QUESTIONS ABOUT COVID-19 IN ICELAND
Updated February 17, 2021
Iceland has remained open to travelers from Europe throughout the pandemic, but is mostly closed to visitors from the United States, Canada and other parts of the world.
Travelers from Europe and other authorized countries are required to submit a negative Covid-19 PCR before boarding their flight, undergo a Covid-19 PCR test on arrival, quarantine for 5-6 days, and then get tested again. Visitors carrying certificates of confirmed Covid-19 infection or vaccination from a EU/EFTA country are exempt from testing and quarantine
These rules will change on May 1st, when visitors from “low-risk“ countries, as defined by the EU, will be exempt from quarantine and PCR-testing in Iceland, if they can provide proof of a negative PCR test made prior to departure.
At this time, it is unclear when Europe's external borders will open to travelers from North America and elsewhere. Additional detail below.
Iceland has been relatively successful in its response to Covid-19.
The cornerstone of Iceland’s approach has been a policy of early detection, high volume testing, contact tracing, quarantining of individuals at-risk, and isolation of those infected.
Widespread public support and willingness to abide by social restrictions has also played a major role in controlling the spread of the virus.
A strong focus on public education began in March, 2020. This has included press conferences on a near daily basis with Iceland's Chief Epidemiologist and Civil Protection Department broadcast live on Icelandic media outlets.
Government announcements and statistics related to the pandemic are updated daily at www.covid.is.
As of February 2021, 6,000 Icelanders had been infected, resulting in 29 deaths. Given Iceland's population of approximately 360,000 people, the country's Case-Fatality rate stands at 0.5% while deaths per 100,000 are 8.20. To put this in perspective, in Norway these figures stand at 0.9% and 9.73 respectively; in Denmark they are 0.9% and 30.15; and in the UK they are 2.6% and 133.48.
A number of factors have worked in Iceland's favor: Iceland is an island-nation with a limited number of entry points and tightly controlled borders; a small population of 360 thousand people lives in a relatively large area (100,000 sq. km) making social-distancing easier; while a strong healthcare system and supportive population have helped control outbreaks when they occur.
Iceland's health care system has never been overwhelmed and no lockdowns have been imposed. Primary schools have remained open, while secondary schools and universities have relied on distance learning. Various social restrictions -- limitations on large gatherings, the 2-meter rule -- have been imposed and adjusted based on the state of the pandemic at any given time.
The pandemic's impact on the Icelandic economy has been significant, primarily due to the collapse of international tourism. This has been met by forceful government countermeasures.
Vaccinations began in Iceland on December 28th and are progressing well. Authorities are hopeful a majority of Icelanders will be vaccinated by mid-year.
A study by Australian think-tank the Lowy Institute ranks Iceland as seventh in the world in terms of effectively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. The institute compiled data from 98 countries to determine whether significant variations exist between different types of states in the handling of the pandemic.
From Europe: There are no entry restrictions for visitors holding passports (or valid residency) from EU/EFTA countries.
From USA and Canada: The external Schengen borders are closed to travel from the United States and Canada, therefore Iceland is unable to welcome US or Canadian passport-holders.
From the UK: As of January 1, 2021, requirements for British citizens entering Iceland have changed due to Brexit. UK nationals are now subject to the same entry requirements as other third country nationals, so Schengen related travel restrictions apply. For further information, please see the official website of the Icelandic Police.
From other countries: Restrictions have been lifted for residents of some non-EEA and Schengen countries. Note this list is not based on nationality, but on provable residency in the country in question:
- New Zealand
- South Korea
The list of countries can change with relatively short notice, so please consult the official website for up-to-date information: Regarding travel restrictions to Iceland as a result of COVID-19.
Iceland continues to implement the European-wide travel restrictions imposed for the Schengen Area. Thus Iceland is only open to residents of Europe and a select list of other countries, as defined by the EU. These restrictions will remain in place until May 1st, 2021, when they will begin to be eased.
Pre-travel registration: All visitors to Iceland are required to fill out a registration form prior to arrival. Visitors are also encouraged to download and use the COVID-19 app Rakning C-19 (available for Andriod and iOS). The app contains important information on COVID-19 and how to contact health care services in Iceland.
Pre-departure test: All travelers to Iceland are required to show a certificate of a negative PCR-test taken 72 hours prior to departure. Information about certificate requirements can be found here.
On-arrival testing and quarantine:On arrival in Iceland, visitors are required to take a second COVID-19 PCR test, quarantine for 5-6 days, and then get tested again, for the third time. The second test takes place inside the terminal of the international airport, while the third test takes place at clinics across the country. The two tests conducted in Iceland are at no cost to travelers. Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from testing, but are required to quarantine with parents or guardians after entering Iceland.
Exemptions: Visitors carrying certificates of confirmed COVID-19 infection or vaccination from countries within EU/EFTA are exempt from testing and quarantine. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are not accepted (antigen or antibody tests).
Isolation and tracing: If a traveller tests positive upon arrival to Iceland, they may be offered to undergo further tests to determine whether or not they have an active infection. In the case of an active infection, the passenger must self-isolate.
Foreign nationals who are required to self-isolate and do not have access to a suitable location, will be provided accommodation at a dedicated isolation center at no cost to them.
