The development and distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 mean that the end of the pandemic is finally in sight. This is particularly welcome news in countries that were hit hard by the pandemic. Luckily, COVID-19 in Iceland never got out of control as it did in many other countries. Thanks to a rigorous testing and contact-tracing program, very few people have gotten sick, and Iceland never went into complete lockdown.
As people start to think about traveling again, safe Iceland will probably be on many of their minds. Here’s what visitors to Iceland need to know about COVID-19.
Iceland’s Pandemic, by the Numbers
As of March 2021, a full year after the pandemic began, there have only been a little over 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iceland. Most days, the number of new cases is in the single digits. Throughout the entire pandemic, only 29 people have died due to the novel coronavirus.
Several factors have helped Iceland contain the pandemic so well. Its isolation makes it easy to limit the transmission of cases from abroad. The fact that the population is small, only about 350,000 people, also helps. However, demographics alone do not explain why Iceland had such a low infection rate as a proportion of its population compared to other countries. The government’s vigorous response has helped protect its people.
How Did Iceland Contain COVID-19?
Iceland managed to limit the spread of coronavirus without implementing a severe lockdown as many other countries did. Instead, it relied on a rigorous program of testing, contact tracing, and quarantining people who tested positive.
Testing and Tracing
Iceland’s aggressive testing program has been the key to its pandemic success. By November, over half of the country’s population had been tested. There are very few barriers to testing, and most people receive their results in less than a day, in contrast to many other countries where results take days to process, and people need doctor’s referrals or proof of symptoms to receive a test.
Once someone tests positive, they are required to isolate for 14 days. During that isolation period, they receive regular calls from a centralized telehealth service to document their symptoms. A highly effective contact-tracing team, which includes detectives from the country’s police force, tracks a person’s movements and notifies those who were in close contact with the ill person.
Iceland’s testing and tracing program has been so effective that it has improved the world’s overall understanding of COVID-19. Iceland was one of the first places to document that almost half of the positive cases are asymptomatic. The country was also able to study the rates of infection in children, the most frequent symptoms (which are not fever, as was commonly thought), and even the fatality rate.
One of the most extraordinary things about Iceland’s pandemic response is that it managed to contain the pandemic without going into a drastic lockdown or completely closing its borders. There are some social restrictions. For example, as of spring 2021, there are limits on gatherings greater than 20 people, bars and restaurants cannot operate late at night, and people must observe distancing and mask-wearing protocols.
However, most places of business are open. Schools were also able to remain open during most of the pandemic, allowing students to continue their education and parents to continue their work.
The only way that the pandemic will end is once enough people are vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Iceland’s vaccination efforts are steadily progressing toward that goal. For now, vulnerable groups such as the elderly have priority, and most of the country’s seniors have received at least one dose. The government hopes to vaccinate at least 75% of the population by the summer of 2021.
Visiting Iceland During COVID-19
If you are hoping to travel soon, safe Iceland is a wonderful choice. You will be able to enjoy the country’s beautiful landscapes without worrying about catching COVID-19 due to the low rates of local transmission. However, you will have to follow some rules that the government strictly enforces for travellers.
If You Are Vaccinated
If you are vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19, then you can easily visit Iceland no matter where you’re from. You do not need to get tested before you leave your home country. You only need to show proof of vaccination or a certificate of a previous COVID-19 infection to board the plane.
Once you arrive in Iceland, you will take a free test immediately then stay in your accommodation until you receive your results, which usually takes less than a day. Once you receive your negative test result, you are free to enjoy all that Iceland has to offer. This is a temporary measure, so be sure to check for any recent updates before you arrive.
If You Are Unvaccinated
If you have not had a vaccine or recent infection of COVID-19, you can still visit Iceland, although there are restrictions on people from certain countries. However, you must follow government regulations for your safety and the benefit of those around you. Before boarding your flight to Iceland, you need to present a negative PCR test that was taken less than 72 hours ago.
Once you arrive in Iceland, you will take a test immediately upon your arrival, quarantine for five to six days, then take another test. Once both test results come back negative, you can freely move around the country. Iceland also offers quarantine hotels for visitors at no cost if you have no other accommodation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been largely contained in Iceland. This success is not due to luck but due to the swift response of Iceland’s government, scientific community, and population. Iceland is safe for visitors and eager to welcome tourists, who can enjoy a country where most places of interest are open for business. As long as everyone continues to follow social distancing, testing, and quarantine guidelines, Iceland will continue to be a pleasant oasis for residents and visitors alike.