COVID-19 in Iceland: Government Alters Border Restrictions Plans Following Quarantine Violations Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: Government Alters Border Restrictions Plans Following Quarantine Violations

By Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir

Icelandair plane Keflavík
Photo: Golli.

At a press briefing earlier today, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir introduced changes to the government’s plan on border restrictions and traveller quarantines. According to Katrín, the new policy involves tightening border restrictions temporarily while providing a viable schedule for lifting restrictions. A colour-coded system granting quarantine exemptions to travellers from low-risk countries will be delayed and a bill giving Ministers increased authority to impose restrictions on travellers will be distributed to parliament tonight.

The Icelandic government will issue its own regional risk assessment, based on the EU risk assessment, concerning travel during the pandemic from May 7 on. The proposed colour-coded system set to take effect May 1 will be postponed until June 1 when the majority of Icelanders over the age of 50 will have been vaccinated. Until then, the current border regulations will remain unchanged, requiring a negative PCR test before arrival and two border tests with a five-day quarantine in between for all unvaccinated travellers. Vaccinated travellers and people with antibodies are exempt from quarantines but will still need to be tested once at the border.

The government will also be introducing a bill to parliament giving ministers more wide-ranging power to implement infection prevention restrictions. The Minister of Health could receive the authority to require people arriving from extreme-risk areas (more than 1000 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days) to quarantine at a quarantine hotel with no exceptions, while for high-risk areas (more than 750 infections per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days), quarantining at a quarantine hotel should be the general rule. This will only be done at the suggestion of the Chief Epidemiologist. If the bill passes, the Minister of Justice would also have the authority to ban unnecessary travel to Iceland from high-risk areas. The bill will be distributed tonight and the Prime Minister hopes it could pass into law before the end of the week.

The Prime Minister stated that while restrictions will be tightened temporarily, vaccination schedules indicated that it will soon be safe to start lifting restrictions. The majority of deaths and hospitalisations have been among people over the age of 50 or 60. On June 1, everyone over the age of 50 will have had an opportunity to be vaccinated and on July 1, everyone over the age of 16 will have received the first injection of the vaccine.

During the press briefing, Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson lamented that such few quarantine breakers could have such a big impact on domestic infection rates and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stressed that according to vaccination schedules, the majority of Icelanders over the age of 16 would be vaccinated by July 1, making it safer to lift restrictions.

The government’s latest border measures if the bill passes: 

Stay in a quarantine facility: The authorities can decide that from April 22 to May 31, passengers arriving from countries where the 14-day infection rate exceeds 1,000 cases per 100,000 population need to stay in a quarantine facility.
Furthermore, passengers coming from countries where the 14-day infection rate is 750-1,000 cases per 100,000 will, as a rule, be subject to stay in a quarantine facility. However, the authorities can make exemptions to the quarantine location, for example, for travellers who can demonstrate that they can quarantine in a facility that fulfils specific requirements. The conditions for a stay in a quarantine facility will be stipulated in regulation by the Minister of Health.

Increased travel restrictions: The Minister of Interior will be authorized to ban unnecessary travel from countries identified as risk zones by the Chief Epidemiologist (14-day notification rate exceeding 1,000 cases per 100,000 population).

Unchanged rules on certificates and testing at the border until 1 June: The rules regarding certificates for vaccination or prior COVID-19 infection accepted at the border will remain unchanged until June 1. Those presenting a valid certificate of vaccination or prior infection must undergo a single test at the border. They must wait for the test result at their place of residence and follow quarantine rules until the result is available. All other passengers must be tested at the border and  stay in quarantine for five days followed by a second test. From June 1, less stringent border measures will apply to those countries that are defined as low-risk areas.

Regional risk assessment issued on a regular basis: From 7 May, regional risk assessment on the status and development of the pandemic issued every fortnight will serve as a basis for border measures. This risk assessment will be based on the colour coding system of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), along with other factors.

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