Photo by Yevhenii Chulovskyi/Shutterstock
Iceland welcomed more than 2 million tourists in 2019 and is a popular summer destination for travelers.
Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced that the island nation plans to welcome more visitors by June 15—but travelers will face a few restrictions.
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This is a developing story. We will continue to update as the world changes. For the latest information on traveling during the coronavirus outbreak, visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, May 12, Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir announced that the country may begin opening to travelers no later than June 15. But for most summer travelers who want to soak in the geothermal waters of the Blue Lagoon or see Gullfoss Falls, re-entry will come with a few caveats.
Travelers will likely be given three choices upon entry to the country, according to government plans that are still being finalized.
Travelers landing at Keflavik Airport (KEF) will be able to get tested for COVID-19 in the terminal, Bloomberg reports. They’d be released to their lodging until results arrive, expected to be on the same day. If the results are negative, they may travel the country at their leisure.
According to information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government of Iceland will cover the cost of the test for travelers during a two-week trial.
Visitors who opt out of testing must quarantine for 14 days to prevent the spread of the illness before continuing on their trip in Iceland.
To avoid the quarantine, travelers may instead present a certificate showing that they recently tested negative for COVID-19. Icelandic health authorities have the final say as to whether the documentation is reliable.
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Government officials are still discussing the details for implementing the above restrictions. Travelers are also expected to be asked to download the government’s official automated contact-tracing app, Rakning C-19, which 38 percent of the population has downloaded so far. The app would allow travelers to be contacted in the event of a positive result or to help facilitate further contact tracing efforts if visitors come down with symptoms themselves.
For tour operators like Hidden Iceland, it’s welcome news. The boutique travel company will also reopen for small group and private tours on June 15. Reducing seating capacity in their tour vehicles to allow more space between guests, discouraging handshakes, and disinfecting the vehicle during stops are among the many extra measures the company will take to prevent infection. Ultimately, cofounder Ryan Connolly supposes it will be a pretty good time to visit. “If you can come to Iceland safely in 2020, the expectation is that there'll be a maximum of 25 percent of last year's numbers,” Connolly wrote via email. “That means bathing in hot pools alone. That means walking the black sand shores with only the puffins to interrupt your view. That means the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon will be filled with icebergs, and not people. We’re genuinely excited to experience Iceland with our guests without any worry of hiding from the crowds.”
Iceland’s tactics are similar to those recently announced in Spain and the United Kingdom, where travelers from abroad face a two-week quarantine. Similar airport testing is also underway in Austria. Contact-tracing apps are also in use in at least 25 different countries, including Israel, Australia, and Singapore; however, their efficacy varies, and concerns about privacy abound. (An inspector at the Icelandic Police Service working on contact tracing told MIT Technology Review that the app alone isn’t very effective in limiting contagion, but in tandem with manual contact tracing it can be.)
Iceland’s current policy, expected to last until May 15, restricts all foreign visitors from entering the country unless their travel is deemed essential or they are EU, EFTA, or U.K. nationals. Starting May 15, certain foreign professionals like scientists and athletes will be eligible to apply for modified quarantine.
The island nation managed to contain the spread of COVID-19 through rigorous population testing and contact tracing. By the time its first confirmed case showed up in late February, testing had already been underway for a month. To date, the country has had 1,802 confirmed infections and 10 deaths; there have been four new confirmed cases so far in the month of May.
Government officials expect to make more definitive announcements about travel restrictions at the end of May.