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.

COVID-Positive No Longer Required to Isolate in Iceland

mask walk outdoor covid

PCR testing for COVID-19 will no longer be available to the general public in Iceland. People with COVID-19 symptoms are instead encouraged to undergo a rapid antigen test. Those who test positive on a rapid test will not be obligated to isolate for five days, though it is recommended. The use of PCR tests for COVID-19 will be limited to those with severe symptoms or underlying illnesses, on the recommendation of doctors.

The changes were announced in a notice from Iceland’s Directorate of Health. According to the notice, the healthcare system’s testing capacity was surpassed some time ago, and the wait for PCR test results has gone from as little as six hours to 2-3 days. In order to reduce strain on testing, the general public will not longer be offered PCR tests when they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Instead, they will have access to rapid antigen tests. Such tests can be booked through the Heilsuvera website for those with an Icelandic kennitala (ID number), as well as through private companies, who offer the tests for free thanks to a government contract.

Isolation still recommended

Those who test positive for COVID-19 on a rapid antigen test will not be required to isolate for five days, but health authorities nevertheless recommend they do so. Those who have little or no symptoms may go to work, but practice infection precaution measures. These include avoiding gatherings of more than 50 people and using a mask when around others outside of the household.

According to the current regulations, those who test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR test are still required to isolate for five days. While PCR tests are no longer available to the general public, they will remain available to those who require a PCR certificate for travel abroad, for a fee.

As of the time of writing, Iceland’s cabinet is meeting to discuss recommendations for changes to domestic COVID-19 restrictions. Authorities have previously announced a plan to lift all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 this Friday, February 25. An announcement from ministers is expected shortly.

Iceland to Lift All COVID Restrictions Next Week

On February 25, Iceland’s authorities plan to lift all remaining domestic restrictions due to COVID-19, the country’s Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has stated. This includes isolation for those who test positive for COVID-19, though those who are sick will still be encouraged to stay at home. Iceland’s National University Hospital continues to experience strain, particularly due to staff shortages caused by COVID illness.

Iceland reported 2,489 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, a national record. The number of patients in hospital with COVID-19 is 54, with 3 currently receiving intensive care. As of this morning, 363 hospital staff members were in isolation due to COVID infection, a record for the hospital. Willum says authorities are considering lifting isolation requirements for hospital staff that is symptom-free. Iceland’s current domestic restrictions include a 200-person gathering limit and mask use when distancing cannot be ensured.

Responsibility shifts to individuals

Barring any unexpected changes, Willum says authorities plan to lift all remaining domestic restrictions on February 25, or Friday next week. This includes requiring those who are COVID-19 positive to isolate. “But then it’s important to remember, that just like in general when people get sick, you need to get better and be careful. The more we lift restrictions the more we appeal to the individual’s responsibility to take care of their health.

COVID-19 services transferred to local healthcare centres

COVID-19 healthcare services are also undergoing sweeping changes in Iceland. As of today, primary healthcare centres will take over most COVID-19 services and monitoring of COVID-19 patients, previously done by the National University Hospital’s COVID-19 ward. Individuals who are seriously ill due to COVID-19 and those in high-risk groups will still be serviced by the National University Hospital, however. Vaccination, which for capital area residents has been administered in a mass-vaccination centre set up in Laugardalshöll stadium, will also be moved to primary healthcare centres in two weeks.

No More Quarantine And Relaxed Restrictions Take Effect At Midnight

Following a government meeting this morning, Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson announced that considerably relaxed domestic infection prevention regulations will take effect at midnight tonight. Most notably, people will no longer be required to quarantine, meaning that close to 10,000 people will be released from quarantine. The new regulation will remain in effect until February 25, and barring any unexpected changes, the government hopes to lift all restrictions by the end of the month.

People already in quarantine will not be required to take a PCR test to be released from quarantine. People who have been exposed to COVID-19 will no longer be required to take special precautions, although it is still strongly advised. People with active COVID-19 infections will still need to isolate from others.

While infection regulations at the border will not change, the minister stated that a workgroup will introduce their suggestions for changes to border regulations “very soon”.

