Iceland to Lift All COVID Restrictions on Friday

Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson and Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir

There will be no more COVID-19 restrictions in Iceland or at its borders as of Friday, Iceland’s Health Minister has just announced. Iceland’s remaining restrictions, including a 200-person gathering limit, will be lifted on Thursday night at midnight. Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson stated that those who are sick are still encouraged to stay at home.

Willum announced the restrictions in an informal press conference just after 1:00 PM, following a cabinet meeting, where he says the decision was unanimous among ministers. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated in the press conference that the lifting of restrictions is in line with recommendations from the Chief Epidemiologist.

The current border regulation has been in effect since October 1, 2021 and will expire at midnight Thursday. Travellers will no longer be required to register prior to arrival or to present vaccination certificates. Unvaccinated travellers will no longer be required to be tested and quarantine for five days.

Katrín pointed out that around 110,000 residents of Iceland, of the total population of some 370,000, have already had COVID-19, according to official numbers. However, research suggests the true number is significantly higher. “The virus is still with us, and we know that many people will still get infected,” Katrín stated, adding that workplaces and communities will be affected, “but we believe we can live with the virus.”

Both Willum and Katrín emphasised that people are still encouraged to test and isolate if they are sick, though access to PCR tests has now been limited. Asked about strain on the healthcare system, Willum stated: “The going will be tough for some weeks moving forward,” due to covid infections among both patients and staff disrupting services.

Asked whether COVID-19 measures could be reimposed in the future, Katrín stated: “We are always ready for the possibility that a new variant could emerge,” and added that authorities would continue to monitor the state of the pandemic domestically and globally.

Current COVID-19 Border Measures to Remain in Place

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

The government has announced that current restrictions at the Icelandic border will remain in place until February 28.

The authorities are currently discussing the possibility of a different arrangement at the border for next spring, which will be officially introduced on February 20.

At present, travellers who enter the national border that have close ties within the Icelelandic community are required to undergo a COVID-19 test after arrival in Iceland. However, they are not required to present a negative result before boarding. Other passengers need to present a negative PCR or antigen test prior to boarding, but they are exempt from testing at the border if they have been vaccinated and are not arriving from a high risk country.

Although the numbers of covid cases have never been higher in Iceland, the authorities said that tightening the current restrictions at the border was not necessary at the moment.

However, authorities have decided that vaccination passports are now valid for nine months instead of twelve, which conforms to new EEA rules.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Changes to Border Regulations

Keflavík Airport

As of this Friday, October 1, travellers arriving in Iceland who have ties to the country will no longer have to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate when entering the country. Travellers stopping over in Iceland who are not leaving the airport or other border point will also be exempt from this requirement. Those with ties to Iceland will still be required to undergo COVID-19 testing with 48 hours of arrival to the country, with the exception of children born in 2005 or later. The new regulation will remain in force until at least November 6, 2021.

People with ties to Iceland include Icelandic citizens and residents; but also anyone intending to study or work in Iceland for more than seven days; people with work permits in Iceland or those applying for such permits; people seeking asylum in Iceland; and families and relatives of anyone who belongs to the above categories.

Unvaccinated must undergo quarantine

Vaccinated travellers without ties to Iceland as well as those with certificates of previous COVID-19 infection are still required to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate no older than 72 hours. Unvaccinated travellers are also required to present a negative test certificate as well as to undergo testing upon arrival, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Travellers must pre-register before arrival to Iceland.

Border measures key to domestic freedom

In his memorandum outlining the proposed changes to border regulations, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that COVID-19 infections continue to cross the border, in both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers. Viral sequencing conducted by deCODE genetics shows that it only takes a few infected individuals to launch a large wave of infection within Iceland. Þórólfur says maintaining strict border measures is, therefore, the prerequisite for keeping domestic restrictions to a minimum.

Iceland Review regularly updates our page on Iceland’s travel requirements.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Lays Out Long-Term Pandemic Plan

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

A 200-person gathering limit, mask use, and one-metre distancing are among the long-term measures to fight COVID-19 that Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason laid out in a memorandum to the government. It could take months or years to curb the pandemic globally, and until that happens, Iceland would require restrictions both domestically and at its borders to keep infection rates low, Þórólfur stated. The government has discussed the Chief Epidemiologist’s suggestions but has not yet made any decisions on if or how they will be implemented.

