Chris McClure on schools still open in Iceland: “Is a complete disregard for what research actually shows”





 Èric Lluent / Reykjavík

The government of Iceland is still keeping kindergartens and primary schools open, being one of the few countries in Europe that has not closed completely education centres following Covid19 outbreak. According to Chris McClure, a US epidemiologist living in Iceland, “this decision is very narrow-minded and not driven by research”.  Asked by El Faro de Reykjavík, McClure has shown harsh criticism on the strategy taken by the Icelandic government and believes “that the people in charge are basing their tactics on one narrow study out of Imperial College rather than more accurate historical data from the last 100 years. They are not just focusing on one study, they are cherry-picking the data of the study and ignoring the main conclusions of the researchers”.

McClure highlights that the academic report “tells the reader ‘that school and university closure is a more effective strategy to support epidemic suppression than mitigation; when combined with population-wide social distancing, the effect of school closure is to further amplify the breaking of social contacts between households, and thus suppress transmission.'”.  “Keeping schools open in Iceland is a decision that has been made not on sound science or evidence. It is a complete disregard for what research actually shows”, he concludes.

Contrarily, the official position of the Icelandic government on the matter remains the same as last week. “Primary schools may carry out instruction in school buildings if they guarantee that no more than 20 students are in the same classroom and that students do not mix with other groups. Pre-schools may remain open and continue their activities if they guarantee that children are in small groups and kept separate as much as possible. Furthermore, the pre-school buildings must be cleaned or disinfected after each day. Schoolmates who are not in the same group in school (the same class) should not interact outside of school”, states the Icelandic government in the official website

From today, bars, museums, swimming-pools, gyms and all businesses that require close contact will remain closed till April 12. At the time of writing, 588 people have been diagnosed with Covid19 in Iceland. Two persons died in the island, an Australian tourist and an Icelandic woman that was being treated at the National Hospital. At the moment, 6.816 people are at home quarantine and 51 have recovered. The Chief Epidemiologist, Þórólfur Guðnason, still supports that there is no enough evidence to close primary schools and kindergartens, in line with the strategy taken in Sweden. The Swedish state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said that if schools were closed there would be “a lot of very negative effects from closing schools: you lose workforce in healthcare to an extent which is totally unacceptable to Sweden”, as reported by The Local.

On the other hand, Denmark, as most of European countries, has taken a different path closing all the schools to decrease the spread of the virus. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen decisions have been under international scrutiny because his plan includes the closure of national borders. “We are not in a situation where we as a government can allow ourselves to lean on evidence, because we are facing a new disease that is developing in a way that the authorities have not been able to foresee. If we have to wait for evidence-based knowledge in relation to corona, then we are simply too late”, she stated, as reported by ScandAsia, defending his strategy to handle the Covid19 crisis.

Not understanding the actions taken by the authorities to reduce the spread of Covid19, some parents in Iceland have decided not to send kids to school and to self-quarantine. “I have decided to keep our kids home because I believe it is important to limit interactions to a strict minimum. Kids can’t follow the two meters distance rule simply because they are too young to understand it. So for me there is no real other option than staying home with them”, Martyna Daniel, a resident in Iceland from Switzerland, explains. “I have a 10 years old daughter with slight asthma and she’s not attending school for 3 weeks now. I’m pregnant with a second child and I have an underlying condition. It was the most logical thing to do. I do not trust authorities and I decided to take matters in my own hands”, Wiktoria Joanna Ginter, from Poland, says.

“School should just be cancelled altogether. Online classes and home schooling with teacher lesson plans is the safest and most responsible option, this is being done in many other countries. It is now being discussed that you can have covid19 for between 12-25 days without being symptomatic. Regardless of whether it is  5, 12, or 25 days the point is we just don’t know yet, and a child or teacher can potentially infect others including grandparents who would be at risk”, Ásdís Sif and Daniel Leeb explain to El Faro de Reykjavík. Some parents also point that the rules were not implemented properly in some schools. “The first day of this new organisation I walked my daughter to school and then I saw that while they were waiting to get into the school building all the groups were blending agglutinated at the door, everybody on each other. No distance between them, so for me that was it”, Julie Coadou, from France, describes. For Coadou, who suffers asthma and immune system problems, she had no other option than moving her kid out of the school.


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