Icelandic Government to Stop Subsidising Rapid Testing for COVID-19

keflavik airport COVID-19 testing

On April 1, Iceland’s government will stop subsidising rapid COVID-19 testing centres, a notice from the Health Ministry states. The regulation first came into force on September 16, and allowed private parties to offer rapid testing services free of charge. Symptomatic testing will continue to be conducted at primary healthcare centres and health care institutions, free of charge.

Testing for travellers who require a COVID-19 test certificate will remain available for a fee. PCR exams at primary healthcare centres and healthcare institutions for those who require a travel certificate will cost ISK 7.000 [$54; €50], as before.

The Icelandic government’s test and trace policy was key to curbing the spread of COVID-19 during the first waves of the pandemic. It came at a hefty price tag, however: RÚV reported that between the start of the pandemic and the end of last year, the government spent over ISK 9 billion [$70 million; €63.7 million] on COVID-19 testing. The largest portion of that cost is attributed to PCR testing, followed by border testing, and then rapid testing, which was not introduced in Iceland until mid-2021.

Iceland lifted all domestic restrictions due to COVID-19 on February 25, 2022, including mandatory isolation and quarantine. While infection rates remain relatively high, hospitalisation and death rates are dramatically lower than in previous waves of the pandemic.

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.

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.