Reykjavik during the summer.

Latest Updates on COVID-19 in Iceland

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In light of recent news, people are right to be cautious when travelling because of COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus. Iceland's borders remain open to travellers, but for those concerned, read our FAQ below for the latest information regarding your upcoming trip. 

Table of Contents

How many people test positive for COVID-19 in Iceland?

As of 26th May 2020, there are 1,804 individuals in Iceland who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, 1,792 of those have recovered. This means there are currently 2 active cases in the country, none of which severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. The rate of new infections has been steadily dropping since the beginning of April and only six new cases have been reported in May.

The overwhelming majority of those affected are in Reykjavík, or the greater Capital Region, as stated on covid.is. Over 58,000 tests have been performed, which means that around 15% of the population has been tested. Yesterday, the last person hospitalised with COVID-19 was discharged but doctors are still keeping a close eye on both the 2 active cases as well as those who have recovered. Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Iceland are ten.

Lake Tjörnin in Reykjavík @mikeywchapman

When will Iceland open for visitors?

In all likelihood, Iceland will open its boarders on June 15th. This was announced in a press conference held on the 13th of May by the Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

As it stands now, foreign nationals – except EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals – are not allowed to enter Iceland, and those who are allowed to come must be quarantined for 14 days. This will all change by mid-June.

Since Friday the 15th of May, travellers from the COVID-19-free countries, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, will not need to go into quarantine. Moreover, individuals coming to Iceland to work on short projects, such as film crews and journalists, will not be required to undergo quarantine but their travels in Iceland will have some restrictions.

The government has proposed that no later than the 15th of June, the boarder will open for foreign visitors but with some stipulations. Travellers will have a choice of being tested upon arrival, present a medical document from their health officials, or be placed in a 14 day quarantine. They will also be required to install the Rakning C-19 tracing app. Details of the opening are still being ironed out but we will keep you informed of any new development.

If you are already in the country and showing symptoms of a cold, you should contact the health line (+354) 554 4113.

How is Iceland handling COVID-19?

Photo: 5-Day Guided Summer Tour in a Small Group — Golden Circle, South Iceland & Glacier Hike

Stringent preparations for handling the situation began before the first person was even diagnosed and daily press conferences were held from March 1st to May 25th by the Director of Health and Chief of Police.

On the first day of deCODE’s testing, over 12,000 people volunteered to be tested through the company’s booking platform. Please note that this number is not an example of how many people are ill, but is a demonstration of the public’s willingness to help manage the situation.

Strict quarantine procedures are in place for those that have been in contact with anyone testing positive, or who have recently returned from high risk areas. In March, a ban on local gatherings of over 100 people was implemented. The ban was tightened on later to 20 individuals. On May 4th, the restrictions were lifted somewhat to allow a gathering of 50 individuals and on May 25th it will be lifted to allow gathering of 200.

Elementary schools and kindergartens have remained open. This decision was made because children are less susceptible to the virus, and will allow for parents to continue to work. Universities and secondary schools were closed but opened again on May 4th.

The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management in Iceland has created an app to help track the virus called Rakning C-19. By using GPS, the app locates people and let them know if they have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient during the asymptomatic phase of infection. The app is not mandatory and requires and individual’s consent twice. The Chief of Police emphasised that the data will be secure and only used to fight spread of the virus.

Are shops and restaurants closed in Iceland because of COVID-19?

As the virus seems to be on the decline, the government lifted the restrictions somewhat on May 4th 2020. Some businesses such as hairstylists and beauty salons where able to open again and gatherings of up to 50 people was allowed. Two-metre social distancing continued, though.

Restaurants and shops have remained open, though they are watching how many people are coming and going at anytime. On the 25th of May, bars were reopened, however, they are not allowed to stay open past 11 PM.

Public pools were closed in March but reopened on midnight on the 18th of May, much to the joy of the locals. Famous spas and nature baths such as the Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths have taken a few extra days to get ready but are expected to open by the end of the month.

Many shops have decided to open one hour early, reserving that time only for the elderly and others at risk for the virus.

The sculpure, Sun Voyager, in Reykjavik.
Credit: Wallpaper Flare. CC.

Why are diagnoses of coronavirus so high in Iceland?

The reason why the number of diagnoses may appear high in Iceland is because the government is being extra diligent when checking for the virus.

Icelandic health officials have tested a proportionately higher number of people than other countries. With the help from the private sector, the biopharmaceutical company, deCODE Genetics, around 15% of the nation has now been tested.

Many countries, including Denmark and Sweden, are only testing those who have already been hospitalised with severe signs of the illness. As a consequence, COVID-19 is being under-reported in those places.

Iceland is including more people in their tests –not just those severely ill–, meaning that the number of diagnoses are higher than elsewhere but it also paints a more accurate picture on how widespread the virus is.

Preliminary results from deCODE’s testing show that the virus is not spreading fast domestically, but actually that active infections are in fact going down. There have been other surprising results as well, including signs that asymptomatic people may still carry the virus, and men tend to show worse symptoms than women and children.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Recognisable symptoms of COVID-19 include: 

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Bone and muscle ache
  • Fatigue
  • Problems related to the lower-respiratory system.

People are recommended to wash their hands regularly, as well as cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing. This should be second nature to most people anyway. In small crowds, it is also best to stay two metres away from one another.

If you are already in the country and seriously believe you are showing symptoms of the virus, contact the Red Cross. The Red Cross service number is (+354) 544 4113 or, if you have an Icelandic phone number, 1700. In case of emergencies, call 112.

About the author
Michael Chapman
Michael Chapman
is a travel writer from England who now lives in Reykjavík, Iceland. He is the author of ‘Hidden Iceland’ (2020).
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