Iceland´s response

The response of the Icelandic authorities and the goal of measures employed against COVID-19 have been clear from the very beginning. The focus has been on ensuring that the necessary infrastructure of the country, particularly the healthcare system, is capable of handling the workload that inevitably results.

Principal measures that have been employed:

Early identification of risk areas.
All residents of Iceland arriving from a risk area obliged to quarantine and/or be tested.
Strong focus on testing as many people as possible.
Tracing all infections to the extent possible.
Everybody having had contact with infected people ordered to quarantine.
Restrictions on gatherings.
Secondary schools and universities using distance learning and limited running of nursery schools and primary schools.
Strong focus on continuously educating the public and providing information.
Information published on the covid.is website in 11 languages. Regular press conferences with the Chief Epidemiologist and the Civil Protection Department broadcast live by Iceland’s major media outlets.

Timeline:

25 October Landspítali University Hospital put on emergency alert level. The hospital was previously at danger alert level.

20 October New regulation on infection prevention measures enters into force. New regulation on restrictions on gatherings due to the pandemic and an amendment to the regulation on restrictions to schooling due to the pandemic.

7 October Stricter infection prevention measures in the greater Reykjavík area. Restrictions on gatherings as of yesterday apply unamended elsewhere. These restrictions will remain in effect up to and including 19 October.

5 October  Changes made to rules on gathering restrictions and school operations. The Minister for Health confirms new rules on restrictions on gatherings and school operations laying down stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

28 September   Seating obligations introduced in all restaurants serving alcohol. All restaurants serving alcohol must have seats for all diners and ensure that they remain in their seats most of the time, as is usual in restaurants and cafés.

21 September   Closure of pubs and clubs extended to 27 September. The temporary closure of pubs and clubs is extended to Sunday 27 September, inclusive. This measure was taken as a result of the high number of COVID-19 infections traced back to pubs and clubs in central Reykjavik.

21 September   Updated guidance for secondary schools and universities. Masks to be used during on-site tuition. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture issues updated guidance for secondary schools and universities in light of the recent recommendations of the Chief Epidemiologist on wearing masks during on-site tuition in secondary schools and universities in the Greater Reykjavik area. This guidance indicates that students, teachers and other staff of secondary schools and universities should wear masks at all times.

18 September   Pubs and clubs in the Greater Reykjavik area temporarily closed. Pubs and clubs in the Greater Reykjavik area are temporarily closed for four days (18-21 September) in order to combat the spread of COVID-19.

14 September   Quarantine shortened from 14 days to seven with end-of-quarantine COVID-19 test.

7 September   Wider-scale restrictions on gatherings. The safe distance is reduced from two metres to one and the maximum number of people who may gather together is raised from 100 to 200. These changes are in line with proposals from the Chief Epidemiologist. Quarantine may be terminated after seven days if a test at the end of that time reveals no signs of COVID-19 infection. Even after completion of quarantine, individuals must observe infection prevention measures and avoid contact with vulnerable people. Testing is organised by the Chief Epidemiologist and is free of charge. These changes concern domestic infection protection measures and do not cover passengers arriving in Iceland.

31 August   covid.is online chat function launched. The aim of this new function is to handle queries relating to COVID-19 in Iceland. The online chat has been set up to streamline and improve public service and to simplify the work of experts working in different fields but all dealing with tasks relating to COVID-19. In most cases, it will be possible to resolve issues via the online chat, but it will sometimes be necessary to direct enquiries to others with specialist knowledge of the topic in question.

19 August  Passengers arriving in Iceland as of 19 August may choose either to take two COVID-19 tests with a five-day quarantine interval until the result of the second test is available or to decline testing and quarantine for 14 days from their date of arrival in Iceland.

14 August  New rules on restrictions on gatherings. A new Notice on restrictions on gatherings as a result of the pandemic issued by the Minister for Health lays down wider rules on minimum distances in secondary schools and universities and for sports. In all other respects, the general two-metre rule remains in force. Masks must be worn in professional situations necessitating closer contact than two metres and on public transport where the journey lasts longer than 30 minutes. Nursing homes, other healthcare centres and similar institutions must set rules governing their operations, e.g. regarding access by external visitors. The upper limit for the number of people remains 100. There is strong focus on personal and general infection prevention, with regular cleaning in places where people congregate.

