An estimated 17 passenger planes are expected to arrive at Keflavík International Airport this Saturday and Sunday, in what will be the busiest travel weekend in Iceland so far this year. The arrivals could test the limits of the Icelandic health authorities‘ ability to analyse PCR tests, which may translate into a longer period of quarantine for arriving passengers.
A greater number of arrivals than expected
After arriving in Iceland, all passengers must submit to a PCR test to screen for COVID-19 and then await the results in quarantine, that is, if passengers are exempt from double screening (for more information, click here).
While testing has generally gone without much difficulty at the airport, the weekend’s increase in traffic could put a strain on the system. With eight passenger planes (ca. 1,000 people) expected to arrive on Saturday and nine planes on Sunday, arriving passengers may experience something of a bottleneck as they queue for testing at Kefavík Airport, according to Fréttablaðið.
“Tourists are arriving in Iceland in greater numbers than our models predicted,” Víðir Reynisson, Director of Civil Protection, stated in the above-referenced article. “We expect numerous travellers to arrive on Saturday, which will be the busiest day of the year. We’ll see how many people actually arrive, and so we can’t say for certain how many samples we’ll need to analyse. But we certainly expect to see days when our testing capabilities are pushed to the limits.”
More time spent in quarantine?
PCR tests (polymerase chain reaction tests) are analysed by the National University Hospital’s Department of Virology. While tests results have so far been communicated in a timely manner, it is unlikely that the hospital will be able to cope with the stress from the busiest arrival days at Keflavík Airport this summer.
This could mean that travellers will be forced to spend more time in quarantine while samples are being analysed. “It’s one of the side effects of so many arriving passengers,” Víðir stated. “The waiting period between when passengers arrive and when their test results are ready could be prolonged.”
Despite the delay, Víðir does not expect the waiting period to extend beyond 24 hours; during the busiest days of the summer, those samples that cannot be analysed on the same day are expected to be analysed on the following day.
A reassessment of protocols
The authorities are considering how best to respond to this increased traffic. “We’re reviewing the big picture. How the tests are executed, whether to stop screening passengers who’ve already been vaccinated, or to screen them in a different way. We’re reviewing our ability to test, more generally. We’re considering the protocol as it relates to certificates. And we’re also looking at the traffic at the airport,” Víðir stated, adding that he expects this assessment to be concluded this weekend.
“When you’ve got such a complicated system, like the system at the border, you can’t change things in one day. Some aspects of the system may take a week or two to alter.” Víðir concluded by stating that the authorities aim to construct a contingency plan according to the most optimistic forecasts regarding the arrival of tourists in Iceland this summer.