Icelandic authorities did not have legal grounds to require travellers to complete their quarantine at a government-run quarantine hotel when they had adequate facilities at home, according to a ruling made yesterday by the Reykjavík District Court. Icelandic authorities will appeal the decision. In a briefing today, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason called the ruling “unfortunate,” saying hotel quarantine was the best way to ensure travellers from abroad do not breach quarantine regulations and risk a domestic outbreak of COVID-19.
Iceland tightened border regulations on April 1, requiring all travellers arriving from designated high-risk areas for COVID-19 to complete their mandatory five-day quarantine in designated government facilities. The rule was implemented after health authorities found travellers were breaching quarantine regulations, leading to community transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Several guests required to stay in the facilities challenged the regulation in the Reykjavík District Court, which ruled in their favour yesterday. Icelandic authorities subsequently informed all guests at the facilities that they could complete their quarantine elsewhere if they had access to housing that fulfilled the requirements. A notice from authorities nevertheless encouraged the remaining guests to complete their quarantine at the hotel, “as it is the best way to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 disease.” At least three travellers staying at the quarantine hotel tested positive for COVID-19 since the facilities began operation last week.
Chief Epidemiologist Calls for Clearer Legislation
The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his disappointment with the ruling in a radio interview this morning, saying it was “thwarting one of the most effective measures that has been taken to try to prevent this virus from entering the country and spreading. We have been basing these measures on facts, what we see is lacking, and in that way try to prevent it from happening, that the virus gets in. Unfortunately, it has been the case that people have not been following quarantine. It is on that basis that I suggested [mandatory hotel quarantine measures].”
In light of the District Court ruling, Minster of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason are now determining what additional steps will be taken to minimise the risk of active COVID-19 infections entering the country. Þórólfur stated his hope that the government would clarify the legal framework surrounding quarantine hotels so that the measure could be used as intended.
RÚV reported that travellers arriving in Iceland from high-risk areas today are not being sent to the government-run quarantine facilities if they have access to private facilities that fulfil quarantine requirements. If there is reason to believe travellers are likely to break quarantine rules (for example if their stay in Iceland is shorter than five days) they are sent to the government-run quarantine facilities.