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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.

Table of Contents

How Iceland handled the coronavirus

From the very first stages of the outbreak, Iceland looked well equipped to handle COVID-19 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 142,000 tests, and the number of infections has been dropping significantly since the beginning of April. As a result, the country has now reopened its borders to foreign visitors. 

As borders opened around the world and tourism began to pick up, many countries saw a spike in COVID-19 cases. Even with thorough testing at the borders, Iceland was no exception. 

A few cases popped up in the country after the border tests produced a false negative. To prevent infected people who’ve gotten a false negative to spread the virus further, all travellers must now submit to a second test 5 days after arrival. Further details about these tests can be found in the chapter below.

Visiting Iceland during times of COVID-19

Northern Lights above a mountain and under the stars

Iceland’s borders reopened for travellers from the Schengen area on the 15th of June. However, they remain closed for those outside of the Schengen area.

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

As of 19th of August, new arrivals will be given a choice between taking two COVID-19 screening tests, separated by a 5-day quarantine, or entering a two-week quarantine. Children born in or after 2005 are exempted from the test and quarantine requirements.

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

Visiting Iceland? 2020. Official travel information.

The Icelandic government has issued rules and guidelines for all travellers entering Iceland, which include:1) Fill out the pre-registration form2) Get tested3) Travel responsibly

Posted by Almannavarnadeild ríkislögreglustjóra on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

COVID-19 tests in Iceland

The first tests 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. 

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 been 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 on a face mask during the flight and while in the airport.  

The first test is 9,000 ISK if you pay online before you arrive, otherwise it is 11,000 ISK at the testing station. The second test is free of charge and can be performed at health clinics around Iceland.

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

Quarantining in Iceland

After entering Iceland, travellers must go straight into quarantine and remain there until getting their second test results back. Here you can find a list of accommodations that welcome guests for quarantine.

What are you allowed to do during a quarantine:

  • You should stay in your room as much as possible but you may leave to seek necessary health care services, after consulting with a primary care clinic (see a list of health clinics below).
  • You may not have direct contact with a person who is not part of your travelling party.
  • You are allowed to go for walks, but you must keep at least 2-metres between you and other pedestrians. However, you may not stop in common areas of your accommodation nor visit national monuments, museums or other popular tourist destinations and public outdoor areas.
  • You may not go out for supplies, i.e. to grocery stores, pharmacies, post offices, banks, etc. Accommodations welcoming guests during quarantine periods will supply you with food and other necessities.
  • You may not visit restaurants, bars, swimming pools, theatres, fitness centers, cinemas, shopping malls, or other places where people gather.
  • You may not use public transport such as city buses and domestic flights. The use of taxis, rental cars and private vehicles is permitted as well as the use of airport transport buses after you arrive in the country.
  • If you have a car at your disposal, you are allowed to go on short drives. However, you are not allowed to go to crowded tourist destinations, use public toilets, nor interact with others in close proximity, e.g. at drive-thru restaurants. Driving long distances is not permitted except upon arrival when it may be necessary in order to reach your quarantine location.

Health clinics offering COVID-19 tests in Iceland

Scheduled visits to the health clinics for the second test are available between 8 AM and 4 PM. Traveo is more than happy to help our customers make an appointment. Here is a list of health clinics that offer COVID-19 tests:

  • Reykjanes Peninsula: HSS, Skólavegur 6, 230 Reykjanesbæ. Phone: 4220500.
  • Selfoss, South-West Iceland: HSU, by Árvegur, 800 Selfoss. Phone: 4322000.
  • Vestmannaeyjar, South Iceland: HSU, Sólhlíð 10, 900 Vestmannaeyjar. Phone: 4322500.
  • Höfn in Hornafjörður, South-East Iceland: HSU, Víkurbraut 26-31, 780 Höfn. Phone: 4708600.
  • Egilsstaðir, East Iceland: HSA, Laugarás 17-19, 700 Egilsstaðir. Phone: 4703000.
  • Akureyri, North Iceland: HSN, Hafnarstræti 99, 600 Akureyri. Phone: 4324600.
  • Ísafjörður, Westfjords: HVEST, Torfnes, 400 Ísafjörður. Phone: 4504500.
  • Borgarnes, West-Iceland: HVE, Borgarbraut 65, 310 Borgarnes. Phone: 4321430.
  • Stykkishólmur, Snæfellsnes Peninsula: HVE, Austurgata 7, 340 Stykkishólmur. Phone: 4321200.
  • Reykjavík: Suðurlandsbraut 34, 108 Reykjavík, ground floor. Open 10 AM – 3 PM Monday-Friday.

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 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

Coronavirus Tracking App

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

After months of steady decline, the COVID-19 numbers in Iceland increased suddenly after the borders were open. 

As of 25th of August, 2020, there are 114 active cases of coronavirus in Iceland. One patient has been hospitalised, however, news outlets state that they are not in critical condition. 

The first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on the 28th of February, and since then, 2,077 people have been diagnosed. Confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in Iceland are ten.

Photo: @mikeywchapman

The overwhelming majority of those found infected after the borders opened were Icelanders. They are also the ones more likely to infect others as the urge to hug friends and family often overrides the need to uphold social distancing rules. This means that visitors to Iceland should be relatively safe as long as they keep from hugging Icelanders.

Over 85,000 tests have been performed domestically, which means that around 23% of the population has been tested. A further 117,000 tests have been performed on Iceland’s points of entry. 

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.

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

COVID-19 precautions in Iceland

Visitors are encouraged to follow simple precautionary guidelines when travelling in Iceland. 

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 except on public transportation and in places where the 2-metre rule cannot be upheld.

A ban of social gatherings of over 100 people is in place. 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

Those looking to visit Iceland can do so via flight or cruise ships. 

The cruise ship ports with COVID-19 testing stations are in the capital Reykjavík, as well as the northern town of Akureyri, Ísafjörður in the Westjfords, and Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland.

The majority of visitors to Iceland arrive via flight. Below is a list of destinations and airlines flying to and from Keflavík International Airport. This plan is subject to change.

  • Air Baltic
    • Riga
  • Air Greenland
    • Nuuk
  • Atlantic Airways
    • Faroe Islands
  • Austrian
    • Vienna
  • British Airways
    • London
  • Czech Airlines
    • Prag
  • EasyJet
    • London
    • Edenburgh
  • Icelandair
    • Amsterdam
    • Berlin Tegel
    • Billund
    • Boston Logan
    • Brussels
    • Copenhagen
    • Dusseldorf
    • Frankfurt
    • Hamburg
    • London Heathrow
    • Munich
    • Oslo
    • Paris Charles de Gaulle
    • Stockholm Arlanda
    • Zurich
  • Lufthansa
    • Frankfurt
    • Munich
  • Norwegian
    • Oslo
  • SAS
    • Copenhagen
    • Oslo
  • Transavia
    • Amsterdam
    • Nantes
  • Wizz Air
    • Budapest
    • Dortmund
    • Gdansk
    • Katowice
    • Krakow
    • London
    • Milano
    • Vienna
    • Warsaw
    • Wroclaw

Furthermore, the domestic airports in Reykjavík and Akureyri also provide international flights between Iceland and Greenland.

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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