70% of Icelanders May Have Already Had COVID-19

COVID-19 briefing Iceland Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason wrote in his latest column on covid.is that he estimates the actual number of Icelanders who have been infected with the coronavirus to be as much as double the number of people formally diagnosed. That would mean that around 70% of Icelanders have had COVID-19.

Should that be the case, Iceland could reach the pandemic’s peak in the next few weeks, after which time diagnoses will start to drop, Þórólfur predicts.

COVID-19 is still a serious problem

In his column, Þórólfur reminds the public that COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly through the community, and though the number of tests being conducted is decreasing that doesn’t mean cases are dropping.

3,367 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in Iceland on Feb. 28 — 3,215 through rapid testing and 152 through PCR.

He also said the health care system is feeling the pressure.

“At Landspítali, about 10 individuals are admitted daily with or due to COVID-19, and slightly less are discharged,” Þórólfur wrote. “Today, 55 people are in hospital with/due to the disease, three of them in the intensive care unit, all on a ventilator.”

He says it is important that everyone realizes that COVID-19 is still a significant health issue in Iceland, despite official disease control measures being lifted. “Everyone is encouraged to continue to use individual disease control measures aimed at delaying the spread of COVID-19 and preventing uncontrollable strain on our healthcare system.”

No More COVID-19 Prevention Measures at Iceland’s Border

Keflavík Airport

Along with lifting COVID-19 social restrictions domestically, the government has also called off all disease-prevention measures at the border. There is no longer a requirement for a PCR test to board aircraft and no need to quarantine upon arrival, regardless of vaccination status.

Wholesale lifting of restrictions

Before today, all travellers arriving in Iceland were required to present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test administered no more than 72 hours before departure to Iceland (regardless of their vaccination status or whether they have previously contracted COVID-19). These restrictions no longer apply.

As per the authorities’ statements Wednesday, all COVID-19 measures at the Icelandic border were lifted at midnight – regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated. (Visa requirements, of course, have not changed.)

As noted on Icelandair’s webpage: “All visitors are welcome, with no requirement for a PCR test to board aircraft, or testing or quarantine upon arrival. There is no longer a requirement to present a certificate of vaccination or of a prior COVID-19 infection.”

Travellers are, however, asked to keep in mind that the lifting of these restrictions does not mean that they cannot wear a mask. Travellers should also be aware that different rules apply for different airlines and countries.

Iceland Lifts All COVID-19 Restrictions

ramps downtown Reykjavík

All COVID-19 social restrictions have been lifted as of midnight today. Individuals who test positive for the coronavirus will no longer be required to quarantine, and no disease prevention measures will be in place at the border.

Two years of restrictions

Nearly two years after imposing the first social restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Icelandic authorities have lifted all limitations on public gatherings. Rapid tests will replace PCR tests, and individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be required to quarantine.

According to a statement by Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson on Wednesday, the decision to lift social restrictions was unanimous among ministers – and in line with the most recent memorandum of Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason.

The memo noted that severe illness has not increased over the past few weeks – despite over 2,000 infections being recorded daily. Þórólfur believes that the best way to end the pandemic is widespread herd immunity against the virus (ca. 80% of the population is expected to have become infected by mid-March).

Approximately 110,000 individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Iceland. Antibody testing suggests, however, that an equal number of people have already been infected without testing positive. Sixty one individuals have died from COVID-19 in Iceland since the start of the pandemic.

“We can truly rejoice at this turning-point, but I encourage people to be careful, to practice personal infection prevention measures, and not to interact with others if they notice symptoms,” the Minister of Health stated on Wednesday.

Bar-owners rejoice, despite poor weather

Among those who will be celebrating the lifting of restrictions are bar owners, who may now resume normal operations for the first time since July.

The nightlife in downtown Reykjavík is expected to be especially busy this weekend. The National University Hospital warns of an increased strain on its operations and encourages partygoers to exercise caution.

As noted by meteorologist Haraldur Ólafsson in an interview with Vísir, today’s forecast is less than ideal. An orange weather alert will be in effect for the capital area between 11 AM and 5 PM. Wind speed is expected to reach up to 25 m/s with sleet and rain. The storm will have mostly subsided by the evening.

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.