Current wave may have peaked

Iceland daily COVID-19 case rate has hovered around 100 cases for the past several weeks. According to RÚV, however, health authorities believe the current wave of infection has reached its peak. Hjördís Guðmundsdóttir, communications officer of the Civil Protection Department, says authorities did not consider it necessary to hold an information briefing today, as they often have on Thursdays.

Restrictions necessary as long as pandemic lasts

Þórólfur submitted a memorandum to the Health Minister recently where he laid out his long-term recommendations for keeping the pandemic at bay in the country. In the memorandum, Þórólfur predicted that it would take months or years to curb the COVID-19 pandemic globally. Until that happened, the SARS-CoV-2 virus and possible new variants would continue to be a threat to Iceland, and some form restrictions would be necessary to minimise the risk of widespread infection.

Þórólfur’s long-term recommendations were similar to Iceland’s current domestic COVID-19 restrictions, which are among Iceland’s mildest since the pandemic began. Among the long-term measures he recommended are a 200-person gathering limit, one-metre distancing, and mandatory mask use where distancing cannot be ensured. Bars, restaurants, and nightclubs would not be permitted to accept new guests after 11:00 PM and would be mandated to close at midnight.

Border restrictions are key

The most important aspect of infection prevention restrictions are measures that prevent the virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur wrote to the Health Minister. “In my opinion, solid defences at the borders are the prerequisite for being able to maintain minimal restrictions within Iceland.” While stating it would never be possible to fully prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from crossing the border, Þórólfur suggested minimising the risk by continuing to require travellers to undergo testing prior to departure.

Þórólfur also suggested mandatory COVID-19 testing for all passengers upon arrival to Iceland, something that is currently only required of unvaccinated travellers or those with ties to Iceland. If Iceland’s testing capacity proved unable to handle the number of travellers, the Chief Epidemiologist suggested finding ways to minimise the number of people entering the country to ensure that all could be tested.

Crucial to strengthen healthcare system

In his memorandum, the Chief Epidemiologist also emphasised the importance of strengthening the healthcare system, the National University Hospital’s Virology Department, and the Civil Protection Department for the long term so that Iceland’s infrastructure could cope with the added strain that the pandemic brings. Iceland’s COVID ward and Virology Department (which conducts all COVID-19 testing in Iceland) have been operating at or above capacity for much of this current wave of infection.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Exponential Rise in Cases, Domestic Restrictions Imminent

mask use social distancing

COVID-19 cases are rising at an exponential rate in Iceland, the country’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík this morning. Þórólfur will submit a memorandum regarding domestic restrictions to the Health Minister later today. Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions last June 26 after a majority of the population had been vaccinated. Þórólfur says however that vaccinations are not proving as effective against the Delta variant as experts had hoped. While he declined to discuss the details of the domestic restrictions he will suggest, Þórólfur stated that solidarity has been Iceland’s biggest weapon in curbing infection so far, and will continue to be so.

Iceland loosened border restrictions on July 1, allowing travellers with proof of vaccination or previous infection to enter the country without testing or quarantine. Since that date, 236 people have tested positive for COVID-19 domestically, 213 of them in the past week. These numbers show that infections rates are rising exponentially, Þórólfur stated at the briefing, despite widespread vaccination. The majority of infected people are fully vaccinated.

As of Monday, all travellers to Iceland will be required to present a negative PCR test or antigen test before departure, regardless of their vaccination status. Víðir Reynisson, Director of Civil Protection, encouraged locals arriving from abroad to also get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival though it is not an official requirement. Locals can already register for testing online.

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

 

On the panel: Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson (left) and Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

Yesterday’s numbers have been updated on covid.is. Iceland reported 78 new domestic infections yesterday, 59 out of quarantine and 52 among fully-vaccinated people. No infections were detected at the border. Total active infections have risen to 287.

The briefing has begun. Víðir opens by saying we are facing a new reality now with the changing situation. But we know what we can do and what we must do to tackle the virus. New border regulations take effect on Monday. It is already possible for people returning to the country to register for testing even if they are vaccinated and it is not required. Víðir encourages all locals to get tested upon returning to the country.