While new cases of COVID-19 in Iceland are increasing, hospitalisations have remained within a range of 25-45 since the beginning of the year. 38 are currently in hospital with COVID-19, 15 of which were hospitalised due to COVID-19 illnesses. Ten people have died from COVID-19 in Iceland this year, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Iceland to 54. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur GUðnason’s memorandum to the government stated that following recent restriction relaxations, there are strong indications that infections are increasing.

The Chief Epidemiologist notified the government that it is likely that following recent relaxation of restrictions, new cases of COVID-19 go unnoticed. Despite low hospitalisation rates (0.1% of infected people are hospitalised due to COVID-19 illness), an increase in infections can increase the strain on the hospital.

The changes to domestic regulations taking effect at midnight:

General gathering limits will be raised from 50 to 200 indoors. No gathering limits on crowds outdoors.

Shops no longer have gathering limits.

Events of up to 1,000 people will be allowed for seated events if everyone is wearing a mask. Intermissions will be allowed again, along with the sale of food and drinks during intermission.

Masks will be required if a social distance of 1 metre cannot be upheld.

Gyms, swimming pools, ski resorts, and spas will be allowed to operate at full capacity.

Sporting events and training are permitted with up to 200 spectators per compartment.

All restrictions on school operations lapse, making schools subject only to general gathering limits, with the option of further exceptions.

Elementary and upper secondary schools will be allowed to host events for their students with no infection prevention limitations.

Bars and restaurants are permitted to extend their opening hours by one hour. Establishments will be able to accept new guests until midnight, but all guests must have left the premises by 1:oo AM.

COVID-19 Isolation to Shorten to Five Days

Iceland’s Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson announced to media today that mandatory isolation for COVID-19 positive individuals will be shortened from seven days to five. Willum made the announcement in a radio interview this morning. The new regulations are to take effect this Monday, February 7.

“The illness varies among people so people must of course show caution and take care of themselves,” Willum stated, underlining that patients must be symptom-free to be discharged from isolation. Asked when mask regulations would be lifted, Willum stated: “I think that’s coming soon, everything is on our side.”

Icelandic authorities announced a plan to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions by mid-March, including isolation and quarantine due to COVID-19. The country has been reporting around 1,500 daily cases in recent weeks – nevertheless, the number of patients in hospital due to COVID-19 has dropped over the past week. Local data shows that around 90% of COVID-19 cases in Iceland are due to the Omicron strain, which has lower rates of hospitalisation and serious illness than the Delta strain of SARS-CoV-2. Isolation was shortened from 10 days to 7 in December of last year and quarantine regulations were significantly relaxed in January.

No More One-Metre Distancing Requirement for Seated Events

Harpa concert hall

Iceland’s Health Minister has lifted the requirement of one-metre distancing at seated events, such as concerts and performing arts events. The decision was made in consultation with the Chief Epidemiologist. Event organisers had complained that the rule was unnecessarily cumbersome and stricter than requirements in other types of venues, such as bars and restaurants.

“This is a big and important change,” Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson stated. “This changes the conditions for holding events as it will be possible to utilise all seats at events as long as there are not more than 500 people per compartment.” As previously, mask use is still required at all seated events.

Performing arts venues are still not permitted to sell alcohol during events. Some event organisers have protested that regulation, as alcohol sales are permitted at bars, clubs, and restaurants.

COVID-19 in Iceland: National Hospital Lowers Emergency Phase

Chief Epidemiologist Iceland Þórólfur Guðnason

Iceland’s official COVID-19 data may no longer reflect the actual spread of cases since relaxed COVID-19 regulations took effect, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated at a briefing in Reykjavík this morning. He encouraged the public to get PCR tests if they are symptomatic, but opt for rapid testing otherwise, in order to not strain the country’s testing capacity. Both the National Hospital and the Civil Protection and Emergency Management Department have lowered their emergency phase to an uncertainty phase, and Þórólfur was optimistic that better times were ahead in the fight against COVID.

A total of 70,721 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Iceland since the pandemic began, or around 19% of the population. A recent study suggests that the number of actual infections could be higher than that reflected in official data. While the current wave of infection, Iceland’s largest, was initially straining workplaces and the National University Hospital, the situation has somewhat improved in recent days. Relaxed quarantine regulations are one factor that has made an impact.

