Chinese Tourists to Return After Resumption of Group Tours

túristi tourist ferðamaður tourism

The Chinese government has decided to allow the sale of cross-border group tours to an additional 40 countries, including Iceland, beginning on March 15. The move forms a part of the easing of travel restrictions in China following a pandemic-induced travel ban, RÚV reports.

List of countries unpublished as of yet

China’s outbound travel saw a rapid rebound after the country eased restrictions on cross-border group tours on February 6; the sale of flights to and from China had been largely suspended since 2020.

RÚV reported yesterday that the Chinese government had decided to lift restrictions on forty other countries, including Iceland, beginning on March 15. This means that tourist groups from China will once again be a common sight in Iceland.

He Rulong, China’s ambassador to Iceland, told RÚV that Chinese society had returned to normal after the pandemic and was experiencing strong economic growth – adding that it was aiming to further increase economic growth in the near future: “We plan to increase the number of jobs by 12 million. So it is a priority for us to accommodate consumption demands among Chinese consumers.”

The second list of countries to which package tours will be allowed to be sold has yet to be published, RÚV notes, so it is not clear which other countries will benefit from the increased freedom of movement of Chinese citizens.

Slower comparative growth of Chinese tourists

Chinese travellers composed the fourth largest group of tourists in Iceland in 2019. They have, however, been nearly invisible since then. Despite the number of tourists from other countries increasing again last year, the number of Chinese tourists was relatively scant (see below figures):

2019: 114,000
2020: 19,700
2021: 6,500
2022: 23,70

In January, many European countries imposed restrictions on Chinese tourists at the recommendation of the European Council. There was no reason to take such measures here in Iceland. He Rulong says this fact influenced the Chinese government’s decision.

“I believe that is the reason why China chose Iceland to be among these 40 countries.”

No Further Restrictions for Chinese Travellers

Keflavík airport Icelandair

A recent memorandum by epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund to Icelandic Minister of Health, Willum Þór Þórsson, has recommended against the introduction of border measures aimed at travellers from China.

In light of recent spikes there following the relaxation of China’s strict “No COVID” policy, the possibility of re-introducing border screening for Chinese travellers had been discussed, in line with similar measures taken by nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, and India.

Read more: Possible Restrictions for Travellers from China

The memorandum followed the January 4 meeting of the European Union’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) council, which aimed at coordinating the European response to the spread of COVID-19 in China.

However, Guðrún Aspelund’s recent memorandum on the matter concluded that she found no reason to introduce border restrictions at this time: “As it stands today, the evidence does not, in my opinion, recommend the introduction of measures at the border due to COVID-19 to protect public health, nor measures specifically aimed at passengers with China as a country of departure. We will update and distribute relevant guidelines to travellers. Sampling of random passengers arriving in Keflavík may be considered if there is evidence of a new variant that should be monitored.”

Guðrún Aspelung likewise pointed out that a majority of the Icelandic population has now received three doses of the vaccine, while a majority of the elderly population has received a fourth dose, further lessening the need for restrictions.

The memorandum also states that increased international monitoring and information collected by European nations with direct flight connections to China may give cause for a reassessment of the risk level in the coming weeks.

Possible Restrictions for Travelers from China

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund says that border screenings are being considered for travelers from China, given the recent rise in infections there.

In a recent statement, Guðrún indicated that healthcare systems throughout Europe are under stress, and that possible measures at the Icelandic border may be taken to relieve pressure other nations as well.

Regulations on travel are set to be lifted soon in China, meaning that Chinese residents will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival in China from foreign travel. This relaxation has healthcare experts throughout Europe concerned that a wave of Chinese travelers may take advantage of the relaxed regulations. The recent easing of restrictions has contributed to the uptick in infections, and some Western nations have also expressed concerns that authorities there have systematically under-reported figures.

Guðrún further stated: “We have less information coming from there regarding numbers for infections, hospitalizations, and cases. There is concern that the situation in China is quite bad and that it could affect Europe. There are also concerns of new varieties coming from China, though it is entirely possible that they may have other origins as well.”

