BELGA/DIRKX

“Virus was probably present among the young much earlier ”

Iceland has confirmed three times as many corona infections as Belgium, but deaths are ten times lower.  What does Iceland teach us about corona?

The country’s got a thousand confirmed cases but only two deaths.  Prof Herman Goossens, a microbiologist from Antwerp University, points to Iceland’s higher testing capacity.  It means more people can be tested even people without symptoms.  This shows us that more people are infected than we thought.  Young people appear to be carriers and spreaders of the virus without even displaying symptoms.

Prof Goossens: “I’m pretty sure that’s how the virus spread here too and a lot earlier than we thought”.

Iceland was able to carry out more testing thanks to a unique project: the deCODE company registers the genetic code of the entire population, some 360,000 souls.  It reveals who is related to who. The genetic research means the company can carry out molecular tests.  The whole company has now been reoriented to map out the corona outbreak in the island.

The ability to test a wide segment of the population including people without symptoms is revealing and shows how the virus spread.

Prof Goossens: “If you look at the age curve, you see the same picture as in South Korea: most of those infected are aged between 20 and 40.  Half of these people are unaware of it.”

As a result young people can pass on the virus to parents and grandparents without knowing. The spread of the virus may have occurred earlier than we thought.

Prof Herman Goossens: “After a couple of weeks you see more hospitalisations and deaths.  Then it’s too late to intervene.  I’m pretty sure this is how it happened in Belgium.  It’s quite possible young people were infected in January, February and March and spread the virus without wishing to do so.”

“We’ll have greater clarity in a couple of weeks.  We can look at serum banks for January, February and March and see if we find antibodies.  Then we will be able to establish how long the virus was present here.”