EU Opposes Iceland’s Border Opening Proposal

Icelandair plane Keflavík

Iceland’s government would like to open borders to more countries in July, but the decision could be affected by its membership in the Schengen Agreement, RÚV reports. The Icelandic government is waiting for the European Union to publish a list of countries from which it will allow travellers into the Schengen Area. Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir says Iceland’s proposal to take a more liberal stance toward border opening did not enjoy support within the EU, which hinted that if Iceland did not adhere to the Union’s decisions, it could be closed off from the Schengen Area.

Though Iceland is not a member of the European Union, it is a member of the European Economic Area and the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area’s outer borders have been closed since late March, but plans are in place to reopen the area to outside travellers from July 1.

Unlikely EU Will Open to US Travel in July

EU member states are presently working to define the criteria that countries must fulfil in order to be considered safe destinations for EU residents. The criteria will take into account the number of COVID-19 infections per capita, among other factors.

“It can be considered very likely that the United States will not be on [the list of safe countries] considering the situation today,” Áslaug Arna stated in a radio interview this morning. She expressed her disappointment that the US had not opened its borders to Icelanders, as she had been hoping it would be possible to open Iceland’s borders to US citizens from July 1.

Iceland in Unique Position

In talks with the EU, Áslaug Arna says Icelandic authorities have stressed the country’s unique position – it has relatively few entry points and arriving travellers have the option to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival. “We have reiterated that we’re screening everyone [for COVID-19 at the borders] at this time,” Áslaug stated. Iceland’s representatives have also proposed that Iceland can conduct border control for travellers proceeding to other Schengen Area countries and thus enforce its travel restrictions while still being exempt from them.

The European Union has, however stressed that it expects Schengen Area member states to adhere to its forthcoming list of safe countries in their own travel regulations. “It hasn’t been well received that we have been calling for […] more opening. It has been hinted that borders within this area could be closed to us.” Icelandic authorities have yet to decide whether they will comply with the impending EU list.

Iceland May Remain Closed to Non-Schengen Travellers from June 15

Keflavík airport Icelandair

While Iceland is reopening its borders from June 15, travellers from outside the Schengen Area may still be restricted from travelling to the country, according to a notice posted yesterday by the Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The closure of the outer borders of the Schengen Area, which contains 26 European countries, currently stands until June 15, but may be extended until July 1.

“Iceland will continue to implement the travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area, which are currently due to remain in place until 15 June 2020,” the notice states. “These restrictions may be extended until 1 July, but this remains to be decided by Schengen member states. While these restrictions are in place, foreign nationals, other than EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals, are generally not allowed to enter Iceland.”

Travel Guidelines Available on Iceland’s Official COVID-19 Website

Icelandic authorities have posted further information for those travelling to Iceland on the country’s official COVID-19 website. As of June 15, travellers can opt for a COVID-19 test upon arrival as an alternative to quarantine. The testing will be free until July 1, from which date passengers will pay ISK 15,000 ($114/€100) per test. Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from both testing and quarantine.

Passengers will also be required to fill out an electronic form prior to their trip providing contact information and a declaration of health. They will also be encouraged to download the COVID-19 app Rakning C-19, which contains information on COVID-19 and Icelandic healthcare in various languages.

Travellers are encouraged to monitor Iceland’s official COVID-19 website prior to and during their trip.

14-Day Quarantine for Tourists Arriving in Iceland

Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir

Following the recommendations of the Chief Epidemiologist, the Minister of Health has revised the current restrictions on arrivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. International travellers to Iceland must self-quarantine for 14 days from the day of their arrival. Temporary internal Schengen border controls will go into effect on the same day.

The outbreak largely contained

In an announcement earlier today, the government declared that beginning on Friday, April 24, international arrivals to Iceland must be quarantined for 14 days from the day of their arrival. The restriction will remain in effect until at least May 15, barring any changes in the medical and scientific advice.

