Iceland now open for business
Tourists are welcome!
CYNTHIA ELYCE RUBIN
The Norwegian American
During a press conference in mid-May, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said that Iceland will welcome international travelers back “no later than June 15.” The final scheduled pandemic press conference held on May 25 addressed the next phase of de-escalating the COVID-19 response.
The meeting’s mood was upbeat, as chief attendees received words of thanks and bouquets of flowers from the government ministers. In the words of Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir, they provided “care, professionalism and security” over the past months.
The big announcement was that in three weeks the gathering ban will be further relaxed to permit groups of up to 500, provided the current rate of de-escalation continues.
Since March 20, most foreigners have not been allowed to enter Iceland, except for essential reasons, according to the Directorate of Immigration. The minister of health has now received results of the risk analysis of the testing proposal for tourists arriving in the country. The project was not complete when the government announced plans in mid-May.
Though details are still developing, as it stands now, Iceland will give a COVID-19 test upon arrival at Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport, and, if results are negative, tourists can enter without the mandatory two-week quarantine period. Without taking the test, the quarantine period would still be necessary. Any infected tourists will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, at their own cost.
According to the English-language newspaper The Reykjavik Grapevine, tourists will also be asked to install a contagion-tracing app. They would be tested at the airport’s international terminal and then be allowed to go to their hotels while waiting for results, which would arrive the same day.
Who pays for these results? One report published by Barron’s said testing expenses will at first be covered by the government but tourists will later be asked to repay the cost. This is similar to what Austria is doing, but only tourists from within the Schengen area and exempt individuals are allowed to travel to Austria at this time.
Public-health experts have praised Iceland for its rigorous testing, which has helped the island avoid widespread outbreaks. Out of about 364,000 residents, there have been about 1,800 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 10 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. No new COVID-19 cases were detected by May 24, indicating that there are only three active infections in the country.
“When travelers return to Iceland, we want to have all mechanisms in place to safeguard them and the progress made in controlling the pandemic. Iceland’s strategy of large-scale testing, tracing, and isolating have proved effective so far,” said Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, minister of tourism, industry and innovation. “We want to build on that experience of creating a safe place for those who want a change of scenery after what has been a tough spring for all of us.”
Iceland has a vibrant tourism industry, and leaders are eager to begin the vacation season. “I believe that if everything goes well, we should see some tourists here this summer,” said Bjarnheiður Hallsdóttir, chair of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine.
Meanwhile, Icelandair is struggling with low bookings. The airline has laid off some 3,000 employees. “There is a lot at stake and it’s in reality a life-or-death question for tourism in Iceland,” Hallsdóttir said. “Hopefully, people realize that the situation isn’t just about Icelandair but tourism in Iceland as a whole, and not just tourism but the economy and our whole society.”
According to Prime Minister Jakobsdóttir, in contrast to other countries such as the United States, apart from a handful of exceptions, society pulled together to fight the epidemic. “You could say that the responsibility was placed on the shoulders of each and every one of us. We all need to be a part of this if it is going to work, and I think that has actually worked.”
For up-to-date information, follow the developing story in The Reykjavik Grapevine, (grapevine.is).
See also “SuperNatural Iceland,” The Norwegian American, June 12, 2020.
This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.