Þórólfur takes over. Since the beginning of the month, 236 have tested positive for COVID-19 and 213 in the past week. It is clear therefore that the rate of infection is exponential, he says. Most of the infections are of the Delta variant and differing subvariants. We know the Delta variant is more infectious and causes more serious illness than earlier variants, Þórólfur says.

Data from Israel on the effectiveness of vaccination shows that protection against the Delta variant is lower than previously believed. The Delta variant is spreading fast abroad, both among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Despite high rates of vaccination in Iceland, Þórólfur says we could see higher rates of infection as well as serious illness. Whether that happens will come to light in the coming weeks.

Nearly 300 are being monitored by the COVID-19 ward though only one is in hospital right now. 6 people are being monitored closely and may require hospitalisation soon. It is clear that the virus has spread rapidly in Iceland despite vaccination, showing that vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing infection is lesser with the Delta variant than we had hoped, Þórólfur states.

Þórólfur reviews the border regulations that take effect on Monday: all travellers, including those vaccinated, will be required to present a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Iceland. “That measure alone will not stop the spread that is happening domestically,” Þórólfur says. He will send a memorandum to the Health Minister today regarding imposing domestic restrictions. Þórólfur is not ready to discuss what restrictions he will suggest at this time, but he says we know what measures work best to curb the spread.

People who have received the Janssen vaccine will be invited to receive a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine. These vaccinations will be given starting in late August.

The battle against COVID-19 is not close to being over, Þórólfur says, even though we can celebrate our successes from time to time. New variants and situations with vaccination can come up, as we are seeing now. We need to use the measures we know work. Solidarity has been our biggest weapon so far and will continue to be so, Þórólfur says.

The panel opens for questions. “Should we have imposed border restrictions sooner?” Þórólfur: we can always debate after the fact what the best decision would have been. But it’s good to impose restrictions as soon as possible.

Þórólfur says 4-6 weeks must pass between receiving vaccination and then a follow-up booster shot, as will be offered to those who have received the Janssen vaccine.

“What are the reasons that we are imposing restrictions, considering that the majority of locals are vaccinated?” Þórólfur says there is a rise in hospitalisations and extreme symptoms. It is better to react now rather than wait until we have an epidemic of hospitalisations, says Þórólfur. We have had many measures in place previously that have been successful in curbing previous waves and we will do so again. This is nothing new, says Þórólfur.

Þórólfur says there are no concrete numbers released regarding hospitalisations or deaths due to COVID-19 in other countries with high vaccination rates such as the UK and Israel. Those figures are developing in real time right now.

“Will we face tightening and loosening restrictions for the foreseeable future?” Þórólfur says that the pandemic is not over until it is over everywhere. That could be more many more months. This is a long battle and we have to face that fact, says Þórólfur.

“Will authorities test people heading to the Westman Islands Þjóðhátíð festival?” Þórólfur says Iceland does not have the manpower to test everyone heading to the festival and other festivals across the country during the upcoming July-August long weekend. Víðir agrees: there are tens of thousands of people heading to festivals that weekend across the country. Local police departments are overseeing and discussing measures for such big events but no changes have been planned for the time being.

Víðir closes the briefing by reminding the public to use personal prevention measures, such as keeping a distance, washing hands, and getting tested if symptoms present themselves. Locals arriving home from abroad can register for testing upon arrival and Víðir encourages them to do so. The briefing has ended.

COVID-19 Spreads at Record Rate in Iceland

Reykjavík

COVID-19 infection is spreading faster than in any of the country’s previous waves, Director of Civil Protection Víðir Reynisson told RÚV yesterday. Iceland reported 56 infections on Tuesday and Víðir stated he expects yesterday’s number to be even higher. Icelandic authorities announced tightened border restrictions earlier this week to curb the virus’ spread, but have not yet imposed any domestic restrictions.

