Iceland’s evidence-based leadership and the global COVID-19 response

A recurring theme in the past few months spent battling the onset of COVID-19 has been a lack of extensive data from which to draw verifiable conclusions. Of course, only time will be able to reveal certain patterns and characteristics of the virus and its rampant spread through global society, but there are other areas in which research can be used to take preemptive action and prevent relapses. 


Iceland is in a unique position, as an island nation that places substantial trust in scientific and medical research, to give insight into the current health crisis for the rest of the global community. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is leading by example, offering free coronavirus testing for all of Iceland’s citizens. Iceland has tested 10% of its population, which is a much higher figure than any other country in the world, including South Korea. 


Naturally, Iceland’s modest population size plays a significant role in its ability to test its citizens at such a rate. Nonetheless, this evidence has substantiated some of the most pressing hypotheses that experts have been investigating but were unable to corroborate due to limited data: namely, that a large percentage of any given population will have contracted the coronavirus and be asymptomatic. Indeed, in Iceland about half its citizenry could have the virus, but not know it.  


This data provides the world with greater insight into just how pervasive and endemic COVID-19 is. It can also be used to craft better response mechanisms and furnish more answers about the unfamiliar virus. This evidence is paramount for many countries now outlining public health measures which will be enacted in the coming months to phase out confinement.


Currently, Iceland is the only country that has this much available data. And while it is impossible to draw categorical conclusions from their research, in light of the population sample and the limited time span, it is important that countries move forward using the evidence that is available. 


In addition to using data and research to create an evidence-based response, countries must also address other factors, such as coordination, communication, and visibility, that play an essential role in determining the success of their COVID-19 responses. 


To effectively address these factors, governments can easily look to the women leaders who have been giving the rest of the world an exemplary lesson in crisis leadership, including Iceland’s Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir, New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and President of the Republic of China (Taiwan) Tsai Ing-wen to name a few.