In light of recent news, people are right to be cautious when travelling because of COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus. Read our FAQ below for the latest information regarding your upcoming trip to Iceland.
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- This article was updated on the 28th of March, 2020 at 6 PM.
How many people test positive for COVID-19 in Iceland?
As of 28th March 2020, there are 963 individuals in Iceland who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The overwhelming majority of those effected are in Reykjavik, or the greater Capital Region, as stated on covid.is. Most of the cases are not serious and 114 people have recovered. However, there are nineteen people hospitalised and there have been two confirmed deaths.
Stringent preparations for handling the situation began before the first person was even diagnosed and daily press conferences have been held since March 1st by the Director of Health and Chief of Police..
Are diagnoses of coronavirus high in Iceland?
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 passengers than other countries, largely because of the country’s few entry points and low population density.
The biopharmaceutical company, deCODE Genetics, are currently testing people throughout the country, having stepped up to both aid government health officials deal with the crisis, and learn more about how the virus spreads.
Many countries, including Denmark and Sweden, are only testing those who have already been hospitalised with severe signs of the illness. As a consequence, COVID-19 is being under-reported in those places. Iceland is including more people in their tests –not just those severely ill–, meaning that the number of diagnoses are higher than elsewhere but it paints a more accurate picture on how widespread the virus is. Preliminary results from deCODE’s testing show that the virus is not spreading fast.
How is Iceland handling COVID-19?
On the first day of deCODE’s testing, over 12,000 people volunteered to be tested through the company’s booking platform. Please note that this number is not an example of how many people are ill, but is a demonstration of the public’s willingness to help manage the situation. With the results impending, this non-mandatory testing will help to boost worldwide understanding of COVID-19.
Strict quarantine procedures are in place for those that have been in contact with anyone testing positive, or who have recently returned from high risk areas. As of Monday the 16th, a ban on local gatherings of over 100 people was implemented. The ban was tightened on the 24th to 20 individuals.
The Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management in Iceland is creating an app to help track the virus. By using GPS, the app will locate people and let them know if they have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient during the asymptomatic phase of infection. The app will not be mandatory and requires and individual’s consent twice. The Chief of Police emphasised that the data will be secure and only used to fight spread of the virus.
Are shops and restaurants closed in Iceland because of COVID-19?
The ban on gatherings of over 20 people includes religious gatherings, schools, some workplaces, public pools, restaurants and other establishments known for large crowds. To clarify; restaurants and shops will remain open, though they will be watching how many people are coming and going at anytime.
However, bars not serving food, museums, and public pools — including the Blue Lagoon — have now been closed temporarily.
Many shops have decided to open one hour early, reserving that time only for the elderly and others at risk for the virus.
Airports, public transport and shipping ports are all exempt from the ban. Those in charge have encouraged extreme cleaning measures so as to prevent further spread of the virus.
Elementary schools and kindergartens will also remain open. This decision was made because children are less susceptible to the virus, and will allow for parents to continue to work. Universities and secondary schools will be closed throughout the duration of the ban.
Is Iceland closing its borders because of coronavirus?
Not completely. In accordance with the EU travel restriction, non-EFTA/EU citizens will not be able to enter Iceland until the 17th of April. The restrictions do not apply to transit passengers, relatives of EFTA/EU citizens, and people with work- or residence permits.
Government officials have stated on record that they are unwilling to close the borders completely until such measures have been proven to work in other effected countries. As quoted by the government:
All actions taken during an epidemic affect people’s daily lives, but to varying degrees. The authorities are therefore introducing measures that are known to be successful. We focus on evidence-based measures that have a successful track record, such as quarantine at home (self-quarantine), isolation for infected persons, early diagnosis of infection, and effective information disclosure to the public.– covid.is
Nevertheless, because other countries are making the decision to close their borders, the Icelandic government is advising that Icelanders abroad look into the option of returning home early.
Regarding cruise ship passengers, know that your vessel must present a special health certificate for COVID-19 to the Icelandic Coast Guard before docking in the country. This must be provided hand in hand with a signed report written by the Captain or ship owner notifying the authorities as to the status of their vessel.
How will COVID-19 affect my trip to Iceland?
As of 20 March 2020, foreign nationals – except EU/EEA, EFTA or UK nationals – are not allowed to enter Iceland. Updates on COVID-19 can be found at the Directorate of Health and the Department of Civil Protection and Emergency Management.
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Other tourists travelling to Iceland do not need to go into quarantine. If you are travelling from high risk areas, or are showing symptoms of a cold, you should contact the health line (+354) 554 4113.
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As mentioned previously, restaurants and shops will be open, though keeping the number of visitors inside below 20. This number is as stipulated by the ban. If you’ve already booked tours as part of your trip, travel companies have, as of yet, refrained from cancelling their operations.
We have also been asked whether visitors from high risk areas could face any discrimination related to the coronavirus. We want to stress that people should feel safe in knowing that there have been no reports of any tourist discrimination so far.
Can I cancel my trip to Iceland because of COVID-19?
If you would prefer to cancel your trip, know that tourists are always within their rights to do so. Your travel provider might be entitled to a portion of your deposit to cover costs their end. Make sure to read your cancellation policy before contacting your provider because, given the situation, service centres are busier than usual.
Most Icelandic companies are adapting to the virus by the hour. Some companies are reacting to the situation by dropping their rebooking fees, including Icelandair. Although there are companies based in Iceland that are looking to help, their booking department may be part of a larger international organisation. This business relationship means that these larger organisation will likely follows their own cancellation policies.
Please remember that call operators for tour companies, hotels and airlines are overworked at the moment, so try to be patient. Because of that, Icelandair is asking those who do not have a flight booked withing the next 72 hours to wait a few days before contacting.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Recognisable symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Bone and muscle ache
- 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. Here you can further information about COVID-19 in Icelandic, Arabic, English, Spanish, Farsi, Kurdish, Polish and Sorani.