Iceland is set to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions, including quarantine and isolation, by mid-March. The Chief Epidemiologist stated that changes could be made to border regulations before March 1, but are not his primary concern at the moment. Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has expressed his wishes to lift domestic restrictions earlier than scheduled, but Þórólfur stated he was not sure whether his recommendations for the next stage of lifting would be submitted before the end of the week.

Iceland Significantly Relaxes COVID-19 Quarantine Regulations

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.

New deCODE Data Supports Relaxing COVID Regulations

deCode Genetics CEO Kári Stefánsson

According to research from deCODE genetics, at least 20% of Icelanders under 40 have already contracted COVID-19 and as many as 135,000 may have already had it. The company’s CEO Kári Stefánsson has called for abolishing all domestic restrictions in Iceland, including isolation and quarantine, in light of the low rate of serious illness caused by Omicron infections. “We have to respond to the data and I think the data is telling us that now is the time to see whether we can’t live a fine life without using quarantine or isolation,” Kári stated.

As elsewhere in the world, the Omicron variant has led to Iceland’s biggest wave of COVID-19 infection since the start of the pandemic. While the domestic infection rate remains high, the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has begun falling. Local data shows the rates of hospitalisation due to Omicron infection are much lower than the rates associated with the Delta variant (0.2-0.3% for Omicron versus 2% for Delta).

Chief Epidemiologist: we must proceed slowly

When asked to comment, the Chief Epidemiologist did not oppose Kári’s thoughts on lifting domestic restrictions, including quarantine and isolation, but stressed the importance of proceeding in stages. “I think it’s wiser to proceed slowly rather than go too fast and then have to take a step backwards,” Þórólfur stated. “It would be a little tricky and difficult to do that.”

Iceland’s current domestic restrictions are valid until February 2. They include a 10-person gathering limit, mandatory mask use in shops and public transport, and the mandated closure of all bars and clubs. Þórólfur says he plans to submit recommendations to relax domestic restrictions next week. Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson has given indications that he would be willing to relax them even sooner.

Steps taken to relax quarantine and isolation regulations

Þórólfur Guðnason, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, will submit a memorandum to the Health Minister today that recommends relaxing the regulations on COVID-19 quarantine. According to Þórólfur, the recommendations allow for more people to be exempt from having to quarantine in the case of possible exposure to COVID. Þórólfur states that conditions are in place to relax social restrictions in Iceland, but it is important to do so in stages.

“What we are working on now with the [Health] Ministry and the Minister is to simplify quarantine rules and simplify testing. And I think it’s wise to start there,” Þórólfur stated. Authorities have already taken steps to relax quarantine and isolation restrictions, including by shortening mandatory isolation from 10 to seven days and exempting triple-vaccinated individuals (and double-vaccinated individuals who have recovered from COVID) from mandatory quarantine in the case of potential exposure. Regulations on isolation have also been relaxed, allowing individuals to leave their place of isolation for walks.

Health Minister to Relax COVID Restrictions Once Hospital Gives Go-Ahead

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson

Iceland’s Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson is working on a plan for lifting COVID-19 restrictions and hopes to present it by the end of this week, Vísir reports. Current domestic restrictions, including a 10-person gathering limit and closure of all bars and clubs, are valid until February 2. The situation at the National University Hospital is improving, with data showing COVID-19 illness is shorter and less severe than in previous waves.

“Thankfully the development in this pandemic has been and this wave that the numbers are working with us and we’re always looking at the healthcare system in particular in that respect, that we can handle the situation and are providing all healthcare services in the country,” Willum stated. New data shows that the hospitalisation rate and the average length of time COVID-19 patients spend in hospital have both reduced significantly. The average length of time the COVID-19 ward has to monitor patients isolating at home has also shortened.

Before relaxing restrictions, hospital must lower alert phase

Iceland’s National University Hospital declared an emergency phase on December 28 due to strain from COVID-19 cases among patients and staff. The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management also declared an emergency phase earlier this month due to the pandemic. Authorities have since taken measures to ease strain on the hospital, including by negotiating a contract with a private healthcare clinic to address staffing issues.

Willum stressed that the Civil Protection Department and Hospital would need to lower their emergency phase before domestic restrictions could be relaxed. “As soon as we see that happen, then we can loosen restrictions,” he stated, adding that he expects the loosened restrictions to go further than raising the gathering limit to 20.

The Minister did, however, stress the importance of lifting restrictions in stages.