Other nations, including the US, India, and the UK have also introduced mandatory testing for Chinese travelers. Chinese authorities have criticized these travel restrictions as being politically motivated.

A final decision on the possible restrictions is expected by the weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

Olympian in “Race Against Time” Even Before Race Day

Icelandic skier Sturla Snær Snorrason is in the midst of a nail-biting race—but not the kind he was hoping to take part in during the Winter 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. Vísir reports that Olympian was just released from isolation after having been diagnosed with COVID last Saturday. This means that Sturla Snær can begin training again but will not be able to actually compete unless he receives a negative PCR test result prior to his events, one of which is this weekend.

See Also: Five Icelanders Compete in 2022 Winter Olympics

Sturla, who competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, was one of Iceland’s flagbearers during the opening ceremonies last Friday, along with cross-country skier Kristrún Guðnadóttir. Following the ceremony, he began to experience COVID symptoms and was taken to a hospital in Beijing and put in isolation.

After a few days, Sturla began to feel better, but he also began to get bored. “There was no coffee or anything like that,” he remarked in an interview. “It wasn’t possible to go on any social media that we use at home. […] There wasn’t even a table and chair to sit at. You had to eat in bed and lie there all day. Not much in the way of entertainment, so I had to make my own.” To while away the time, therefore, Sturla decided to create a website for the road-marking company he runs with his father.

As of Friday, Sturla was still in quarantine and still testing positive for COVID. If all goes well, however, he will compete in Men’s Giant Slalom late Sunday night/early Monday morning (GMT/Iceland time) this weekend and Men’s Slalom in the early hours of February 16.

 

Five Icelanders Compete in 2022 Winter Olympics

Hólmfríður Dóra Friðgeirsdóttir and Erla Ásgeirsdóttir Beijing 2022

The Beijing Winter Olympics begin today, and five Icelanders are among the competitors. They are Hólmfríður Dóra Friðgeirsdóttir, Isak Stianson Pedersen, Kristrún Guðnadóttir, Snorri Einarsson, and Sturla Snær Snorrason. Two will be competing in their first Olympic games.

Hólmfríður is competing in women’s Alpine skiing, in the slalom, giant slalom, and Super-G events. Kristrún will compete in cross-country skiing, in the women’s sprint freestyle event. Snorri will compete in the 15km cross-country skiing event, Men’s 15km+15km Skiathlon, the 50km mass start freestyle event, and the Men’s Team Sprint Classic event. Isak will compete in the cross-country sprint and the Team Sprint Classic events.

Sturla Snær, Snorri, and Isak all competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Holmfríður and Kristrún will be competing in the Olympics for the first time. Kristrún and Sturla Snær will be Iceland’s flagbearers at the opening ceremony today.

Iceland Helps China Implement Geothermal Energy

Approximately 2.2 million Chinese residents now heat their homes with geothermal energy owing to a collaboration between Iceland and China, RÚV reports. The partnership has led to a steady increase in the use of geothermal energy in the country.

A long and colourful history

In an interview with RÚV, Páll Valdimarsson, senior advisor with Arctic Green Energy, explained that China’s use of geothermal energy has a long and colourful history. It began when a joint venture company between Iceland and China started developing geothermal space heating stations in Xanyang in 2003.

Later, the project saw two school buildings in the area connected to hot-water boreholes. A partnership, owned by Enex and Sinopec (a Chinese oil and gas enterprise based in Beijing), was established around the project, but the company suffered losses during the financial crisis in 2008. Icelandic investors subsequently came on board, eventually renaming the company Arctic Green Energy.

Currently, the geothermal district heating system in China is five to six times larger than Reykjavík Energy, according to Páll Valdimarsson. It provides approximately 2.2 million Chinese residents with heat for their homes and will reduce carbon emissions by 3.5 million tonnes.