Medical examination, treatment or medical supervision of notifiable diseases, including COVID-19, is of no cost to the patient. This does not apply to an elective PCR test for the diagnosis of COVID-19.
Further details on travel restrictions to Iceland are available here.
Iceland plans to begin easing border restrictions in May.
As of May 1st, travelers arriving from low-risk countries will be exempt from quarantine and a second PCR-test, if they can provide proof of a negative PCR test from an EU/EFTA country prior to departure from their point of origin.
These travelers will only be required to take one PCR-test on arrival in Iceland and are then free to travel throughout the country.
Visitors to Iceland are currently required to undergo a Covid-19 PCR test on arrival, quarantine for 5-6 days, and then get tested again. Visitors carrying documentation proving prior infection or vaccination against Covid-19 are exempt.
Since March last year, Iceland has only been open to citizens of Europe from within the Schengen-area and a select list of other countries, updated every two weeks by the EU. Countries and added and removed from this list based on their epidemiological situation.
The Icelandic government has imposed a variety of social restrictions since Covid-19 was first detected in Iceland in late February, 2020.
These restrictions have been adjusted based on the state of the pandemic at any given time. Current restrictions went into effect on February 8, 2021 and will remain in effect until March 3.
As it stands, no more than 20 persons can assemble in any particular location. People must maintain social distancing (2 meters) and masks must be worn wherever this is not possible.
Restaurants may be open until 22:00 hrs., but bars and nightclubs are closed. Stores, swimming-pools and gyms are open, given certain restrictions related to the number of people in their premises and assuming guests respect social distancing rules.
Fortunately, Iceland's health care system has never been overwhelmed during the pandemic and no lockdowns have been imposed.
Vaccinations against Covid-19 began in Iceland began on December 28th and are expected to be completed during the second half of this year.
Vaccinations began in Iceland on December 28th.
Vaccinations are free and optional, although surveys indicate that 90% of the population are in favor of being vaccinated. Authorities plan to vaccinate at least 75% of the population born 2005 or earlier.
How fast the nation can be vaccinated depends on speed of vaccine delivery.
Iceland's Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdóttir, was quoted January 17th saying she is hopeful a majority of Icelanders will be vaccinated by mid-year.
The Icelandic government has so far signed agreements with four vaccine developers -- Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Astra Zeneca, and Janssen (Johnson &Johnson) -- and is in discussions with CureVac and Sanofi as well.
Strong government support has helped the Icelandic travel industry survive a near complete collapse in business due to Covid-19.
According to the Icelandic Tourist Board, 480 thousand travelers visited Iceland in 2020, compared to almost 2 million in 2019, representing a drop of over 75%.
To counter the economic effects of Covid-19, the Icelandic government has introduced a number of economic stimulus measures, including:
- Furlough scheme for workers of hard-hit companies
- Government-backed bridge loans for businesses
- Offset 2019 taxes with 2020 losses
- Defer 2020 tax payments to 2021
- Year-end grants to SME’s who suffered significant losses in 2020 due to Covid-19
- Increase in unemployment benefits and extension of eligibility period.
The government’s goal has been to help companies and core staff weather the storm and preserve necessary infrastructure, knowledge, and experience until the pandemic has been brought under control, so that firms are ready to rehire and resume operations when international travel returns.
These programs have in general been deemed a success. At year-end, bankruptcies within the travel industry were far fewer than had been predicted last spring.
Tourism has in recent years become one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy, accounted for over 8% of GDP in 2019. In 2019, approximately 20-thousand people were working in the travel industry, or 1 in 10 working age Icelanders.
Due to the collapse in tourism, the rate of unemployment in Iceland rose considerably in 2020 (from 3.9% in December 2019 to over 10.7% one year later), but analysts are hopeful it will recover once international travel picks up again later this year.
A number of airlines have announced plans to fly to Iceland this summer. Here is a summary of what the largest carriers are planning:
Icelandair accounts for nearly half of all airline passengers who travel to Iceland. The airline has announced plans to fly to 32 international destinations in 2021, including 10 flights a week from JFK and daily from Newark. Other destinations in N-America are: Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington DC, Denver, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Icelandair also plans to fly to 22 destinations in Europe this year: Oslo, Bergen, Copenhagen, Billund, Stockholm, Helsinki, Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich, Geneva, Zurich, Brussels, London, Glasgow, Manchester, Dublin, Madrid, Milano, and Tenerife.
Deltahas delayed the start of this year's JFK schedule by one month and now plans to start flying to Iceland on May 2nd from New York. This flight will be operated 5 times a week using Boeing 757's. Minneapolis will get added in June. Both routes will operate into September.
United Airlines plans to begin daily flights to Iceland from Newark in June using Boeing 757-200's
American Airlines which has operated a seasonal flight to Keflavik out of Dallas in recent years, had announced it was moving its Iceland operation to Philadelphia, starting in June 2021, but those plans have now been called off and the future of American's Iceland program is uncertain.
Air Canada plans to fly to Iceland from Montreal and Toronto starting early summer.
SAS will introduce daily flights from Oslo and Copenhagen starting in May and plans to add Stockholm by the end of June.
British Airways will offer flights from London.
Lufthansa is currently flying twice a week between Keflavik and Frankfurt, but has yet to announce plans for the summer.
Wizz Air currently flies twice weekly to Warsaw and plans to add flights from 9 other European cities starting in May.