These restrictions are adopted on the advice of a project group headed by the National Commissioner of Police, which was established at the request of the Chief Epidemiologist to assess COVID-19 policies. The announcement notes that even though Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist has stated that the COVID-19 outbreak in Iceland has now been largely contained – with only a few new cases diagnosed each day (seven new infections were reported today) – it is important to prevent a second wave of contagion by ensuring that the disease does not spread from other countries.

Thus far, tourists in Iceland have been exempt from quarantine rules by the rationale that they do not come into contact with vulnerable groups.

Temporary border controls established

In order to enforce the updated quarantine rules, temporary border controls for arrivals from the Schengen area have been established:

“Those passengers arriving in Iceland will be required to fill out a Public Health Passenger Locator form and present it at the border inspection point, providing necessary information regarding where they will stay in quarantine and how it will be organised,” the announcement reads.

Schengen and EU travel restrictions extended until May 15

The announcement also notes that Schengen and EU travel restrictions will be extended until May 15. Iceland had previously implemented the travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area and the European Union:

“As of March 20, 2020, foreign nationals – except EU/EEA, EFTA, or UK nationals – are not allowed to enter Iceland unless they can demonstrate that their travel is essential. These measures have been extended until May 15, 2020. Further information is available on the website of the Directorate of Immigration.

Subsequent measures to be announced

A working group of officials from several ministries will be considering the subsequent steps with regard to cross-border travel. Future decisions will depend on the pandemic’s evolution in Iceland and abroad. They will also take into account other countries’ policies.

Temporary Travel Ban for Tourists from Outside EEA and EFTA

Icelandair airplane Keflavík airport.

As of Friday, Iceland is temporarily closing its borders to tourists from countries outside of the EEA and EFTA, RÚV reports. Travellers from outside these areas will not be allowed to enter Iceland unless they can demonstrate that they are coming on “urgent business.” These new restrictions are in line with the EU’s March 17 recommendation that all EU and Schengen countries limit the entry of third-country nationals in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The travel ban is expected to last for 30 days and is not expected to have significant impact on tourist arrivals, as tourism to Iceland has already been significantly curtailed in the wake of the ongoing pandemic.

The EEA (European Economic Area) includes Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Iceland is part of EFTA (the European Free Trade Area) with three other countries: Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

Per an announcement on the Icelandic government’s website, citizens of the above-named countries will still be able to freely enter Iceland. The travel ban also stipulates that foreign nationals from outside the EEA and EFTA who reside in Iceland will also be permitted to enter the country. Professionals in certain fields are also exempt from the travel ban no matter their nationality, for instance healthcare workers and those involved in cargo transportation.

Iceland Among Countries Facing US Travel Ban

Iceland flag national team

US President Donald Trump has suspended entry to the United States to all foreign nationals who have been within Europe’s Schengen Area for the last 14 days, reports the New York Times. Iceland is among the 26 countries affected by the 30-day travel ban, which will go into effect on Friday at midnight.

According to an announcement on the US Department of Homeland Security website, the travel ban “suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States.” In addition to Iceland, the Schengen Area includes Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The ban does not extend to legal permanent residents of the US, or immediate family members of U.S. citizens.

The travel ban is expected to have a significant economic impact on Iceland, not least because it’s expected that fewer US citizens will travel abroad in the coming weeks or months after an advisory issued by the US State Department urged Americans to “reconsider travel abroad.” The majority of tourists who visit Iceland come from the US, Kjarninn reports, with 464,000 US citizens visiting the country in 2019.

In an email sent early Thursday morning, Icelandair encouraged employees in a position to take unpaid leave to do so: “In this context, we would like to ask those employees who are interested in, or who see an opportunity in, taking unpaid leave during the coming months; are about to take maternity or paternity leave (and are interested in extending their leave); or can foresee working fewer hours; to discuss such options with their superior officers before noon on Friday.

Despite the predicted negative impact of the travel ban, CEO of Icelandair Group Bogi Nils Bogason stated that the company’s liquidity was strong, adding that he did not foresee having to accept assistance from the government: “We are determined to get through this and that will be our goal over the coming days.”