Complete carbon neutrality by 2060

“It’s gotten quite big,” Páll observed, “and I mean China’s a populated place; these things become quite big. Today, Arctic Green provides heat for a total of 60 million square meters, and within these 60 million square meters, there are 2.2 million residents.”

Arctic Green has established a relatively simple district-heating network in China: “We’ve developed a technique that utilizes underfloor heating and simple solutions, which means that Chinese homes only require water that is between 52-55°C. That’s a much lower temperature than we use in Iceland.”

By these means, Arctic Green can use comparatively lower amounts of geothermal energy to good use. According to Páll, the Chinese have been developing technique mentioned above with continued success. He expects the projects to grow even larger in the future. “They’re aiming for complete carbon neutrality in China by 2060. They mean it – and they will accomplish it.”

Chinese Authorities Blacklist Icelander In Response To Sanctions

Foreign Minister Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson.

An Icelandic lawyer has been blacklisted by Chinese authorities over his vocal critique of China-related matters, mbl.is reports. While he is not likely to be affected by the measures, Minister for Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson has called the blacklisting “unacceptable.” Iceland has recently agreed to participate in sanctions against China with several other nations over the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.

An Icelandic man working as a lawyer was called to a meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs last Friday where he was notified that he was the only Icelander on the Chinese authorities’ blacklist, mbl.is reports. Among the repercussions are a China travel ban and financial assets in China, if any, are frozen.

Iceland’s ambassador in Beijing Gunnar Snorri Gunnarsson was notified of the Chinese authorities’ decision yesterday. Sveinn H. Guðmarsson, a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told mbl.is that Icelandic authorities objected to the decision. The Icelandic ambassador in Beijing objected to the representative of the Chinese Ministry for foreign affairs when he received the news and the Chinese ambassador to Iceland had a meeting in the ministry of foreign affairs where the objections were repeated. “It was also pointed out that Icelanders have full freedom of expression. This individual is in no way responsible for any Icelandic government actions that authorities in China might disagree with, Sveinn told mbl.is.

The blacklisted individual is Jónas Haraldsson. He told mbl.is that he was notified that the action against him was due to his criticism of the Chinese embassy, China’s part in the COVID-19 pandemic and Chinese tourists. Jónas added that he was proud of being the only Icelander who was on the Chinese list. He also told RÚV that the blacklist wasn’t likely to affect him as he had no assets in China and no plans to travel there.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson stated that Chinese government tactics to punish people for using exercising their freedom of expression in countries where is unacceptable. “I think the polite word to use is that it’s completely unacceptable to apply this to an Icelandic citizen just for using their freedom of expression. We made the very clear to Chinese authorities both here in Reykjavík as well as in Beijing.” Despite Iceland’s protests, Guðlaugur does not believe that Chinese authorities will change their minds.

Last month, Iceland agreed to participate in sanctions against China along with nations such as the US, the UK, Canada, Norway and the nations of the EU. Iceland has criticised China’s behaviour towards the Uighurs both in the united nation’s human rights Commission and in communication with the Chinese authorities.

The Chinese Embassy posted a statement on their website last Friday, confirming that the blacklisting was a response to Iceland’s participation in the sanctions:

“Based on nothing but lies and disinformation, Iceland follows EU’s unilateral sanctions on relevant Chinese individuals and entity, citing the so-called human rights issues in Xinjiang. This move breaches international law and basic norms of international relations, and severely undermines China-Iceland relations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has summoned Icelandic Ambassador to China to lodge solemn representations, expressing firm opposition and strong condemnation. China has decided to impose reciprocal sanctions on one individual on the Icelandic side who seriously harms China’s sovereignty and interests by maliciously spreading lies and disinformation.

China is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests. We demand that Iceland should truly respect China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs under the pretext of human rights issues.”

No Traces of Icelandic Mountaineer on K2

K2 John Snorri

Several helicopter missions have failed to find any traces of Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri and his team, who have not been heard from for over three days after setting out to reach the summit of K2, the second-highest mountain in the world. Sherpa Chhang Dawa, who took part in the search, stated that teams flew over an altitude of 7,000m (23,000ft) but found no clues as to what has happened to the missing climbers.

