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Latest Updates on COVID-19 in Iceland

Reykjavik during the summer.
Iceland has earned praise and headlines for its reaction to the new coronavirus. Its strategy of large-scale testing, tracing and isolating has proven effective so far. The country is now building on that experience to create a safe place for all who wish to visit by offering COVID-19 tests upon arrival.

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How Iceland handled the coronavirus

From the very first stages of the outbreak, Iceland looked well equipped to handle the strain of the virus domestically. In late January, the Department of Civil Protection declared an uncertainty phase, during which time they began target testing. As such, an entire month of screening went ahead before the first patient was even identified.

A rainbow in front of Skógafoss Waterfall.
Photo: NordicSoul

In March, the government decided to ban large public gatherings, though restrained from implementing any stricter lockdown procedures. Instead, they remained focused on testing and tracing infections. Those who tested positive, as well as those with whom they had been in contact, were quarantined. 

To combat the spread of virus, the Directorate of Health enlisted the help of the Reykjavík-based biopharmaceutical company, deCODE genetics. Together, they performed nation-wide testing, providing all who signed up with a COVID test, not just those showing symptoms. The result yielded new leads for scientists regarding how the virus behaves, making it easier to track and isolate infected people. 

This small nation of only about 360,000 has performed over 63,000 tests, and the number of infections has been dropping significantly since the beginning of April. As a result, the country now believes it is ready to reopen its borders to foreign visitors. 

When will Iceland open its borders?

Iceland’s borders will reopen for travellers from the Schengen area on the 15th of June. The Icelandic government is aiming to open the borders to visitors coming outside of Schengen — mainly the US — on the 1st of July.

Those wanting to visit Iceland need to pre-register at the Official COVID-19 information site.

To prevent another wave of infections, new arrivals will be given a choice between being tested upon arrival or entering a two-week quarantine. 

Puffins on a cliff.
Photo: NordicSoul

Many countries, such as Germany and Greece, are negotiating on cross-border travel between specific nations. These “travel bubbles” or “air bridges” are taken on a case by case basis, and will largely depend on the number of active infections in any one country. 

deCODE’s research into the virus showed that most infections in Iceland originated from British, Italian, and Austrian travellers, rather than from Chinese visitors, as first believed. Because of this commitment to the work, Iceland was one of the first countries to identify the Austrian town of Ischgl as a high-risk area. 

Despite the warnings, the resort remained open for over a week with the state’s authorities playing down the risks.

In order to prevent misinformation like that is why Iceland has decided to open up its borders to all, favouring the “test and track” method rather than picking preferred partner countries. 

Below is a video of guidelines issued by the Icelandic government for travellers visiting Iceland.

How are the tests being conducted?

Testing are being carried out at the main ports of entry to Iceland: Keflavík International Airport, Reykjavík Domestic Airport, Akureyri Airport, and the town of Seyðisfjörður. On rare occasions, travellers might be asked to go to a nearby clinic for their COVID-test.

Boeing airplane from Icelandair over a field of lupine flowers.
Photo: Wikimedia CC: Milan Nykodym

The Primary Health Care of the Capital Area, deCODE genetics, and the Landspítali University Hospital’s department of biological and viral sciences perform the tests. Ten stations have beeen set up at Keflavík Airport which will be able to service 200 people an hour. 

All those who travel to Iceland via Keflavík International Airport must have a facemask on during the flight and while in the airport.  

Results from the test will be available within a few hours via an app or a text message. While visitors wait for the results, they should try to stay at their accommodation and avoid going out in public. We recommend you bring a snack from home or eat on the plane, and then use the time while you wait for your result to unwind at your accommodation after a long flight.

Visitors who test positive for the coronavirus will receive a call from the COVID out-patient ward of the National Hospital. They will have to go into isolation until further tests can be performed. Those who do not have access to a suitable location to self-isolate, will be given accommodation at a specialised isolation centre at no cost to them.

The COVID-19 test will be free for the first two weeks after June 15th. After that, travellers will have a choice to pay for the test before they arrive, in that case the cost will be ISK 9,000. If, however, they decide to pay on arrival, the cost will be ISK 11,000. Once they have tested and proven to be negative for the virus, visitors will be free to travel without restrictions anywhere in Iceland. 

Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from the COVID-19 test. DeCode’s research showed that children are less susceptible to the COVID-19 virus and that, if they do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease. That is why schools in Iceland were not closed during the height of the pandemic here.

