14-Day Quarantine for Tourists Arriving in Iceland

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Following the recommendations of the Chief Epidemiologist, the Minister of Health has revised the current restrictions on arrivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. International travellers to Iceland must self-quarantine for 14 days from the day of their arrival. Temporary internal Schengen border controls will go into effect on the same day.

The outbreak largely contained

In an announcement earlier today, the government declared that beginning on Friday, April 24, international arrivals to Iceland must be quarantined for 14 days from the day of their arrival. The restriction will remain in effect until at least May 15, barring any changes in the medical and scientific advice.

These restrictions are adopted on the advice of a project group headed by the National Commissioner of Police, which was established at the request of the Chief Epidemiologist to assess COVID-19 policies. The announcement notes that even though Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has stated that the COVID-19 outbreak in Iceland has now been largely contained – with only a few new cases diagnosed each day (seven new infections were reported today) – it is important to prevent a second wave of contagion by ensuring that the disease does not spread from other countries.

Thus far, tourists in Iceland have been exempt from quarantine rules by the rationale that they do not come into contact with vulnerable groups.

Temporary border controls established

In order to enforce the updated quarantine rules, temporary border controls for arrivals from the Schengen area have been established:

“Those passengers arriving in Iceland will be required to fill out a Public Health Passenger Locator form and present it at the border inspection point, providing necessary information regarding where they will stay in quarantine and how it will be organised,” the announcement reads.

Schengen and EU travel restrictions extended until May 15

The announcement also notes that Schengen and EU travel restrictions will be extended until May 15. Iceland had previously implemented the travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area and the European Union:

“As of March 20, 2020, foreign nationals – except EU/EEA, EFTA, or UK nationals – are not allowed to enter Iceland unless they can demonstrate that their travel is essential. These measures have been extended until May 15, 2020. Further information is available on the website of the Directorate of Immigration.

Subsequent measures to be announced

A working group of officials from several ministries will be considering the subsequent steps with regard to cross-border travel. Future decisions will depend on the pandemic’s evolution in Iceland and abroad. They will also take into account other countries’ policies.

Little Change in GHG Emissions between 2017 and 2018

smog

Almost no change in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was observed in Iceland between 2017 and 2018 (a decrease of 0.1%), according to a new report by the Environment Agency of Iceland. In a brief press release introducing the report’s findings, authors of the report state that GHG emissions in Iceland reached an all-time high in 2007. A considerable decline in emissions followed the 2008 economic crisis, but since 2011, emissions have been relatively fixed.

A negligible decrease in emissions

In a press release on April 15, the Environment Agency of Iceland referenced its National Inventory Report (NIR), which was published on the same day, and submitted per Iceland’s obligations towards the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. These commitments require that parties report annually on their GHG emissions by sources and removals by sinks.

Annual GHG emissions in Iceland, from sectors that the government has committed to reducing (in accordance with the abovementioned obligations), are shown on the below graph (taken from the EAI’s website). Since 2005, which serves as the benchmark year for Iceland’s obligations to the EU, GHG emissions have declined by 6.3%. However, as the graph indicates, emissions have been relatively stable since 2012.

(Blue: Energy, Orange: Industry, Grey: Agriculture, Yellow: Waste)

The primary sources of emissions that fall under the government’s responsibility are road transport (33%), fuel consumption by fishing vessels (18%), agricultural soil (8%), refrigerant emissions or F-gases (6%) and emissions from landfills (7%). The proportion of emissions can be seen on the below picture (sources for emissions that account for less than 4% were omitted from the graph).

The National Inventory Report

Further information about Iceland’s greenhouse gas emissions can be found in the aforementioned National Inventory Report. The report, submitted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, contains information about the evolution of greenhouse gas emissions in Iceland between 1990 and 2018. The report also describes the methodology used to appraise the emissions; contains data about emissions and removals calculations from the Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry (LULUCF) sector; and data about emissions from international air and maritime traffic (not a part of the government’s obligations).

Government Presents Second Phase of Economic Response Package

At a press conference yesterday, the government presented the second phase of its economic response package to the COVID-19 crisis. The package is worth an estimated ISK 60 billion ($412,000,000 / €380,000,000) and focuses on support and protections for small enterprises, innovation, and vulnerable groups.