30 July  Restrictions on gatherings tightened to a maximum of 100 people. Travellers arriving in Iceland from risk areas and staying in Iceland for longer than 10 days must take two tests over that period. Read more

14 July   Travellers from Denmark, Norway, Finland and Germany are added to the list with the Faroe Islands and Greenland and, from Thursday 16 July, are exempted from COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements. Read more

10 July On the basis of a proposal by the Chief Epidemiologist, the Minister for Health has decided that, as of 13 July 2020, all residents of Iceland or Icelandic citizens who have chosen to be tested upon arrival in Iceland must observe the a preventive measure regime for 4-5 days before taking a second test. If the second test is negative, the individual in question leaves the preventive measure regime. This is to reduce the chances of an incorrect test result upon entry into the country resulting in large group infections in Iceland. Read more

9 July The results of the SARS-CoV-2 virus antibody tests conducted by deCODE genetics on behalf of the Chief Epidemiologist from 3 April to 20 June 2020 are received by Heilsuvera. The tests covered just over 30,000 people. The presence of antibodies indicates a previous infection and suggests that the person in question will not catch the virus again. Read more

26 June Domestic infection detected again in Iceland. Two more domestic cases of COVID-19 have been detected. A second case was detected this morning, which is thought to be linked to the case confirmed yesterday. The first case originates from outside of Iceland, while the second is a domestic infection. This is the fourth domestic infection since mid-May. An estimated 200 people will need to go into quarantine. Efforts are being made to trace the infections and the case is being treated as a possible group infection in the Greater Reykjavik area. Read more

15 June  Passengers arriving in Iceland after 15 June 2020 will be given the opportunity to take a COVID-19 test instead of having to quarantine for 14 days. Children born in 2005 and later do not need to be tested. Testing will be available at Keflavík International Airport and for passengers arriving at other international airports and ports. Travellers must complete a registration form before arrival and follow infection prevention rules. They are encouraged to download the Rakning C-19 tracking app.

Restrictions on gatherings will be further relaxed. The maximum number of people rises from 200 to 500. The current rule of 75% of the authorised maximum number of people at swimming pools and in gyms also expires on 15 June.

25 May   Easing of restrictions on gatherings and school operations. The maximum number of people rises from 50 to 200. Gyms may operate with a maximum number of patrons not exceeding half of the maximum number stipulated in their operating licence. All restaurants, including pubs, clubs and gaming outlets, may remain upon until 11:00pm. Maintaining a distance of two metres is encouraged, wherever possible. There are some changes to implementation of the two-metre rule. The aim is to protect those who are vulnerable by creating conditions for those who wish to to keep a distance a two metres.

18 May  Swimming and bathing facilities may operate with a maximum number of patrons not exceeding half of the maximum number stipulated in their operating licence.

15 May  New quarantine rules enter into force. Everyone arriving in Iceland must now quarantine for 14 days, but with greater scope for work quarantine. All areas except Greenland and the Faroe Islands are now risk areas. This means that no infection prevention measures are imposed in Iceland on those arriving from Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Border rules will be reassessed before 15 June.

4 May Easing of restrictions on gatherings and school operations. The maximum number of people rises from 20 to 50, nursery schools and primary schools may open and sport and youth-club activities may be conducted without restrictions. Efforts are being made to open secondary schools and universities and various other types of operation are re-opening.

24 April    New quarantine rules brought in. Everyone arriving in Iceland must quarantine for 14 days from arrival. In parallel, temporary border controls will be adopted at internal borders. These rules are valid until 15 May.

21 April  Announcement on easing the restrictions on gatherings and school operations which are to enter into force of 4 May. The maximum number of people rises from 20 to 50, nursery schools and primary schools may open and sport and youth-club activities may be conducted without restrictions. Efforts are being made to open secondary schools and universities and various other types of operation are re-opening.

3 April   The Minister for Health announces her decision to extend to 4 May the restrictions on gatherings and school operations which were due to expire on 13 April.