Considerable leakage at the border

Iceland’s total active cases now number 223. Of the infected individuals, 100 are aged 18-29 and another 47 are 30-39 years old. That means that 66% of active infections, or nearly two thirds, are among people 18-39 years old.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason has stated that most cases can be traced to either Reykjavík nightlife or a group of locals that travelled to London for the UEFA tournament. “Most of the cases are linked to nightclubs in Reykjavík, in Bankastræti, and also to a group that came from London,” Þórólfur stated. “There are also many different variants, which tells us that there are many people that have crossed the borders that have brought an infection with them. There is considerable leakage of infection at the border into the community.”

Infections spread despite vaccination

Local experts have expressed disappointment that infections are rising despite the high vaccination rate: 68.17% of Iceland’s population is fully vaccinated while another 4% is partially vaccinated. While most vaccinated individuals with COVID-19 in Iceland are only showing mild symptoms, one fully vaccinated individual has been admitted to hospital due to COVID-19 infection.

Þórólfur has stated that locals who have been vaccinated with the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine will likely receive an additional shot. These vaccinations will likely begin in mid-August, when staff return from their summer vacation.

Undecided if or when domestic restrictions will be imposed

Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions last June 26. The Chief Epidemiologist has stated that no decision has been made on if or when domestic restrictions will be imposed once more, but authorities are evaluating the situation. The decision will be in part based on how many are seriously ill and how many hospitalisations are expected. “It’s also clear that if we are going to be successful in curbing the domestic spread it’s better to [impose restrictions] sooner rather than later, it will be more difficult to manage it as time goes on,” Þórólfur added.

Festival weekend looming

The July 30-August 1 weekend is the biggest domestic travel weekend in Iceland, with festivals across the country expected to bring together crowds in the thousands. While one festival in Flúðir, South Iceland, has been cancelled in light of the rise in infections, organisers of the Þjóðhátíð festival in the Westman Islands have stated that there are no plans to cancel the festival at this time.

Iceland Review will live-tweet authorities’ COVID-19 information briefing at 11:00 AM UTC today.

COVID-19 in Iceland: All Travellers Required to Present Negative Test Before Boarding

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

In a response to the recent increase in COVID-19 infections in Iceland, the Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided to require all travellers to Iceland to present a negative COVID test before entering the country. This is based on Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations. This includes all vaccinated individuals as well as those confirmed to have contracted and recovered from COVID-19. The tests must be PCR or antigen tests and may be no older than 72 hours, the Minister of Health has announced.

Though it is not an official requirement, residents of Iceland as well as people with personal connections in the country are advised to get tested upon arrival, even if they don’t present any symptoms. 

The Chief Epidemiologist’s latest memo, discussed at the government’s meeting today, states that COVID-19 infections have increased considerably in Iceland. Most cases are of the Delta variant. According to research, fully vaccinated individuals can contract COVID-19 and infect others. The Chief Epidemiologist believes that the current mode of operation will increase the risk of transmission and that it is necessary to take action to curb virus entry at the border in order to eliminate the need for implementing domestic restrictions. Icelandic authorities lifted all domestic restrictions on June 26, 2021. 

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir has decided that the border restriction changes will take effect July 26. For unvaccinated travellers, restrictions remain the same. They need to present a negative PCR test no older than 72 hours upon boarding, are tested upon arrival, and must quarantine for five days before being tested again. Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from all border restrictions.

Yesterday, 16 tested positive for the virus, bringing the total of active cases to 124. A total of 385 are in quarantine. One person is in hospital but according to Runólfur Pálsson, head of the National Hospital’s COVID department, they are not seriously ill. So far, very few of the individuals infected are experiencing severe symptoms, as most are fully vaccinated.

Vaccinated People with Symptoms Should Get Tested, Says Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

If you have symptoms that could indicate COVID-19 you should get tested, even if you are fully vaccinated, says Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist. Four fully vaccinated tourists tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland between Thursday and Monday. So far there is no evidence the infections have spread to others.

Many tourists go get tested for COVID-19 toward the end of their trip in Iceland due to entry requirements in other countries. Four such tests revealed positive results for four vaccinated tourists in recent days. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told RÚV it is unlikely that the tourists infected others. He added that vaccinated individuals are also less likely to spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus when carrying it. “It is most likely that they were infected on their way to [Iceland] and I base that on the fact that we have almost no virus in the country,” Þórólfur stated.

