Iceland is expected to open to tourists from around the world as of June 15, 2020, though it appears to me that there may be one major logistical issue.
Iceland’s plan to reopen to tourists
Iceland is planning for a summer tourist season as of June 15, 2020, and the country seems to be going about it in a rather responsible way. Visitors intending to come to Iceland:
- Will have to go into a 14-day quarantine, take a COVID-19 test upon arrival, or provide a certificate of a recent negative COVID-19 test
- For at least the first two weeks, Iceland intends to offer COVID-19 tests upon arrival for free
- Visitors will have to install a tracing app on their phone
I’ve been considering a trip to Iceland in June, because I’m impressed by the way the country is considering opening up to tourists. At some point the tourism industry will have to restart, and I think it’s important to recognize that not all travel comes with equal risks.
Personally I’m much more comfortable with the thought of traveling to places that are taking appropriate precautions, countries where the COVID-19 crisis has been handled well, and places where social distancing and being outdoors is easy.
Iceland is still ironing out details
I know quite a few people are considering a trip to Iceland, but a lot of questions remain unanswered as of now. While that’s not great in terms of being able to plan travel, I totally respect how thoughtfully Iceland is approaching this situation, and recognize we may only know the full details of Iceland’s plan a few days before June 15.
For example, two of my biggest questions include:
- Will Iceland definitely be open to Americans as of June 15, or is this dependent upon most European countries opening borders as of that date?
- Is the testing upon arrival a sure thing (including it being free for two weeks), or when will we know?
Iceland’s major roadblock to testing on arrival
Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has today released an update regarding COVID-19 testing for international arrivals. A working group has been appointed to figure out the process for testing international arrivals, and that group submitted a report yesterday.
The report outlines possible implementation of testing procedures and practicalities, in accordance with the criteria set by the government. From here the Prime Minister will oversee the process.
Looking at the report, it would appear there is one very significant issue:
Given the criteria set out for the project, the testing capacity of the National University Hospital Biology and Virology Department (SVEID) for international arrivals is currently 500 tests per day. To increase capacity, equipment, staffing, and facilities of SVEID must be improved, under current plans, capacity could be expanded to 1000 tests per day after mid-July, at the earliest. Also, in case of a group infection or an increased rate of infections in Iceland, testing for symptomatic individuals will take precedence over testing for international arrivals. Partnering with other analytical entities could increase testing capacity, the combined analytical capacity has not been assessed.
As you can see, Iceland is initially limited to 500 tests per day (this includes testing of locals, which is prioritized), and that doesn’t even nearly cover all international arrivals.
For example, looking at mid-June arrivals from North America alone, Icelandair has flights from Boston, Chicago, Denver, New York, Newark, Seattle, Toronto, and Washington. That doesn’t account for the international arrivals from all other countries in Europe.
Then there’s also this problem:
Special attention must be given to the availability of testing kits. The current inventory stands at 10,000 sets.
If they were to be limited to 500 tests per day that would last them 20 days. However, in reality I expect they’d have to do a lot more than 500 tests per day, even if results are delayed. It comes down to how quickly they can replenish their testing kits.
I respect the thought and transparency that Iceland is putting into welcoming back tourists. I still haven’t made a decision one way or another about whether we’ll visit in June, as I want to see what the final version of their plan looks like.
Iceland being limited to processing tests for 500 people per day seems like a major hurdle to overcome, especially since they want to get prompt results to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It’ll be worth seeing how they deal with this, since you can’t really sell thousands and thousands of seats to Iceland per day filled with tourists if you can only process 500 tests per day, since the testing on arrival is a major draw here.