Quarantine is no longer used to control the spread of COVID-19 in Iceland.
The Contact Tracing Team of the Chief Epidemiologist and Civil Protection was active from the beginning of the epidemic in February 2020 until quarantine was abolished on 11 February 2022. Contact tracing was conducted by having a detailed conversation with those who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, to find out who they had been in contact with before symptoms were noticed and thus possibly infected. Later, an online form was used, which was followed by a phone call if needed.
People who were in considerable contact with an infected person while the person was considered contagious were exposed to the infection. Exposed individuals were quarantined to prevent them from infecting others. The day that people last saw the infected individual was called exposure day.
When tracing the infection, it was taken into account how long the infected person had been in contact with others and how much distance there had been between them. The length of time together and close, repeated communication were also important. The same was true for a long stay indoors in the same home or workplace and common surfaces. As the pandemic progressed and mask use became more widespread, mask use became more important when quarantine decisions were made.
For a time, quarantine rules were lifted for people who had been vaccinated, and when quarantine was phased out, vaccination status was also considered.
Isolation was for those who had a confirmed COVID-19 infection but did not need a hospital stay. Special precaution was used for people who possibly had been exposed but the risk of infection was considered minor.
This picture shows, per month, the proportion of those who were in quarantine when they were diagnosed with COVID-19. As can be seen, the proportion increased and decreased during the pandemic, but as the number of infections in the community increased rapidly, the proportion of those diagnosed whilst in quarantine often decreased temporarily. On average, about 58% were quarantined at diagnosis when examining the pandemic as a whole.
In quarantine, people had to stay away from others, they could only go for a walk near their home or place of residence and they could not go to work, school, shops or other popular places. Thus, friends and relatives had to take care of their home shopping and leave goods outside the home and places of residence. Many people also took advantage of the opportunity to buy online and home delivery. The use of online shopping grew substantially during the pandemic.
Special rules applied to quarantining at home. People in quarantine had to stay away from other family members, have access to their own toilet facilities and much more. However, family members who had been exposed at the same time could be quarantined together. These rules changed somewhat as the pandemic progressed. For most of the pandemic, parents of young children who had to quarantine were required to accompany them into quarantine.
If people were quarantined in the same home as someone who was in isolation, then quarantine ended with a negative PCR test the day after the isolation ended. If COVID-19 infection was detected in a quarantined member of the household, the quarantine of others was prolonged until the day after the isolation of that household member was completed.
Initially, quarantine lasted for 14 days from the date of exposure. With a better understanding of the routes of transmission and when the infection occurred, if it occurred, it became possible in the autumn of 2020 to shorten quarantine to 7 days, provided that a negative test result was obtained from a PCR test on the last day. In January 2021, the quarantine was shortened to 5 days under the same conditions. However, it was still possible to avoid testing and stay 14 days in quarantine, but people were encouraged to go for testing if they developed symptoms.
In addition to quarantining due to the proximity to an infected person, quarantine was also used when people arrived in Iceland from certain countries where there were significant numbers of COVID-19 infection.
Initially, quarantine was 14 days upon arrival in Iceland. In June 2020, however, the rules were changed so that instead of quarantining, people could undergo a PCR test at the border, and if it was negative, quarantining was not necessary. As the summer progressed, however, it became clear that infections were entering the country despite the testing at the border. In August 2020, people were required to take two PCR tests upon arriving in Iceland, five days apart and quarantining in between.
In April 2021, everyone who came to Iceland from certain high-risk areas was obliged to stay in a quarantine hotel run by the Icelandic authorities, whether they lived in Iceland or were tourists. On 9 April 2021, the Reykjavík District Court ruled that the Icelandic government could not oblige people to quarantine in a certain place. People were still asked to complete quarantine at the quarantine hotel, and the instructions on what was considered acceptable housing for quarantine were tightened. On 31 May 2021, this rule was repealed, but quarantine centres continued to operate for those who did not have the facilities to quarantine in.
When the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 became prevalent in the community, quarantine was abolished, as at its peak, there were as many as 14,000 people in quarantine. Due to the fact that Omicron caused milder illnesses compared to previous variants of the virus, it was decided that the effects of quarantine had become more serious than the effects of possible illnesses on society. Then, quarantining was isolated to those who were exposed to infection in their own homes and then abolished altogether.
The accompanying chart shows the average number of people quarantining per day, broken down by month, from February 2020 to February 2022. When examining the entire pandemic, an average of 2596 people were quarantined each day.
All of these restrictions were based on the authorisation from the Act on Infectious Disease and with the regulations from the Minister of Health.