Iceland currently has 23 active cases of COVID-19 and an incidence rate of 1.9 per 100,000 residents. Over 70% of the population has received one or both doses of COVID-19 vaccine while 49.1% are fully vaccinated. All domestic restrictions were lifted in the country last Friday though restrictions at the border remain, including testing of all arriving travellers and mandatory quarantine for those without vaccine or antibody certificates.

Þórólfur stressed the importance of continued testing within Iceland, despite the country’s high rate of vaccination. “We need to encourage people with symptoms to get tested. That’s declined quite a bit recently but I know there are a lot of respiratory infections in the community. So we still want to encourage people to go get tested whether they are vaccinated or not if they get symptoms that could point to COVID-19.”

Breaking: No More COVID-19 Restrictions in Iceland Starting Tomorrow

As of tomorrow, June 26, all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in Iceland will be lifted. Iceland will thus become the first Nordic country to lift all pandemic restrictions within its borders. From July 1, vaccinated travellers and children will no longer be tested at the country’s borders, though unvaccinated travellers will still be required to undergo testing and five-day quarantine upon entering the country. Around 88% of the country’s population aged 16 and over have received one or both doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

The announcement to lift all domestic restrictions was made at a government press conference this morning by Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Iceland’s current restrictions, which include a 300-person gathering limit, mandatory mask use for selected activities, and a one-metre distancing rule, will all be lifted as of midnight. The decision is in accordance with the recommendations of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Border Restrictions Loosened July 1

As of July 1, travellers with valid COVID-19 vaccination certificates will no longer have to undergo testing at Iceland’s borders. The same applies to children born 2005 or later. Children and those who present valid certificates of previous COVID-19 infection will no longer be required to present a negative PCR test certificate upon arrival to Iceland.

Travellers to Iceland born before 2005 who cannot present valid certificates of vaccination or proof of antibodies must present a negative PCR test certificate at the border, as well as undergo testing and five-day quarantine as before. These regulations will apply from July 1 until August 15, at which point authorities will review and revise rules as necessary.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Relaxed Border Measures Take Effect

Keflavík Airport

Travellers arriving in Iceland from defined high-risk areas are no longer required to complete their quarantine at government-operated facilities. The Minister of Justice’s ban on unnecessary travel to areas with a high risk of COVID-19 infection has also expired. Quarantine facilities operated by the government will remain open for those who do not have access to adequate facilities in which to complete their required quarantine or isolation.

Iceland’s government tightened border regulations on April 1 requiring all travellers arriving from areas with high COVID-19 infection rates to quarantine at government-run hotels. The regulation was originally implemented for one month but was extended for an additional month. In late April, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir passed regulation banning all unnecessary travel from defined high-risk areas due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regulation took effect on April 27 but expired today.

Read More: Can I travel to Iceland in 2021 Post COVID-19?

Travellers to Iceland who present proof of vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection are required to undergo a single test upon arrival and quarantine until they receive a negative result. Tests are normally processed within a few hours. Travellers who do not present valid proof of vaccination or previous COVID-19 infection are required to undergo a test upon arrival to Iceland, quarantine for five days, and undergo a follow-up test. Travellers are not charged for COVID-19 testing or stays at official quarantine facilities. These regulations will remain in effect until at least June 15.

Up to 5,000 Travellers Per Day

Activities are ramping up at Keflavík International Airport, the port of arrival for almost all travellers entering Iceland. “We see for example today, which is one of the largest days since COVID started, over 2,000 travellers are arriving in the country,” Arngrímur Guðmundsson told RÚV reporters yesterday. “There’s simply an increase in flights. We anticipate that later in the month there could be up to 5,000 travellers arriving in the country per day if everything goes as planned.” There are eight flights scheduled to land at Keflavík Airport today from Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.

To accommodate the increase in travellers, airport officials added additional reception desks last week where travellers have barcodes scanned and are doled out plastic tubes for test swabs. COVID-19 testing is carried out in modified shipping containers that have been set up outside the airport building.

Iceland currently has 41 active cases of COVID-19. Over 46% of the population have received at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine while 24.8% are fully vaccinated.