pall Matthíasson, CEO of the hospital, says that while taking over from deCode will be difficult it will be doable.

Mr. Matthíasson says that deCode's decision came as a surprise both to the government and to the University Hospital. “That explains how we responded to the news at first, but after meeting with the authorities we have a clearer idea of the task at hand. We would have liked to have more time to prepare, but life isn't always easy.”

Some eighteen specialists, who had been hired by the University Hospital to assist deCode with the testing will now transfer over to the hospital laboratory.

To increase testing capacity using existing equipment a novel method will be use where ten samples will be tested at a time, and if Covid-19 markers are found in the batch each sample will be tested individually. In July the number of samples collected at the border has fluctuated from 733 to 1.941 per day with only three to five per day testing positive for signs of Covid-19.

The facility at Keflavik Airport is designed to handle as many as 2.000 passengers a day but using batch-testing the University Hospital should be able to process between 2.000 and 3.000 samples daily.

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