Protect jobs, look to the future

Yesterday, at the Culture House in downtown Reykjavík, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, and Minister of Transport and Local Government Sigurður Ingi Jóhannson introduced the second phase of the government’s economic response package to the COVID-19 crisis. The first phase of the package was introduced on May 21.

“In recent weeks and months, Icelanders have shown solidarity, resilience, and flexibility in the face of this unprecedented pandemic. Today’s announcement reflects our priorities to protect jobs, embrace our people, and look to the future,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated.

The package includes, among other things, wage enhancements for healthcare workers; additional contributions to innovation and higher reimbursement for research and development; subsidies to businesses that have been forced to close; support to vulnerable groups, job seekers, and students; and special protections to media companies and travel agencies.

Wage enhancements for healthcare workers

The package will award front-line healthcare workers, who have been “under additional strain and are at elevated risk of contagion,” a one-off bonus in acknowledgement of their service. The bonus is worth an estimated ISK 1 billion ($6,867,690 / €6,325,199). The implementation and allocation of the bonus will be in the hands of healthcare institutions.

Innovation prioritised

The package calls for the prioritisation of innovation, involving additional contributions to companies investing in growth, and the increase of reimbursement ratios and caps on research and development (contributions to the Kría Venture Capital Fund will likewise be increased). The government also aims to expedite reimbursements for research and development expenses in 2019. The measures equal just under ISK 4.4 billion ($30,234,446 / €27,848,948).

Iceland’s food production sector will also receive greater support and funding for the arts will be increased to allow an additional 600 projects to be supported in 2020.

Subsidies to businesses forced to close

The plan will also grant so-called “closure subsidies” of up to ISK 2.4 million ($16,489 / €15,190) to companies forced to halt their operations for health reasons during the pandemic. Non-indexed support loans of up to ISK 6 million ($41,226 / €37,966), offered at the Central Bank of Iceland’s seven-day term deposit rate (1.75%), will also be available to these companies.

The total expenditures for the two measures are estimated at roughly ISK 30 billion ($206,143,950 / €189,890,529). Companies will also be authorised to carry forward up to ISK 20 million ($137,438 / €126,584) in foreseeable year-2020 losses to offset income tax on 2019 profits.

Support for vulnerable groups

The response package includes measures to support vulnerable groups, job seekers, and students. A total of ISK 2.2 billion ($15,115,081 / €13,925,053) will be used to create “3,000 temporary summer jobs for students aged 18 and over.” A total of ISK 300 million ($2,061,147 / €1,898,871) will be used to support “innovation among young entrepreneurs” through the Icelandic Student Innovation Fund. A further ISK 8.5 billion will be allocated to social measures to support “vulnerable groups, work against violence, (to) counteract social isolation among the elderly and disabled, (to) support job-seekers, and (to) ensure that children from low-income families have the opportunity to participate in recreational activities.”

Priority will be given to increased access to mental health services and telemedicine for these groups.

Special protection to media companies and travel agencies

The response package also includes support for media companies, which have seen significant cutbacks in ad budgets, and travel agencies, faced with a wave of cancellations:

“In order to support pluralism and diversity in Iceland’s media, privately-owned media operations will be guaranteed special operational support during the current year, reflecting their sustained significant losses at a time when demand for their services has increased … travel agencies’ losses will be addressed with statutory amendments authorising them to reimburse certain trips by issuing credit vouchers.”

Mixed reviews

The government’s plan of action was met with mixed reviews. Ásdís Kristjánsdóttir, Head of Economics at the Confederation of Icelandic Enterprise, stated that the response package would mainly benefit small companies and microenterprises.

“The support loans, which are perhaps the most significant economic measure in the package, will have a positive impact on these companies. But in terms of revenue, the operations of these companies only account for 15% of the business in the economy. This leaves out the other 85% who cannot apply for these loans.”

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ) also expressed its disappointment with the second phase of the government’s response package. In a statement published yesterday on ASÍ’s website, the confederation criticised the government’s focus on companies:

“Once again, the government directs its support not to people but to companies, who according to some vague rules can dig into the public’s pockets for funding, regardless of whether these companies maintain jobs, adhere to wage agreements, or contribute their fair share to society.”

Helga Vala Helgadóttir, MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, worried that the response package was not comprehensive enough.

‘We worry that the response is still too focused on companies, even though it’s important to maintain employment levels. But we certainly fear that enough isn’t being done, in our opinion, to respond to the decline in household income.”