At 8,611m (28,251ft), K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth and is considered a much more challenging climb than Mt. Everest, the world’s highest peak. In 2017, John Snorri became the first Icelander to top K2, which is located on the China-Pakistan border. He then set his sights on being the first person ever to ascend the peak during winter but was beaten to that goal by Nepalese mountaineer Mingma Gyalje last month. This is John Snorri’s second attempt to ascend K2 in winter.

John Snorri is accompanied by Pakistani mountaineer Ali Sadpara as well as Chilean climber Juan Pablo Mohr. The three lost contact with base camp late last Friday when they were some 400 metres from the peak. The search for the team began on Saturday. Ali’s son Sajid Sadpara, who accompanied the team up to 8,200 metres, stated he believes the team reached the peak and likely had an accident on the way back down.

Travel Restrictions for 15 Countries Soon to Be Lifted

Icelandair airplane

The Icelandic authorities plan on lifting travel restrictions for residents of 15 countries outside the Schengen Area within the next few days. Once the regulation is adopted, citizens from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other “safe” countries will be free to travel to Iceland.

Preregistration, PCR tests and quarantine

According to current regulations (586/2020 from June 15), EU/Schengen citizens and residents are free to travel to Iceland provided that they preregister before arriving and undergo a PCR test or a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

As announced by a bulletin posted yesterday, the government of Iceland will soon lift travel restrictions for residents of fifteen states outside the EU/Schengen Area. The announcement follows on the heels of a decision made by the EU. Once the new regulation comes into effect, the following countries will be granted an exemption from travel restrictions to Iceland (the list will be reviewed at least every two weeks):

Algeria
Australia
Canada
Georgia
Japan
Montenegro
Morocco
New Zealand
Rwanda
Serbia
South Korea
Thailand
Tunisia
Uruguay
China (subject to confirmation of reciprocity)

All passengers arriving from these states must complete pre-registration and choose to undergo a PCR test or a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Iceland.

“Safe” countries

As noted by the EU Council, the decision to ease travel restrictions for the abovementioned countries was based on a number of scientific factors:

  • The number of new COVID-19 cases over the last 14 days and per 100,000 inhabitants is close to or below the EU average (as it stood on 15 June 2020).
  • A stable or decreasing trend of new cases over this period in comparison to the previous 14 days.
  • The overall response to COVID-19 taking into account available information, including on aspects such as testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment and reporting, as well as the reliability of the information and, if needed, the total average score for International Health Regulations (IHR). Information provided by EU delegations on these aspects should also be taken into account.

Icelandair to Transport Medical Supplies Between China and Europe, US

Icelandair has signed a contract to operate at least 45 cargo flights between Shanghai, China and Munich, Germany, transporting medical and nursing supplies, RÚV reports. The airline will also fly from Shanghai to Chicago in the US with stopovers in Iceland. The flights will operate daily, starting on Saturday.

Three of Icelandair’s Boeing 767s will be temporarily converted for the cargo operation. Each will be crewed by 12 people, while another 100 Icelandair employees will be involved in different aspects of the project.

While the contract with cargo company DB Schenker calls for a minimum of 45 flights, it also stipulates that daily flights from Shanghai will continue for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it’s probable that more will be added in the near future.

Icelandair also signed another lease agreement with another party for a fourth Boeing 767, which will also be used for cargo shipments of medical and nursing supplies between China and Europe.

“This is important revenue for the company, from aircraft that would have otherwise been grounded,” remarked Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason. “…This also creates work for our people – the preparations, organisation, and implementation are all taking place here in Iceland, in addition to the flights themselves, and all with our excellent employees.”

The new cargo contracts and any work they can create are certainly welcome; just one day ago, Bogi Nils told reporters that extensive layoffs on par with those that the company was forced to make after the 2008 banking collapse were “unavoidable” in the coming week.