We’ve said this before, and we’ll say this again: Iceland has done an incredible job of handling the coronavirus. Here’s a graph of the number of new Covid-19 infections by day in Iceland:
There are almost no new cases in Iceland: They are finding about 1 new case every other day. That’s data from Iceland’s Covid19 web site. With coronavirus basically eliminated from Iceland, they are getting ready to re-open to tourists. But that presents a new risk. There are over 100,000 new cases of Covid-19 diagnosed across the world every day. An influx of infected tourists could lead to a second outbreak in Iceland. Let’s look more closely at what’s happening in Iceland right now.
Iceland is slowly re-opening, without tourists
Because there is no longer community spread if Covid-19 in Iceland, life in Iceland is starting to return to normal, except for the lack of tourists. I love this headline:
And Icelanders took advantage of relaxed travel restrictions this past weekend to travel: Bumper to Bumper Traffic on First Major Travel Weekend of the Year
Iceland’s Plan for Welcoming Back Tourists
If you arrive in Iceland today, you’d need to quarantine for 2 weeks. No later than June 15th (which everyone seems to think means starting June 15th) you will have 3 options instead of just the one quarantine option:
- You can still quarantine for 2 weeks. But who’s going to choose that?!
- You can be tested for Covid-19 when you arrive at the airport, and also download a contact tracing app on your phone. More on this option in a minute.
- You can bring proof of a negative Covid-19 test with you. There are very few details about what type of proof will be required, and how recent the test has to be.
Update June 2, 2020: We have a few more details on option #3 today:
Þórólfur’s proposal indicates that travellers who can show proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19 up to four days before travelling will be exempt from quarantine. However, Þórólfur warns that antibody tests are not as reliable as other forms of testing, so may not be allowed as evidence that a traveller has recovered from the virus.
Update June 3, 2020: You can also bring proof that you’ve already had COVID-19!
Option #2 is the primary option. From June 15th until June 30th, the testing will be free. As The Reykjavik Grapevine puts it:
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.
After June 30th, you will have to pay for the coronavirus test. It costs 50000 ISK per test, which is $345 US (€320.) That’s per person! The price will hopefully come down as they do more tests. At the beginning, they will only be able to handle 1,000 tests per day (at most.)
Update June 2, 2020: They will only be performing 500 tests per day initially, and hopefully ramping up to 4000 per day.
What if you test positive for Covid-19?
Update June 3, 2020: It sounds likely that if you test positive, you’ll be forced to quarantine in Iceland for 14 days! See this comment on Reddit were I try to translate the document that outlines the process. Here’s the relevant section of the order, translated by Google:
“It is also important to note that, in most cases, the travelers identified here with the virus need to stay here for at least an isolation period of at least 14 days and travelers who may have been exposed / infected need to stay here in quarantine for up to 14 days.”
I worry that if anyone on your airplane into Iceland tests positive, you might be forced to quarantine for a least a few days, and up to 14 days!!!
Icelandair worries, and Play’s Persistent Plans
If you plan to head to Iceland soon, Icelandair is the most likely airline to get you there. Icelandair hasn’t been making much money recently; no airline has. And now there are concerns that they could go out of business:
Icelandair comprises the lion’s share of flights to and from Iceland. Since last March, however, they have had to drastically cut back the destinations they fly from. They’ve laid off about 95% of their crew, and the remaining flight attendants are fighting for higher wages. The company is, in fact, on the brink of bankruptcy.
Discount Icelandic carrier Wow Air went out of business last year. A new airline, Play is trying to emerge from Wow’s ashes. But they’ve been trying for a while, and still haven’t flown any flights. Play’s web site still says they will start selling tickets “soon” but they’ve been using the word soon for more than 6 months. Here’s an old screenshot from last fall:
There is talk that Play could swoop in and take over as the main national carrier from Icelandair. But Play hopes to have just a single plane flying, and not until this fall. So that doesn’t seem like a likely transition right now, unless they take over operations from Icelandair.
The good news is that Icelandair is still flying, and flights aren’t overly expensive, though prices are creeping up. Still, prices are at the lower end of the typical range, and you can find nonstop flights for under $600 from the United States. Here’s a flight from Chicago (ORD) in August:
Tourism Costs Within Iceland are Falling
If you can get to Iceland, costs should be lower this summer compared to the last few years. First, the Icelandic currency is worth about 10% less than it was a year ago, though the gap is closing. That means your money buys more Icelandic Krona. Here’s how many Icelandic Krona 1 US dollar buys you:
Also, many hotels are offering discounts; 25% off for the summer seems typical. (Here’s an example at Íslandshótels which has 17 hotels in Iceland.)
And tour companies are starting to offer discounts as well. For example, Láki Tours is offering free whale watching trips for anyone 15 and under:
Should you Visit Iceland this Summer?
Should you visit? That’s a tough question. I don’t think it’s as simple as deciding to go on vacation for a week. There’s a real chance that could get stuck in Iceland for a little while. Not a huge chance, but a bigger chance than you would think with most vacations. You could test positive for coronavirus, and be forced to quarantine for 2 weeks. In Iceland! Or you could come into contact with someone who tests positive, either in Iceland or on the airplane. We don’t yet know what needs to happen after that.
And, Icelandair could stop flying. I don’t think this is likely, but I also didn’t think Wow Air would go out of business! When Wow shut down last year, there was no warning, and travelers scrambled to find flights home.
Also, if you don’t get to Iceland in June, the Covid-19 testing will cost hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars for a family. That negates any of the cost savings I cited above.
And if you’re in a country that has community spread of Covid-19, traveling to Iceland introduces a whole new set of risks. You’re in close quarters with a lot of other people in line for security, and at the gate, and in the airplane.
On the other hand, it’s likely that Iceland is safer than your home country. Iceland runs more tests than just about any other country, and the way they’ve handled the outbreak has won praise around the world. You’d get to experience a less-crowded and still-amazing country with little risk of contracting Covid-19 while you were in Iceland.
But the risk of travel is still high, and the US State Department still recommends against international travel. (Maybe that’s more than a recommendation? It says “Do Not Travel.”)
I think we’re staying home this summer.
What about you? Are you planning to visit Iceland?