Iceland's chief epidemiologist has decided that as of Thursday 16 July, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Germany will be removed from the list of high-risk countries. The effect of this change is that travellers arriving from these countries will be exempt from the quarantine and screening requirements that are generally applicable to passengers arriving in Iceland. Icelanders returning home will also be exempt from mandatory precautionary measures but are encouraged to show caution in the first few days after arrival.
A condition for the exemption is that the traveller has not visited an area that is classified as high-risk in the 14 days prior to arrival in Iceland. Those born in 2005 and later continue to be exempt from quarantine and screening requirements. The chief epidemiologist will update the list of high-risk countries as the evidence develops.
Since 15 June, Iceland has offered all travellers the option to undergo COVID-19 testing at the border as an alternative to a 14-day quarantine. During this period, a total of 36 738 tests have been performed. Each of the 84 positive samples has been analysed to determine if the positive results indicate an active infection or a prior infection from which the patient has already recovered. Out of those, 12 have been contagious, but 71 (86%) had antibodies, one is currently under examination.
"Our data shows that a very low proportion of travellers have active infections, approximately one out of every three thousand tested in the past month. Furthermore, we have high confidence in our assumption that tourists are highly unlikely to become major sources of contagion, as they usually don't interact with the local population in a way that is conducive to contagion. Our decision to allow travellers from these four countries to enter without unduly burdensome precautions is the result of analysing our own data and the data available to us from these countries, all of which have very low instances of community spread," says Thorolfur Gudnason, chief epidemiologist.
Currently, there are 12 known active infections in Iceland, and 93 individuals are under quarantine. No one has been hospitalized with COVID-19 in Iceland since 14 May. A total of 1 882 people have recovered from the infection, but ten have died, which gives a 99,5% recovery rate from closed cases. In the past two weeks nine new active infections have been detected, for a total of 2.5 on a per 100 000 inhabitant basis.
"It is logical for us to start by looking at these four countries as they represent almost half of the inbound flights to Iceland. Hopefully, we can soon invite travellers from other countries to enter without border screening," says Thordis Kolbrun R Gylfadóttir, Minister of Tourism. "This decision is in line with other measures we have taken, namely targeted, high-impact measures based on the best available science, data, and medical judgement."
Iceland has pursued a policy of early detection, high volume testing, exhaustive contact tracing, quarantining of at-risk individuals, and isolation of infected individuals. Additionally, innovative treatment methods, including high-touch remote care, have contributed to a successful effort to reduce mortality, morbidity, and strain on medical resources. Primary schools in Iceland have remained open, and no lockdowns have been imposed. There are still restrictions on mass gatherings (no more than 500 people), and restaurants and nightlife establishments must close earlier than normal. In case new infections are detected, and even small clusters of infection, there is a high level of confidence that it will be possible to deal with such issues in a targeted manner, on the basis of the current strategy, without implementing severe society-wide measures.
During the pandemic, a very high emphasis has been placed on personal hygiene measures, such as handwashing, respiratory hygiene (coughing into the elbow), respecting distance when possible, and that anyone showing symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19 goes into self-isolation until they get tested. These personal practices remain of the utmost importance in the upcoming weeks and months.