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On March 3, the Faroe Islands’ coronavirus outbreak began. Less than two months later, it’s been halted with an extraordinary 95% recovery rate – and no deaths.
The Danish Kingdom’s archipelago, a self-governing nation alongside Denmark and Greenland, has a population of 52,337 people, smaller than many towns across the UK. Yet, despite their remoteness, the Faroese have also been entangled in the anxiety of COVID-19, with 187 confirmed cases of the virus.
All it took was a few returning islanders to spark a spread. The government barely blinked, mobilising a comprehensive, rapid response that’s seen 178 people recover with no fatalities, nor a single person being hospitalised.
What’s the secret? ‘Early intervention,’ according to Kristina Háfoss, Faroese MP and former Minister of Finance. There was just 10 days between the islands’ first case and lockdown, at which point extensive testing became pivotal. ‘The more we tested, the more we found and learned – we became wiser,’ she told UNILAD.
The extensive testing, early, has made it possible to trace all the positive cases, and to quarantine all people, who have been in contact with them. At one time about 700 people – about 1.3% of the population was in quarantine – and this was a wise move. Afterwards a lot of the people who tested positive were people who already were in quarantine.
Since April 6, there’s only been three confirmed cases – all of whom had travelled to the Faroes and were already in quarantine when they tested positive – and there have been no positive tests since April 22.
Of the nine people still afflicted by the virus, seven had already recovered but unfortunately tested positive again. On Twitter, Háfoss noted there weren’t any signs they’d infected anyone else following their first test. Of those seven, six had no symptoms whatsoever.
Echoing Denmark’s measures at the order of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, people arriving from abroad were required to quarantine for two weeks, with schools, restaurants and other businesses closed and islanders urged to work from home where possible (the government has also pledged to pay the salaries of those suddenly without employment).
Since April 20, some facilities on the islands have been slowly re-opening – but caution is still advised. ‘The Faroese people have been very good at following the recommendations, at the moment it seems like we are winning the battle against the virus,’ Háfoss said.
As for how its citizens have been handling the pandemic, Háfoss said, ‘People have of course been worried, and therefore also been very careful… we are all worried about infecting other people, elderly and so on. Because even if you do not have any symptoms, you can have the virus and can infect others.’
I am proud of how people have reacted, and have tried to stay only with their nearest family members for a month now. In small nations, like the Faroe Islands, a lot of people know each other – and care for each other. Therefore we also know, that if a virus hits our country and people, a lot of people who we know and care for are will be infected.
That has probably given us an even stronger sense of responsibility towards each other and solidarity in our community. Solidarity is always a great strength – also when it comes to battling an invisible enemy – a virus – together.
While the first cases emerged in early March, a COVID-19 testing lab was ready in late February, capable of ‘600 testings per day, which is more that 1% of the population, with results ready within 6-8 hours’. People would simply telephone their local doctor, who’d decide if they required a test – now, more than 12% of the population has been tested.
In addition to mass compliance of government advice, hundreds of medical students, retired healthcare workers and others put themselves forward to assist hospitals and nursing homes.
Of course, the Faroe Islands’ response has to be dealt with in context. For example, the UK has 1,374 times more people, therefore the successes of relevant coronavirus infrastructure would never be as immediate.
However, ‘all nations can learn from each other. Both about the things that went right, and about the things that went wrong’. The UK’s first cases emerged on January 31, yet lockdown wasn’t enforced until March 23 – that’s 53 days in which the virus could spread, compared to the Faroe Islands’ 10.
As for whether its size gave the Faroes a better chance at beating the virus, Háfoss said:
Being a small nation gives you advantages, when it comes to adapting fast to new situations. That’s why I believe that small nations have advantages both in the digital world, and also in the battle-against-virus world.
But of course it demands good leadership and governance to reap the benefits of being a small nation – and it demands that people embrace the changes that are made. The Faroese authorities have reacted fast and we implemented a strategy and lockdown early… and the Faroese people have been very good at following the recommendations from the authorities.
What now for the islands? Well, in addition to normal life slowly but surely resuming, authorities are now taking ‘the next steps’, testing citizens randomly to asses whether ‘there are people who have had the virus before or have it without knowing’ – it’s worth noting that a large number of those with the virus were asymptomatic.
A further research lab has also been established, with experts working to genome sequence the virus and ‘find solutions to the COVID-19’ outbreak.
Globally, there have been more than 2.9 million cases of coronavirus. While Háfoss conceded it hasn’t had as severe an impact on the Faroes as other places, the government’s prompt, no-nonsense response is a beacon for how we will, in time, emerge from this crisis.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.
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