Iceland intensifies COVID-19 border testing after case increase

People wait in the entrance hall of the Keflavik International Airport, near Reykjavik, Iceland August 4, 2017. Starting Wednesday, travellers to the country will have to observe either a 14-day quarantine or undergo a double COVID-19 testing regime. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)
Iceland will be intensifying COVID-19 testing measures at the border as of August 19 after a recent increase in cases.

Staring Wednesday, travellers arriving in the country will be given the option of a 14-day quarantine or undergoing a double-testing regime, with one test upon arrival and then a 5 to 6 day quarantine at which point a second COVID-19 test would be done to rule out initial false negatives.

“Given the uptick in infections worldwide and the widespread effect that a small infection can have on the functioning of our society, the Government has decided to strengthen our border-screening measures to further limit the number of infections entering the country,” said Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdottir in a news release on Friday.  

“These measures will be reviewed and revised according to how the situation develops, both domestically and internationally. However, we know that there is no way of eliminating the risk of infection. We are confident that our well-established measures of testing, tracing, and isolating, will continue to serve an important role, along with effective early treatment of all patients.”

Working to contain new clusters

Travellers will undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The test involves taking swabs from the nose and throat.  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. The company is still assisting in the country’s border testing program. (deCode Genetics)

“We will continue to monitor the trends in Europe and elsewhere very closely and adjust our recommendations accordingly, both as regards border measures and preventive social measures,” said Thorolfur Gudnason, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is on the rise again in Europe but we are yet to see how severe the impact of this second outbreak will be, now that we have much better information and improved treatment options to combat the pandemic.”

Iceland largely had COVID-19 infections under control until two new cluster infections were identified at the end of July. In their news release, the government said one of the clusters was “almost immediately contained”, and that the rate of infection for the second one had “slowed down significantly.”

As of Wednesday, Iceland’s was reporting 18.5 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people over the last 14-days, down from 27 infections per 100,000 people at the beginning of August.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit gov. in Labrador, Canada tells out-of-province travellers to stay away despite ‘Atlantic bubble’, Eye on the Arctic

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

Greenland: Greenland changes COVID-19 rules for travellers from Iceland, Faroe Islands, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland reinstates COVID-19 restrictions after spike in domestic infections, Eye on the Arctic

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 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 a 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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