Join Hafta-Ichi to Research the article “We got rid of Covid-19 in the Faroe Islands through competence – and luck | Coronavirus”
On 26 February, the Faroe Islands became officially free of Covid-19. Since July 2020, our archipelago has experienced three waves of the virus, and each time the number of cases has declined quickly. In the beginning this looked like luck. Now, it seems more like the result of a successful strategy.
How did we manage it? In some ways, our response to Covid-19 followed the same map as other countries: testing, contact tracing, lockdowns, public health campaigns and a reorganisation of our health sector. But, in other respects, our approach was unique. Unlike most other governments, we decided early on that we wanted to influence the behaviour of our citizens by issuing recommendations – not by making laws.
Trust breeds trust – or at least that has been true in our case. We’re convinced that limiting our citizens by law, rather than encouraging them with recommendations, would have left us worse off than we are now.
But this trust-based strategy wasn’t the only reason we managed to eliminate Covid. Our management of the pandemic during the spring and summer was unique in the scale and effectiveness of its testing capacity. The Faroe Islands had the world’s highest rate of testing per capita last year. We tested up to 2% of the population – or 1,000 people – every day (our total population just over 50,000). In June, we required that all travellers to the Faroe Islands were tested at the airport on arrival, and we recommended they get tested again six days later.
Testing capacity doesn’t come from nowhere. Our industrial sector has put us at a huge advantage. The production of farmed salmon is a key industry in the Faroe Islands, and, in the past, salmon farmers have been tormented with salmon disease, which has caused several industry collapses. In response, our veterinary authorities built the infrastructure necessary to rapidly test for salmon diseases in an emergency.
When the pandemic struck, the Faroese veterinary authorities proposed adapting these testing labs so they could be used to test for Covid-19 in humans. They collaborated with private laboratories and the public health sector, allowing the Faroe Islands to increase its testing capacity to about 5-7% of the population a day by August, which we combined with contact-tracing and isolation policies.
Our elimination of Covid is a story about the ingenuity of individuals and organisations with no history of collaboration working together during the pandemic. Of course, other factors have played a part too. Geography matters: sea and air are the only arrival points to the Faroe Islands, making it easy to manage potential Covid cases among incoming travellers. Rather than taking buses and trains, most people drive to work, meaning that commuting is unlikely to have caused many infections.
Moreover, our population is far smaller than many other countries, and general levels of trust are high. A survey conducted last May by the University of the Faroe Islands indicates that most Faroese have a high level of trust in the government, the prime minister, the Faroese media, their own municipality, the head of police, health authorities and experts, and, finally, in the Faroese people in general.
This is good news for disease management. Trust in political institutions, the media and among citizens makes any type of management – including that of a pandemic – more straightforward. In small societies, there is often more informal surveillance, and inhabitants frequently have a strong sense of self-discipline. Anecdotal evidence also indicates that the Faroe Islands’ “rural panopticon” – the academic term for social control in small and rural societies – has led to more comprehensive testing, more effective tracking and tracing, and greater public conformity with quarantine, hygiene and social distancing measures.
Alone, testing is not enough. Many of the countries with the highest testing rates are also among those with the most Covid cases. Testing is only successful when it’s combined with measures such as effective contact tracing and isolation. And, in general, whether or not a country’s Covid-19 strategy is successful depends on that country’s geography and social circumstances. So, has our relatively successful experience with Covid-19 so far been a result of luck or competence? The answer is: a bit of both.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: We got rid of Covid-19 in the Faroe Islands through competence – and luck | Coronavirus