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.

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.”