When we published our last Coronavirus (Covid-19) in Iceland post in mid-March, the situation was so bad that things were pretty clear. Travel bans were piling up, and you shouldn’t visit Iceland, even if you were allowed to. Within a few weeks, no one was allowed to visit anyway.
It seems the world is slowly reopening. Now, in mid-May 2020, we’ll ask the question again. Should you visit Iceland once you’re allowed to? And when will you be allowed to?
Edit: Soon after I published this post, Iceland announced a plan to allow visitors after June 15th. This would involve testing nearly all travelers at the airport upon arrival, a possibility I quickly dismissed below. I’ll add updates as they happen.
Update May 18, 2020: Here are more details about how visiting Iceland will work this summer:
– Starting June 15th, you can visit Iceland (if you can get there!) You will be tested for Covid-19 at the airport, and you should receive results the same day.
– The test will be free for the first 2 weeks. But starting in July, you must pay for the test. It costs 50000 ISK per test, which is $345 US (€320.) That’s per person!
The only way to avoid the test and the fee is to bring your own test with you, proving you tested negative for Covid-19. don’t know how recent the test needs to be.
As The Reykjavík Grapevine says:
“In other words, if you think you might have COVID-19, but you can’t get tested, come to Iceland and we’ll test you for free. But hurry! This offer only lasts two weeks.”
Iceland has done a world-class job handling coronavirus
I don’t think that there is any argument here: Iceland has done an incredible job handling the pandemic. Perhaps the best out of any country in the world. Here’s some evidence. First, Iceland has almost completely stopped the spread of Coronavirus. Take a look at this chart from Iceland’s Coronavirus web site (click that link for the updated data):
The blue bars are active Coronavirus cases. There are 18 active cases, and only 2 new cases in the last week. Iceland ran 3,789 tests between May 3 and May 9, and found 2 new cases. That’s a clear sign that there is almost no spread of the Coronavirus in Iceland.
Check out Iceland’s Coronavirus web site. Even it is world class!
The world has noticed that Iceland is doing a world-class job handling COVID-19.
Take a look at some news articles:
Iceland has been a world leader in mitigating the threat from COVID-19, the unique and potentially lethal disease caused by the novel coronavirus that’s causing a global pandemic. It’s nearly quashed the virus within its shores thanks to a robust regimen of testing, contact-tracing and isolation, as well as genetic sequencing of the virus.
On a per-capita basis, no country has done more testing.
Iceland, under the leadership of Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, is offering free coronavirus testing to all its citizens, and will become a key case study in the true spread and fatality rates of COVID-19. Most countries have limited testing to people with active symptoms. Iceland is going whole hog. In proportion to its population the country has already screened five times as many people as South Korea has, and instituted a thorough tracking system that means they haven’t had to lock down or shut schools.
Over the past six weeks, Iceland has tested more than 13 percent of its population, which is the highest percentage of any country in the world.
Stefánsson told Meg Tirrell during an interview on CNBC that what is different about Iceland’s response to COVID-19 is both that they started screening very early and that they are testing the general population in addition to people at high risk. It is the combination, he asserts, of broad-based screening, vigorous tracking of contacts of the infected, followed by isolation of the infected and quarantining of their contacts that seems to have “brought this epidemic under some sort of control.”
Iceland wants to re-open to tourists
Right now, Iceland is more or less closed to tourists; through May 15th, anyone entering Iceland must self-quarantine for 14 days. Unless you plan to stay for the summer (go for it!) a 14-day quarantine puts a damper on most vacations.
Iceland’s economy relies on tourism; this is new in the last 15 years or so. In 2019, around 40% of revenue came from tourism. Right now that number is about 0%. So of course Iceland wants to re-open and welcome tourists again. And the government is working on ways to do that:
[V]arious ways of reopening Iceland to tourism are being discussed by members of the Icelandic government and officials and specialists in the health care sector. One of the options under discussion is whether traveling should be allowed on certain conditions. There is great emphasis on ensuring that there won’t be a setback in the fight against COVID-19.
Is it possible that Iceland will re-open to tourists after May 15th? Probably not. In the article above, the Foreign Minister is asked whether an August re-opening is possible, and he says he doesn’t know. So May 15th seems unlikely.
Iceland probably won’t re-open yet, but some people may be able to visit in the fall
Late summer seems like a plausible guess to me. I don’t think Iceland will re-open unless there is an extremely low probability that a visitor has coronavirus. Otherwise, they would need to have rigorous testing in place, which could mean testing every single person entering through Keflavik Airport. Iceland has the means to do this, but this may not work logistically. If one person on a flight tests positive, does the entire plane load of people get sent back home? Or quarantined for 14 days? Who’s going to visit Iceland with that risk?
My best guess is that Iceland will re-open to tourists in late August, but maybe only to tourists from low-risk countries:
“Our attention focuses mainly on tourists who have booked trips to Iceland in late August and this fall and haven’t canceled yet.”
Sadly, I’m not sure if the United States will be one of those low-risk countries. I took a look at new COVID-10 cases for the countries that send the most tourists to Iceland. I took the country list from the Icelandic Tourism Board. Here is a chart of the number of new cases of COVID-19 per million people for May 11th:
Source: Worldometers and Iceland With Kids
The UK and the USA have the third and fourth highest rates of new infections. And the article above talks about the possibility that “travel to Nordic countries might be allowed in August.” Sweden is higher than the other Nordic countries, but Denmark, The Netherlands, Norway, and Finland are all much much lower than the US and the UK.
Summary: When will Iceland re-open?
This is pure speculation right now. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Iceland re-opens in late August or early September … but not to visitors from the United States or the UK.
If coronavirus cases start to increase again in the fall and winter, visitors from the US and UK might not be welcome in Iceland until spring or summer 2021.
What do you think?