Media

MSNBC Criticizes U.S. for Failing to Control Virus as Effectively as Iceland, an Island of Just 364,000

Iceland was hailed as a leading example for how to control the spread of coronavirus by MSNBC on Tuesday during a segment that criticized the United States for failing to match the efforts of the Nordic island nation.

MSNBC's Ari Melber hailed Iceland for "taking far bolder action to stay ahead of the so-called curve" than the United States.

"Iceland has been out front, and they're testing a much larger portion of their population than basically any other country in order to learn about the virus and stay ahead of its spread," Melber said.

Melber and his guest, the Harvard Global Health Institute's Dr. Ashish Jha, credited Iceland's ability to get out in front of the virus to its decision to start testing early, criticizing the United States for its failure to beat back the virus as effectively as Iceland.

"We know how to beat the virus, it's actually not a mystery," Dr. Jha said. "Unfortunately, we started late, we don't have a good testing infrastructure, and we still can't do a lot of the things that Iceland is doing."

Mentioned only as an aside was that Iceland boasts a population of just 364,260—about 0.1 percent of the 327.2 million people in the United States and about half the population of Wyoming, the country's least populated state. Iceland also benefits from being a remote island, with its closest neighbor Greenland a 186-mile swim away.

Melber said the case of Iceland should make viewers in the the United States question why "the richest country on earth" failed to match the effort in Iceland, which, according to the segment, has managed to test more than 10,000 people, turning up 648 cases of the coronavirus so far.

"Someone listening would say, ‘Oh great, we actually have the solutions and we're the richest country on earth. And we talk about health care constantly, every presidential election, 10 years running with Obamacare,'" Melber said, asking Dr. Jha why the United States has failed to match countries like Iceland.

Dr. Jha said the reason was the United States got started too slow. "We wasted two months," Dr. Jha said, without any mention of the major differences between Iceland and the United States.

The coronavirus, as with other viral outbreaks, has proven to be more manageable in small, low-population areas. Iceland's chief epidemiologist has said the country has a unique ability to do wide scale testing because of its population.

"Iceland’s population puts it in the unique position of having very high testing capabilities with help from the Icelandic medical research company deCode Genetics, who are offering to perform large scale testing," Thorolfur Guðnason told BuzzFeed News.

Similarly, Colorado's San Miguel County, due to its population of just about 8,000, was able to offer coronavirus tests to all of its residents.

Even with its small population, however, Iceland's health system is beginning to feel the strains of its aggressive testing. The government announced last Friday that it was running out of testing swabs, with only 2,000 remaining in the country.

The United States meanwhile says it has stepped up its testing. Dr. Deborah Birx, who heads the White House coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that the United States has likely conducted more tests in the past eight days than South Korea conducted in the past eight weeks.

The United States has thus far tested about 358,000 people and will soon have conducted more tests than there are people in Iceland.