What we know so far about opening Iceland’s borders

13.05.2020 - 10:18
Mynd með færslu
Flugstöðin á Keflavíkurflugvelli er meira og minna mannlaus þessa dagana. Mynd: Eggert Þór Jónsson - RÚV
As reported yesterday, Iceland is embarking on the process of re-opening its borders while also trying to maintain its success in limiting the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The first changes will come into effect this Saturday.

The current travel restrictions will remain unchanged until 15th May, this Friday, but after that time it will be possible for travellers to apply for work-related special project exemptions to 14-day quarantine when entering Iceland. Those eligible to apply include scientists, members of the media, and those in professional sports, and film, among others. 

Direct, unrestricted travel between Iceland and Greenland and the Faroe Islands will also be permitted again from this Saturday.  

Some time after 15th May and no later than 15th June, Iceland will start allowing tourists and residents alike entering Iceland the option of avoiding mandatory 14-day quarantine. 

To be eligible, arriving passengers must submit either to a COVID-19 test at Keflavík International Airport or present acceptable certification of a very recent negative test result from overseas. Test results at Keflavík will not be immediate, but will at least be same-day. In all cases, it will be down to travellers to convince Icelandic health authorities: if a certificate from overseas fails to stand up to scrutiny, the passenger will be asked to undergo a new test before leaving the airport. 

All arrivals, both tourists and Icelandic residents, will also be required to download and use the Rakning C-19 contact tracing app on their phone. 

The new service will be available to arriving passengers of all airlines, not just Icelandair.

The infrastructure and organisation required to set up the new system will be significant and further details, including a precise start date, will be announced nearer the time. A further government press conference is expected two weeks from now. 

Prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said the new system will go ahead as planned, subject to there being no major second wave of infections in Iceland. She said the system presents not only opportunities for the Icelandic economy, but also opportunities to learn more about the virus and its spread, and then to share data with the world. 

It is already clear that mass testing at the airport will be expensive, but it is not yet clear whether the State will cover all the cost or if arriving passengers will contribute. Testing will be overseen by the virology department of Landspítali national university hospital. Katrín describes the new system as a cautious first step back in the direction of normality and points out that passenger numbers will likely be low to start with.  

In interview after the press conference, Katrín told RÚV Iceland is trying to open its borders in a gradual and cautious manner and to make sure nobody brings the coronavirus back into the country. Chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason agreed, adding that while no COVID-19 test can be 100 percent accurate, there was always going to be a time to re-open the borders. Keeping them closed permanently was never an option and controlling the outbreak situation within Iceland was always the main factor in deciding when and how to proceed. With just 15 active cases in the country yesterday and three new diagnoses in all of May so far, now is a sensible time. 

The association of Icelandic tourism providers has reacted positively, with the organisation’s chairperson saying there may now be at least some foreign tourists to serve this summer. 

Brief RÚV English coverage from the press conference:

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Alexander Elliott
Project manager
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