Parents May No Longer Be Required to Isolate With Their Children

school children

The families of children who are required to self-isolate may forgo isolation themselves if they have not been in direct contact with the infected individual, according to a new proposal on quarantine regulations being considered by the government. The authorities hope to reduce future social restrictions as far as possible, although long-term measures in the fight against COVID have yet to be laid out.

Reduce the number of people self-isolating

Speaking to RÚV this afternoon, the Minister of Health revealed that the government hopes to loosen quarantine regulations, intending to reduce the number of people required to isolate in the event of an infection. Among the measures that will be implemented in this endeavour are rapid antigen tests. Furthermore, the families of children who are made to self-isolate will not be required to isolate if they have not been in direct contact with the infected individual.

“We’ve decided, following the proposals from the Chief Epidemiologist, to reevaluate our quarantine regulations with the hope of steering individuals who’ve been in direct contact with an infected person into isolation; however, whenever we’re dealing with the outer circles, with people who are further removed from the infected individual, then we’ll recommend, among other things, rapid antigen tests,” Svandís stated. “We’re also considering whether to allow families of children who are isolating to forgo self-isolation themselves.”

Uncertainty surrounding social restrictions in the future

Although a long-term pandemic plan has yet to be formalized, the government discussed the Chief Epidemiologist’s long-term measures to fight COVID-19 in its meeting this morning. “We’re discussing future plans,” Svandís stated. “We know that we need to temper the pandemic so that it does not jeopardize the healthcare system.” As has been the case in the past, the authorities will need to take into account the progress of the pandemic. “We can’t make precise decisions about the state of things six months or a year from now, but we can state that we hope to reduce restrictions as far as possible, with the caveat that we don’t put the healthcare system at risk.”

New Regulations May Bar Non-Infectious Residents from Boarding Commercial Flights

Keflavík Airport

Icelanders, or those who have connections to Iceland, who are fully vaccinated could find it difficult to return to the country if they become infected with COVID-19 while travelling abroad. PCR tests may detect genetic material from the virus long after individuals have recovered, which may preclude them from boarding commercial flights to Iceland. “The authorities in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations,” an Icelandic woman, who was stranded in Denmark for over a week, stated.

Could be made to wait up to two months

New regulations passed by the Minister of Health provides that passengers must submit a negative PCR test before boarding a flight to Iceland. As reported by Fréttablaðið, the regulations do not, however, include a clause concerning individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 but who nonetheless test positive on PCR tests.

As noted by a recent paper on the phenomenon, “genetic sequences from the RNA virus SARS-CoV-2 can integrate into the genome of the host cell through a process called reverse transcription. These sections of the genome can then be ‘read’ into RNAs, which could potentially be picked up by a PCR test.” Thus, Icelanders, or those with connections to Iceland, who become infected abroad could be made to wait for up to six months before they are allowed back onto commercial flights for Iceland – even if they’ve completed mandatory quarantine and are no longer infectious.

Speaking to Fréttablaðið this morning, Runólfur Pálsson, head of the COVID outpatient centre at the National University Hospital in Iceland, recalled that this was “a big issue” during the summer of 2020 when the borders were reopened before vaccinations began. “Individuals who had previously been infected were testing positive upon arrival. We had to assess whether this was an active infection or an older one, and we did this by testing for antibodies.”

“If this is done by measuring the amount of virus, it becomes quite complicated.” According to Runólfur, such an approach leaves testers in a “hopeless situation,” for it is difficult to assess whether the person is contagious or whether they are still carrying a trace of the virus’ DNA in their respiratory tract from a previous infection but are no longer contagious. Runólfur pointed out that such individuals are allowed re-entry into society after quarantining, even though there is the possibility that they won’t be allowed onto commercial flights headed to Iceland. The Icelandic Constitution declares that “an Icelandic citizen cannot be barred from entering Iceland nor expelled there from.”

Given a COVID health pass in Denmark but not allowed to return

Nanna Þórdís Árnadóttir, a kindergarten teacher from Reykjavík, flew to Denmark with her husband and two children on July 17. Two days after arriving, Nanna tested positive for COVID-19. Having quarantined for over two weeks (Nanna’s two daughters later tested positive), the family extended their stay but planned on returning last week. However, a positive PCR test precluded them from boarding a commercial flight to Iceland:

“The COVID staff in Denmark were speechless over the Icelandic regulations. I’d been issued a COVID health pass from the Danish authorities because I was no longer infectious, but I was not allowed to board a commercial flight to Iceland.”

Nanna reached out to Iceland’s Ministry of Health, which pointed her in the direction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “They said that there was nothing they could do. Everyone was real friendly but they had no advice at all. And so I spoke to the COVID staff in Iceland who said that I would need to fly home in an air ambulance.”

Fortunately, Nanna took another PCR test yesterday and received a negative result this morning. “You can imagine how little I slept while waiting for the results last night … although we love staying here, the feeling of visiting Denmark when one is stuck and can’t return home is quite different. What happens if we need to extend our stay by a week? A month? We’ve needed to look for a place to stay, to consider work, finances; it’s proven quite costly for us.”

The family will be returning to Iceland tomorrow.

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.