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.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Regulations on Mask Use Amended

mask use social distancing

Icelandic authorities released a notice amending the COVID-19 regulations yesterday. The regulations took force at midnight last Saturday, setting a 200-person gathering limit and one-metre social distancing, among other rules meant to curb the spread of infection. Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions on June 26, but imposed them again last weekend after a rise in cases attributed to the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The notice outlines two changes to the regulations. Firstly, the gathering limit of 200 will apply to children born in 2016 or earlier. The second change entails removing a clause about ventilation, which “proved somewhat unclear and therefore difficult to carry out.” The clause stated that masks were required in businesses and services where one-metre distancing couldn’t be carried out or there was inadequate ventilation. According to the amendment, business operators must decide whether it is possible to maintain one-metre distancing on their premises, and if not, masks must be worn.

More information about Iceland’s current domestic restrictions can be found here.

Icelandic authorities will hold a COVID-19 information briefing at 11:00 AM today, which Iceland Review will live-tweet in English on our Twitter page.

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: Restrictions Relaxed from December 10

Sundlaugin Laugardal

Social restrictions due to COVID-19 will be moderately relaxed in Iceland this Thursday, December 10. The country’s swimming pools will reopen at 50% capacity, while shops, schools, performing arts venues, and restaurants will also see moderately relaxed restrictions. The national gathering limit will remain at 10 people, though with several exceptions. The new regulations will remain in effect until January 12.

While Iceland saw a rise in new COVID-19 case numbers at the end of November, new domestic case numbers and overall active cases have been dropping in recent days. The country appears to have contained the current wave of cases.

Ten-Person Limit Still in Effect

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir just announced the updated COVID-19 restrictions that take effect this Thursday, December 10, following a government meeting that took place this morning. Current restrictions mandate a 10-person gathering limit across the country and bars, gyms, swimming pools are closed.

While the 10-person limit will remain in effect from December 10, several exceptions to the rule have been granted from that date. All shops will be permitted to take in 5 customers per 10 square metres up to a maximum of 100 customers. This regulation applies to non-essential shops as well.

Restaurants may take in up to 15 guests at a time (up from 10 previously) and may remain open until 10.00pm, one hour later than current regulations allow. They may, however, not admit any new guests after 9.00pm.

Performing Arts, Sports Permitted

Swimming pools may reopen on Thursday, though only at 50% capacity. Athletic activities for adults in the top league of the National Olympic and Sports Association of Iceland (ÍSÍ) will be permitted to restart. This applies to both contactless and contact sports.

Performing arts, currently banned, will be permitted again from Thursday. Groups of up to 30 performers are permitted to rehearse and perform together, and can entertain up to 50 seated, mask-wearing guests, though neither intermissions nor alcohol sales are permitted at performances. Funerals may have up to 50 guests.

Children born in 2005 or later will no longer be required to wear masks in schools, shops, or other locations. Preschools will no longer be required to keep classes separate.

Consensus Within Government

Svandís stated that the regulations are slightly different from Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations, though the changes were made in consultation with him. The Health Minister stated that there was consensus on the updated regulations within the government.

Asked whether the regulations would be sufficient to avoid a new wave after the holidays, Svandís stated: “If everyone follows the rules then they will be sufficient.” The regulations will be in effect until January 12.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Contact Tracing is Key to Taming Third Wave

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

“Cautiously optimistic” was how Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason described his perspective on the ongoing third wave of COVID-19 infections at a briefing in Reykjavík today. Authorities know where the wave originated, says Þórólfur, the contact tracing team has a good overview on cases, and has also been successful in locating minor outbreaks. Þórólfur added, however, that his optimism has proved unwarranted in the past and that individual preventative measures such as handwashing and social distancing remain key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland.

Iceland reported 30 new domestic cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and the number has been dropping since reaching a high of 75 two days ago. More than half of case in recent days can be traced to bars and clubs in Reykjavík, which have been ordered to remain closed until September 27.  The total number of active cases currently sits at 242.

Emphasis on Employer Responsibility

At today’s briefing, authorities emphasised employers’ responsibility in minimising the risk of virus spread in the workplace. This should be done by separating employees into smaller groups at larger workplaces, as well as ensuring communal areas are regularly cleaned and sterilised. Furthermore, employers were encouraged to allow staff to work from home as much as possible.

Mask Use Encouraged, Not Mandatory

In workplaces where one-metre distancing is not possible, mask use is encouraged. The same applies to secondary schools and universities. While mask use in these circumstances is not required by law, Þórólfur emphasised that schools should set regulations according to their individual circumstances, and those should be respected. He added that authorities are not recommending general mask use “out on the streets,” rather only in situations where masks have been proven effective in reducing and preventing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Iceland Review live tweets Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefings.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Two Metres Reduced to One

COVID-19 Press conference Þórólfur Guðnason Alma Möller V'iðir Reynisson

Iceland will likely reduce its two-metre social distancing rule to one metre and double the national assembly limit to 200 people from September 10. Masks will still be required in situations where that distance cannot be maintained, for example in hair salons and massage parlours. The double testing and five-day quarantine required of arriving travellers will remain unchanged for the time being.

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason announced the changes in a briefing in Reykjavík today. He will also propose further changes to COVID-19 regulations to the Minister of Health, who makes the final call on their implementation. The changes include allowing swimming pools and gyms to operate at 75% capacity and permitting theatre performances with up to 200 participants and one-metre distancing. The regulation requiring bars and clubs to close at 11.00pm will remain unchanged.

Active Cases at the Border Rising

Since August 19, all travellers entering Iceland have been required to undergo testing at the border, five days of quarantine, and a follow-up test. Þórólfur says the number of active cases detected at the border has been rising despite a drop in the number of travellers. This means the percentage of active cases among arriving travellers is rising significantly, which Þórólfur says reflects the spread of the virus abroad.

Of 100 people who have tested positive for COVID-19 at the border, 84 did so in their first test and 16 in the second. The proportion of those who received a false negative in their first test is higher than expected, according to Þórólfur, and therefore shows the importance of testing those arriving from abroad twice. Around 60% of those who have tested positive at the border are Icelandic residents, who are considered more likely to spread the virus locally than tourists. Around a third have been tourists.

Border Screening Re-evaluated Next Week

Iceland’s current border regulations concerning COVID-19 are valid until September 15. Þórólfur will decide next week whether changes to the measures will be made, but stated he does not expect to recommend any fundamental changes. The Chief Epidemiologist expressed his belief that it was more logical to loosen measures within the country before doing so at the borders.

A total of 220 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Iceland since June 15. A majority of recently diagnosed cases, or around 60%, were among people who were already in quarantine. Iceland currently has 96 active cases of COVID-19 and a domestic incidence rate of 17.7 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.