Recovered from COVID-19? Iceland beckons with quarantine-free entry

Travelers who can't prove they've recovered from the illness must still quarantine on arrival.

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The Strokkur geyser erupts to surrounding tourists in Haukadalsvegur, Iceland September 16, 2019. (Chris Helgren / Reuters File Photo)

Iceland is seeking to restart its tourism industry with quarantine-free entry for people who have recovered from COVID-19.

The change, which will take effect on December 10, comes amidst growing confidence that 2021 will see the country’s tourism industry begin to recover.

Travelers who cannot prove they have recovered from COVID-19 will still be required to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival. That period can be reduced if travellers negative at the border and then again within a minimum of five days.

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Previously, travellers were required to pay for both tests, but under changes due to take effect in December the tests will now be free.

The change is meant to encourage people to be tested, which, public health officials hope, will lessen the risk that they break their quarantine. The concern, they say, is grounded in suspicions that travelers are responsible for some of Iceland’s COVID-19 cases.

Iceland’s rate of COVID-19 remains relatively low, but with infection rates rising abroad, public health authorities believe that intensified border testing, rather than broad quarantines, is the best way to limit the risk of infection and allow people to continue to enter the country.

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The current entry requirements are in place until February. With the expected rollout of a vaccine, they are likely to be gradually eased.

“While we can never guarantee that all potential sources of future outbreaks can be stopped, it is prudent to aim to minimize this risk as much as possible. We are hopeful that the development of effective vaccines will allow us to review the border measures in the first weeks of the new year,” Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the prime minister, said in a statement last month.

The news of easier travel requirements comes as the industry has signalled that tourism in Iceland is poised to return to its pre-COVID-19 fervor in 2021. At its peak, in 2019, the number of people visiting Iceland reached 2 million. After originally predicting that as few as 100,000 could visit next year, the industry now expects in the neighborhood of 700,000.

A large number of those passengers may arrive on the record number of cruise ships that reportedly have said they plan to visit Iceland in 2021.