2 April  The Rakning C-19 tracking app is brought online and made available in App Store and Google Play. The aim of the app is to make it easier to trace infections.  

31 March   Iceland signs up to the agreement enabling the country to participate in joint European procurement of various types of healthcare equipment.

27 March  The Public Prosecutor sends all chiefs of police in Iceland instructions for responding to and collecting fines for infringements of the Minister for Health’s rules on quarantine and isolation.

24 March   Tougher restrictions on gatherings enter into force. The death of a patient at Landspítali University Hospital caused by COVID-19 is announced.

22 March   The Minister for Health announces further restrictions on gatherings in line with recommendations from the Chief Epidemiologist. The limit is set at 20 people. The new rules enter into force at midnight on 23 March.

19 March  All countries designated as risk areas. All Icelandic nationals and people resident in Iceland returning to Iceland after a visit abroad are obliged to quarantine for fourteen days.

15 March  The first results of public testing suggest that there are few unknown cases of infection at large.

14 March  The Icelandic authorities advise Icelanders not to travel and encourage those on holiday abroad to bring forward their return journey.

13 March   Gatherings restricted to 100 people. Secondary schools and universities closed and limited running of nursery schools and primary schools. The first untraceable cases of infection detected. deCODE genetics begins general COVID-19 testing.

6 March   First two cases of person-to-person infection in Iceland confirmed. Both cases are traced back to individuals who had travelled to northern Italy. The Civil Protection Department declares an ‘emergency alert level’.

1 March  Iceland designates the whole of Italy as a risk area.

28 February   First case of COVID-19 in Iceland confirmed. The Civil Protection Department declares a ‘danger alert level’.

27 February First press conference of the Chief Epidemiologist, the Director of Health and the Chief Constable of the Civil Protection Department of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police. The conference is streamed by Iceland’s major media outlets.

26 February   Iceland designates certain risk areas, such as northern Italy and Tyrol, before other countries and implements more stringent measures. All people arriving from those areas are obliged to quarantine for 14 days.

24 February  The Chief Epidemiologist advises against unnecessary travel to four regions in northern Italy.

31 January  Meeting held at the National Security Council with the Minister for Health and the Chief Epidemiologist. The Civil Protection Department’s Coordination Unit in Skógarhlíð is activated.

30 January  The World Health Organisation declares a global emergency.

29 January   The Chief Epidemiologist advises against unnecessary travel to China and recommends 14-day quarantine for people arriving in Iceland from there.

27 January  ‘Uncertainty alert level’ regarding coronavirus declared in Iceland. Contingency and response action plans are inspected and stocks of necessary equipment are surveyed.

Objectives and measures taken by the authorities

On 6 March 2020, the Chief Epidemiologist and the Civil Protection Department of the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police declared the highest danger level – emergency alert level – in respect of the pandemic of the virus that causes COVID-19. This was done in accordance with the National Response Plan for Global Pandemics. The measures taken involved key institutions and companies in Iceland which took the necessary action to combat the pandemic. All measures taken in the context of a quarantine situation affect daily life, albeit to varying extents. This is why measures known to be effective are taken. We therefore avail ourselves of tried and tested methods that we know to be effective, such as quarantine for those who have been exposed, isolation for those infected, early detection of infections, and extensive provision of information to the public. Other measures have also been taken to halt the spread of the virus and a ban on gatherings was established limiting the number of attendees to 100 persons. This number was further decreased to 20 persons or less as of 24 March. The Minister of Health has ratified and published rules on COVID-19 quarantine and isolation. These rules apply to all persons placed in quarantine or isolation by the Chief Epidemiologist on the basis of the Act on Health Security and Communicable Diseases.

A prerequisite for these measures is widespread consensus in society to follow advice and to pull together in this huge effort. Infection prevention important not only for personal health but is also in the interest of society as a whole. We are all Civil Protection.

You can consult Civil Protection Department COVID-19 status reports here. Information meetings are also held in the media.

Easily readable information on the coronavirus can be found here. The information was prepared by the National Association of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.

The latest figures can be consulted here.

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