People gather at a restaurant in Reykjavik after Iceland recorded days of zero new cases of COVID-19, April 29, 2020.
People gather at a restaurant in Reykjavik after Iceland recorded days of zero new cases of COVID-19, April 29, 2020.

Officials in Iceland say schools, hair salons, dental and other small businesses across the nation are reopening Monday after six weeks of lockdown and a steady drop in new COVID-19 cases.

With a total population of around 360,000 residents, Iceland has confirmed 1,799 cases of the coronavirus, and just 10 deaths. The number of new COVID-19 cases each day has fallen from 106 at the peak of the outbreak to single digits. On some days, the number is zero.

While its small population certainly was a factor in bringing Iceland’s COVID-19 outbreak under control, authorities there were also took decisive action early to identify and isolate infected people, even when they had no symptoms.

The country confirmed its first case on Feb. 28 and determined the virus was brought back from a ski resort in the Austrian Alps. Officials quarantined everyone returning from other hot spots and began test-and-trace measures to locate and isolate every case.

Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, Thorolfur Gudnason, told The Associated Press the nation had been updating and testing its response to a global pandemic since 2004. Hospitals had been testing people arriving from abroad for a month before the first confirmed case, and a media campaign urged hand-washing and social distancing. 

Larger countries such as Britain took the same approach, at first. But Britain abandoned test-and-trace in March as the number of cases overwhelmed its testing capacity. More than a month later and with almost 30,000 Britons dead, the country is scrambling to resume testing and tracing as part of its route out of national lockdown.