While other countries around the globe implemented strict lockdowns in response to the coronavirus, Iceland, home to about 364,000 people, took a different approach.
Iceland Flattened the Curve With Widespread Testing
Even after the first cases of coronavirus emerged in Iceland, the country did not use lockdowns to control the spread of infection. Instead, Iceland’s Directorate of Health relied on contact tracing and the country’s well-established mass testing system.
Iceland’s relatively small population allows for comprehensive mass testing that may not be feasible in larger countries like the United States. According to Thorolfur Guðnason, Iceland’s chief epidemiologist, the country’s mass testing is “intended to gather insight into the actual prevalence of the virus in the community, as most countries are most exclusively testing symptomatic individuals at this time.”
Iceland spent years developing this testing system, training teams of contracting tracing detectives, and establishing vital partners like Reykjavik-based deCODE Genetics, a subsidiary of the US-based biotechnology company Amgen. As a result, Iceland’s government was able to quickly and efficiently respond to the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic, pinpoint cases of infection, and prevent uncontrollable transmission.
Any individuals in Iceland who tested positive for coronavirus followed an “aggressive policy of quarantine… for much longer and at a higher scale than most other countries we are aware of,” explained the Directorate of Health.
As of the first week of May, Iceland had all but eliminated the Covid-19 outbreak, with 97% of infected patients making full recoveries, and only two new cases confirmed in a seven day period.
Travelers Take On-the-Spot Covid-19 Test to Avoid Quarantine
Now that the country has successfully gained control over its coronavirus outbreak, Iceland is eager to safely revive its tourism economy. Tourism provides nearly half of Iceland’s export revenue, so encouraging international visitors is critical to overcoming the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
The prime minister of Iceland announced in May plans to reopen the country’s borders to tourists by June 15. All international arrivals to the island’s airport will receive a free Covid-19 test when they land. Passengers who test negative will be free to enjoy their visit, while passengers who test positive must self-isolate for 14 days.
The coronavirus tests will remain free until July, after which all arriving tourists can choose to pay $115 for a Covid-19 test or self-isolate for two weeks.
“When travelers return to Iceland we want to have all mechanisms in place to safeguard them and the progress made in controlling the pandemic,” said Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir, the minister of tourism, industry and innovation.
“Iceland’s strategy of large-scale testing, tracing, and isolating have proven effective so far. We want to build on that experience of creating a safe place for those who want a change of scenery after what has been a tough spring for all of us.”