Icelanders, or those who have connections to Iceland, who are fully vaccinated could find it difficult to return to the country if they become infected with COVID-19 while travelling abroad. PCR tests may detect genetic material from the virus long after individuals have recovered, which may preclude them from boarding commercial flights to Iceland. “The authorities in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations,” an Icelandic woman, who was stranded in Denmark for over a week, stated.
Could be made to wait up to two months
New regulations passed by the Minister of Health provides that passengers must submit a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Iceland. As reported by Fréttablaðið, the regulations do not, however, include a clause concerning individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 but who nonetheless test positive on PCR tests.
As noted by a recent paper on the phenomenon, “genetic sequences from the RNA virus SARS-CoV-2 can integrate into the genome of the host cell through a process called reverse transcription. These sections of the genome can then be ‘read’ into RNAs, which could potentially be picked up by a PCR test.” Thus, Icelanders, or those with connections to Iceland, who become infected abroad could be made to wait for up to six months before they are allowed back onto commercial flights for Iceland – even if they’ve completed mandatory quarantine and are no longer infectious.
Speaking to Fréttablaðið this morning, Runólfur Pálsson, head of the COVID outpatient centre at the National University Hospital in Iceland, recalled that this was “a big issue” during the summer of 2020 when the borders were reopened before vaccinations began. “Individuals who had previously been infected were testing positive upon arrival. We had to assess whether this was an active infection or an older one, and we did this by testing for antibodies.”
“If this is done by measuring the amount of virus, it becomes quite complicated.” According to Runólfur, such an approach leaves testers in a “hopeless situation,” for it is difficult to assess whether the person is contagious or whether they are still carrying a trace of the virus’ DNA in their respiratory tract from a previous infection but are no longer contagious. Runólfur pointed out that such individuals are allowed re-entry into society after quarantining, even though there is the possibility that they won’t be allowed onto commercial flights headed to Iceland. The Icelandic Constitution declares that “an Icelandic citizen cannot be barred from entering Iceland nor expelled there from.”
Given a COVID health pass in Denmark but not allowed to return
Nanna Þórdís Árnadóttir, a kindergarten teacher from Reykjavík, flew to Denmark with her husband and two children on July 17. Two days after arriving, Nanna tested positive for COVID-19. Having quarantined for over two weeks (Nanna’s two daughters later tested positive), the family extended their stay but planned on returning last week. However, a positive PCR test precluded them from boarding a commercial flight to Iceland:
“The COVID staff in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations. I’d been issued a COVID health pass from the Danish authorities because I was no longer infectious, but I was not allowed to board a commercial flight to Iceland.”
Nanna reached out to Iceland’s Ministry of Health, which pointed her in the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “They said that there was nothing they could do. Everyone was real friendly but they had no advice at all. And so I spoke to the COVID staff in Iceland who said that I would need to fly home in an air ambulance.”
Fortunately, Nanna took another PCR test yesterday and received a negative result this morning. “You can imagine how little I slept while waiting for the results last night … although we love staying here, the feeling of visiting Denmark when one is stuck and can’t return home is quite different. What happens if we need to extend our stay by a week? A month? We’ve needed to look for a place to stay, to consider work, finances; it’s proven quite costly for us.”
The family will be returning to Iceland tomorrow.