Iceland offers COVID-19 testing to international travellers starting June 15

Geysir hot spring area, one of the major tourist sites on Iceland’s Golden Circle route. Will offering COVID-19 testing upon arrival help jump start the country’s tourism industry? (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Iceland began offering COVID-19 testing to international travellers on Monday, in hopes that giving tourists a way to avoid two-week quarantines can help restart the tourism industry.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have aimed for moderate but targeted measures based on the best available information,” said Thorolfur Gudnason,  Iceland’s chief epidemiologist in a news release on Monday.

“By testing all inbound passengers we will continue to collect valuable information that will help guide our decisions on removing regions from our list of high-risk areas in the future, or implementing a more careful approach,” he said.

Upon arrival in Iceland, travellers who wish to avoid the two-week quarantine period can undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test instead. The test involves taking swabs from the nose and throat.  

People wait in the entrance hall of the Keflavik International Airport, near Reykjavik, Iceland August 4, 2017. In most cases, Iceland’s COVID-19 testing will be done at airports like this or at ports of arrival, although in smaller cities or towns, passengers may be required to go to health centres. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)

Tourists will be free to visit Iceland while waiting for their results, but will be expected to follow public health directives like maintaining physical distancing and frequent hand washing.

Testing free until July 1

Passengers are also required to preregister their trip with Icelandic health authorities and complete a health declaration.

If travellers are later found to be positive, they will undergo a blood test to detect antibodies and find out if the COVID-19 infection is active or not.

The PCR test will be free of charge until June 30. After that, travellers will be charged 15 000 Icelandic kroner (approximately $150 CDN) for testing.

Children born in 2005 or later are exempt from the testing requirement.

A deCode Genetics employee in Iceland works on COVID-19 sampling in this undated photo. Iceland’s chief epidemiologist will oversee the coronavirus testing program for international travellers. (deCode Genetics)

Iceland has recorded 1,810 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. As of Monday, there’s been 1,796 recoveries and 10 deaths.

Iceland has slowly been lifting coronavirus restrictions since April, and in May, there was less than 9 new reported cases.

Restarting the tourism industry

Jump starting the tourism industry has been one of the country’s main focuses as it reopens.

Less than 10 years ago tourism trailed behind Iceland’s fishing and aluminium industries. But until the pandemic, it had become the main driver of the economy contributing approximately $10 billion CDN to the total annual GDP.

Tourists at Gullfoss, a waterfall in southern Iceland. Authorities hope giving an alternative to a two-week quarantine will draw tourists back to the country. (Eilís Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Iceland’s tourism minister says she’s convinced tourists will respect the same COVID-19 public health measures as locals whether they’re waiting for their test results or travelling around the country.

“The public has shown tremendous solidarity in our efforts to minimise the harm caused by COVID-19 in our country,” said Thordis Kolbrun R Gylfadottir, Iceland’s minister of Tourism, Industry and Innovation, in a news release. 

“This level of common commitment has allowed us to pursue a policy of sensible social distancing with much less drastic measures than have been implemented in many other places. We are certain that this level of common responsibility will be shared by the visitors we welcome in the coming days, weeks, and months.”

EU/Schengen travel restrictions extended

Although Iceland said on Friday it will continue to implement EU/Schengen travel restrictions until the end of the month, it has widened the list of exemptions to include students and experts from third countries.

Twenty-six European countries make up the Schengen area, agreeing to coordinate on travel requirements between their respective countries so controls don’t need to be enforced at internal borders.

Member states are looking at a coordinated policy for opening the region’s external borders and are hoping to allow non-essential travel from third countries to resume by July 1.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Scrapped 2020 cruise season will cost communities in Nunavut, Canada almost $1 million, Eye On The Arctic

Finland: Finland joins other Nordic countries in virtual tourism due to pandemic, Yle News

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: All Russia’s North Pole cruises rescheduled to 2021, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden seen as major source of COVID-19 in Western Finland region, Yle News

United States: Airline shutdown creates new challenges for rural Alaska, The Associated Press

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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