Individuals who have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 outside of their home or place of residence in Iceland will no longer be required to quarantine, and will instead be required to take special infection precaution (smitgát). Individuals who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 in their home or place of residence will still be required to quarantine, except those who are triple-vaccinated, who will only need to take special infection precaution and undergo a COVID-19 test. Primary- and preschool-aged children are exempt from special infection precaution but must quarantine if someone in their home has tested positive for COVID-19.
Decreased absence from school for children
These sweeping changes to Iceland’s quarantine regulations take effect at midnight. They were implemented by Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson and are in line with recommendations from Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. The changes aim to reduce strain on testing centres and lessen the impact Iceland’s current wave of infection is having on workplaces and schools. The changes will affect school operations significantly, as children who have potentially been exposed to COVID-19 at school will no longer be required to quarantine as a result.
Chief Epidemiologist: Restrictions must be relaxed in stages
The Omicron variant is responsible for more than 90% of infections in Iceland’s current wave, and the Delta variant for under 10%. Local data shows the Omicron variant leads to much lower rates of hospitalisation as compared to the Delta variant (0.2-0.3% versus 2%), which has led many to call for relaxing social restrictions, including deCODE genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson. The Chief Epidemiologist has emphasised the importance of relaxing restrictions in stages to avoid a spike in case numbers that could place additional strain on the healthcare system.
Infections likely to increase
In his memorandum to the Health Minister, Þórólfur stated that the changes to quarantine regulations “will likely increase infections in schools and among families with preschool- and primary school-aged children.” Relaxing social restrictions would, on the other hand, be likely to lead to increased infections among older demographics. “It is important, however, that this increase does not lead to an increase in serious illness and hospitalisation,” Þórólfur added. If strain on the hospital increases, authorities “must be ready to apply countermeasures.”
Iceland’s current domestic restrictions include a 10-person gathering limit, mandated closure of bars and nightclubs, and mandatory mask use in shops and on public transit. They are currently valid until February 2. The Health Minister has stated he will present a plan for relaxing restrictions in stages this Friday.