The crater of Kerið, it's aquamarine water and red flanks and a lady with a yellow jacket in front of it.
Photo: Wikimedia CC. Scoundrelgeo

In addition to tests at Keflavík Airport, travellers to Iceland are encouraged to install the automated tracing app, Rakning C-19, created by the Department of Civil Protection’s Contact Tracing Team. 

The app is available for Android and iOS devices and in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Icelandic, English, and Polish. The device tracks the user’s GPS location to let them know quickly if they have been in contact with an infected person. 

It is also through this app where visitors will get their results from their COVID-test. Iceland’s strong data protection law makes sure that the information gathered is only available to the Contact Tracing Team with the user’s consent.

Covid-19 statistics in Iceland

As of 28th of June, 2020, there are 1,838 individuals in Iceland who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, 1,816 of those have recovered. This means there are currently 11 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.

Around 11.000 tests have been performed on Iceland’s points of entry. Of those, only four people had an active infection. In total, 22 people have been tested positive at the border. However, the majority of those had traces of COVID-19 from an old infection from which they have now recovered. This means they can no longer transmit the decease and do not have to go into isolation.

Photo: @mikeywchapman

The overwhelming majority of those affected are in Reykjavík, or the greater Capital Region, as stated on covid.is. Over 71,000 tests have been performed, which means that around 19% of the population has been tested. Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Iceland are ten.

Why are Iceland’s COVID-19 numbers so high?

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. Which they were able to do with help from the private sector, the biopharmaceutical company, deCODE Genetics.

Most countries are only testing those who are showing symptoms or those have already been hospitalised with severe signs of the illness. As a consequence, COVID-19 is being under-reported in many places.

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

Iceland allowed all those who wished to sign up for a coronavirus test — not just those who felt 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.

In April, deCODE also began testing using a random sample of 2,300 Icelanders for an even clearer idea of how the virus behaves. 

Preliminary results from deCODE’s research show that around 50% of those who tested positive were asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and thus probably played a big role in spreading the virus. 

There have been other surprising results as well, including signs that men tend to show worse symptoms than women and children. DeCode also didn’t find a single case of a child infecting parents

Coronavirus precautions in Iceland

Although travellers are free to roam around the country as they wish after receiving a negative result from their coronavirus test, they are still encouraged to follow precautionary guidelines. 

This means frequent hand-washing and social distancing — keeping at least 2 metres (6 ft) between you and other people. That shouldn’t be too hard in one of the least densely populated countries of the world.

Berufjörður fjord in the east of Iceland offers breathtaking views
Photo: NordicSoul

Tour companies, museums, shops, bars, and restaurants are offering disinfectant and/or gloves to its customers and are making sure to clean surfaces thoroughly after each client. Masks are available to purchase at some shops and pharmacies but they are not and have not been mandatory to use in Iceland. 

A ban of social gatherings of over 200 people is in place now but will increase to 500 on the 15th of June. This means that festivals such as Secret Solstice and Eistnaflug have been cancelled. However, promoters of the popular Iceland Airwaves are still hoping that the situation will be better in November when the festival is scheduled. 

Bars are only open until 11 PM each night, meaning that the famous Icelandic nightlife has changed a little. However, local party animals have adapted, and now they start painting the town red a few hours earlier.

Public geothermal pools have now reopened as well as privately owned spas such as the Blue Lagoon and Mývatn Nature Baths. Many of Iceland’s private spas — as well as tour companies and hotels — are offering discounts or other deals on entry to alleviate the closures’ financial costs. 

A woman relaxing at the GeoSea Baths in Húsavík.
Photo: Admission to GeoSea Geothermal Sea Baths in Húsavík

How to get to Iceland in 2020

At the time of writing, eight airlines are planning on making Iceland one of their regular destinations after June 15th. These are:

  • Atlantic Airways
  • British Airways
  • Czech Airlines
  • Icelandair
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Transavia
  • Wizz Air

According to Icelandic news outlet visir.is, Isavia, the national airport and air navigation service provider of Iceland, is continuing to talk to more airlines, so the list might get longer as time passes.

Out of the airlines that fly to Iceland, it is Icelandair that flies to the most locations. These include London, Berlin, New York and Toronto. Here you can find their flight schedule for the next few days.

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.

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