COVID-19 in Iceland: 90 Broke Border Regulations at Airport Skip to content

COVID-19 in Iceland: 90 Broke Border Regulations at Airport

By Yelena

Keflavík airport
Photo: Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Iceland’s international airport in Keflavík.

Icelandic police had to intercept over 90 locals last weekend who had shown up at Keflavík International Airport to pick up friends or family arriving from abroad, which is a breach of border regulations. Arriving travellers are required to undergo two COVID-19 tests and quarantine for five to six days before meeting others. With just 23 active cases and a domestic incidence rate of 3.3, Iceland has been successful in containing the pandemic locally. At a briefing in Reykjavík, however, authorities reminded the public of the importance of maintaining infection prevention practices, both within the country and at its borders.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review’s live-tweeting of the briefing.


On the panel: Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. Special guest: Chief Superintendent Jón Pétur Jónsson, head of the border department of the National Police Commissioner’s Office.

Yesterday’s COVID-19 numbers have been updated on Iceland reported 1 new domestic case yesterday and 3 at the border. Total active cases have dropped to 28. 13 are in hospital and 4,856 have been fully vaccinated. The briefing has begun. Þórólfur goes over the numbers. Yesterday’s one domestic infection was in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. “The success we’ve had continues.” -Þórólfur

Last week, we had five new domestic cases, three of which were in quarantine at the time of diagnosis. Within the past week, 15 have tested positive at the border, about half of which were active cases. The situation is fairly good and we’re still doing well with keeping the pandemic contained domestically, says Þórólfur. Those few who tested positive outside quarantine recently had old infections, meaning they were no longer contagious.

Today, we have implemented a loosening of social restrictions. It’s clear that some think they are too little while others think they are too much.

Þórólfur: Last week, Parliament passed new legislation on infection prevention and we’re looking into the future of border restrictions, along with the Minister of Health. We received the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and we hope to start vaccinating nurses and nursing home staff soon with those doses. The two doses will be given three months apart.

Þórólfur: As for rumours of the Pfizer negotiations regarding a mass vaccination study in Iceland, the truth is that we haven’t had any news of the planned study, or how much vaccine we would receive if it goes forward. I assure you all that we’ll let you know when we know.

Jón Pétur takes over to discuss border regulations. He starts by going over the role of border patrol. Police follow through on infection prevention for people arriving in the country. Their orders are constantly being revised, but the main objective remains unchanged: to make information on proper behaviour during a pandemic easily accessible to arriving passengers. From the start, we’ve watched what other countries around us have been doing. Every country has their own way of doing things and the rules can change quickly.

Today, most countries are tightening border restrictions, including requiring a negative PCR-test administered no more than 72 hours before departure. Iceland has had more success in keeping the pandemic at bay recently than many other countries. Now, we’re seeing more relaxed domestic restrictions than before, which means that it is more important than ever to stop incoming infections at the border. Around 1.5 per cent of arriving passengers have an active infection, says Jón Pétur.

In our work at the border, we trust people to have everyone’s best interest at heart and follow the rules. We are, however, aware that not everyone intends to follow the rules and we have examples of people not adhering to quarantine regulations. We also know that Icelanders aren’t following rules, such as to not pick arriving passengers up at the airport. Last weekend, we saw 90 incidents of locals arriving to pick people up at the airport.

The panel opens for questions. “Why are doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered three months apart?” Þórólfur says research shows the vaccine is most effective when administered that way. The first doses of the vaccine will be administered in Iceland this week. Authorities are discussing requiring a negative PCR test before departure and if they should require arriving travellers to stay at quarantine hotels (rather than private accommodations) between border tests.

“If Iceland participates in a Pfizer study, will they require Iceland to open its borders?” We’ve had plenty of rumours, some more entertaining than others, but we have no contract drafts to discuss and I can’t speculate on any Pfizer requirements, says Þórólfur. In order for such a study to take place, there are certain requirements [health authorities] will consider and others we won’t, says Þórólfur.

“What would we do if we receive large shipments of vaccine?” Þórólfur: We’d vaccinate people, it’s as simple as that. We’ve been prepared for such scenarios [as administering mass vaccinations] from the start. The proposed mass vaccination facility in Laugardalshöll is a continuation of those original plans, not an indication that Pfizer negotiations are close to being finalised. Þórólfur is asked about further rumours regarding the Pfizer negotiations and again declines to comment.

Víðir is asked about fines for infection prevention regulation infractions. Police have more than 200 such cases on their desk and fines are issued according to common procedure. The police’s goal is not to issue fines, but to help people follow the rules in the first place. Most people want to follow the rules but we don’t hesitate to issue fines if it’s necessary, Víðir concludes.

More on the Pfizer negotiations. Þóróflur says he will not divulge information that is still not finalised. Everyone knows that negotiations are ongoing. Icelandic health authorities have not received any contract drafts from Pfizer. If Icelandic authorities do receive a contract offer from Pfizer for a mass vaccination study, they will have to decide whether the conditions are acceptable for the Icelandic nation, and then it will be announced: yes or no.

Airline and ship workers are required to submit to testing if they’re out of Iceland longer than 72 hours. The success of vaccines against new variants of COVID-19 will likely affect future vaccine production but won’t have much of an effect on Iceland’s vaccination plan. “Will you change the plan if the South African variant is found here?” Þórólfur: No, I don’t think so. We monitor the people who test positive for the UK variant more closely.

“Have the PCR tests been developed at all to minimise the likelihood of false positives, for example?” PCR tests are the best tests that exist: they are the gold standard in COVID-19 testing, what new testing technologies are compared to. Þórólfur: We don’t have any better tests than PCR tests and our research and information are based on the data these tests provide. I don’t see a reason to change that.

Víðir takes over to close the briefing. He reminds the public not to let their guard down: personal infection prevention is the key to our continued success. He adds that people need to follow the rules at the border as well: the number of people trying to pick loved ones up at the airport this weekend was staggering. Wash your hands, wear your mask, and if you have symptoms, get tested and stay at home until you’ve received a negative result.


Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ next COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, February 11 at 11.03am.

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