Iceland’s International Arrivals COVID-19 Testing Problem

Filed Under: Icelandair

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.

Bottom line

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.

Comments
  1. Countries opening up do have a significant issue with the origins of their visitors.

    While I personally am happy to travel, and live in a jurisdiction that has, by dint of obedience and location, remained virtually untouched, I would be hesitant to open my doors to visitors from much of the USA or the UK.

    I also realise that my ability to visit should be determined by my host country, and not by me; I am, after all, quite biased.

  2. How could any country even consider opening to Americans?

    Iceland will do just fine with just European visitors – why risk it?

  3. This isn’t their only “testing problem.” There are several. But lets see how this one goes.

    Honestly, I do not think this overall plan is sustainable, nor is it anything close to bullet-proof. Sure, it’s better than just squeezing into a middle seat to Rio, but based on the behavior we see every day from some idiots, Iceland is going to start seeing their stellar record tarnished as clueless Trump voters start arriving and spreading the virus. I wish Iceland luck and hope things go well, but I suspect they may come to regret this. It will be interesting to watch the results of their experiment.

  4. If you really wanted to do this I don’t know why you wouldn’t get a test stateside before going (which are getting easier and easier to procure). I would not want to risk a positive test and the unknown of being stuck in a foreign county for an indefinite period of time on a true quarantine. Remember you can easily be asymptomatic and still test positive.

  5. Another “come overseas for a glorified house arrest, at your own expense” post.
    Another round of “AMERICA = BAD” comments.

    Yawn.

  6. I’m wondering how many of us including Lucky actually work in the Icelandic government so we can sit here and worry about incomplete figures and fret over numbers we aren’t even sure are accurate.

  7. I’ve got USA-Iceland flights booked for July 11th. Still planning to go and spending 3-4 weeks there and Greenland.

    I plan to get tested the day before I fly so I don’t have to deal with it there.
    Super excited to go back to Iceland!

  8. I still think the testing plan is a little misguided unless Iceland is willing to accept a significant increase in cases. If they are willing to accept that, why even test?

    Better to test at the departure airport. Otherwise, what happens if somebody tests positive on arrival at KEF? Do you then quarantine everybody that sat near them (I believe the WHO standard is within 6 rows)? Or what happens if 5 or 6 people get infected and then go off and become asymptomatic spreaders?

    Also, what is Iceland’s plan for people that test positive on arrival and need medical care? Presumably travel insurance still won’t cover COVID care, so will they be provided free care under Iceland’s public health system? Or could they have to pay out of pocket?

    Seems like there are more questions than answers.

  9. I wonder how it would work if you presented with a positive antibody test, there was some discussion that countries would develop an Immunity passport system for those who have already been exposed to Covid19 and have some immunity. Putting that aside it’s not wise to travel until your state Department moves from level 4 to at least level 3, ideally level 2.

  10. @ Bob….Yes many countries in Europe have been generally speaking fine, but Spain, Italy and England I would also have a concern with their people coming in and ensuring they are free of the virus.

  11. If you fly to Iceland and they don’t have any tests available and didn’t/couldn’t get tests prior to departing for Iceland, then you’re basically going to be quarantined for 14 days once you arrive. Until there’s sufficient evidence that there’s truly enough testing kits available, you have to take that into consideration

  12. I agree with AlanD.

    If someone tests positive, they could have spent the last 5 hours infecting everyone else. What happens, does everyone get quarantined or sent back?

  13. Seems like some people have a hard time realizing that the US botched the COVID response worse than any other country (ok maybe Brazil comes a close 2nd)…

  14. @Bob – Seems like some people can’t understand basic mathematics or be at all nuanced in their commentary.

  15. Honestly Lucky… the statement of “500 tests” and even “1000 tests” should just stop you from even bother thinking about going to Iceland in mid-June. I also want to warn that these tests have to take place in individual booths or else it can easily spread to other passengers. We both have been to KEF and spaces are already limited to begin with. Even if each Iceland Air’s 757 is capped at 60%, all the quota of the tests will be gone by the fourth or fifth early morning arrival from US East Coast, not to mention mainland Europe. With that small amount of tests, they are not ready. About getting a test in the US, there are still significant hurdles here in many parts of the countries to get a test, especially you have to get the test a day or two before departure. While the logic of the program makes sense, the amount of tests and other related matters remain rather murky. Iceland perhaps should be more realistic and their arrival program should begin with opening to countries with low Covid-19 cases like Norway and Denmark first, and see how they proceed. From this report, it sounds like a total mess.

    I honestly have less confident about traveling to Iceland after reading your post.

  16. This whole thing doesn’t seem to make much sense…..Essentially what they are telling you is that you need to get the test done before hopping onto an airplane to Iceland. That’s fine and all but one could get infected (at airport or from other passengers) between the negative result and landing at Iceland. What happens if you ended up positive when landed in Iceland? Do they send you right back (Will Icelandair transport a known Covid 19 positive person)? Or will they put you in a hospital until you test negative? If the later, who will pay for the hospital bill? It seems like you can possibly stay in a hospital for more than 2,3 weeks. This will be a large expense for most people if not covered by Iceland government.

    Unless Icelandair will test people right before they get on the nonstop flight, I’m not sure it is worth the risk for vacationers to go to Iceland. This can only work for someone who has retired, have no obligations at home and have money to pay for their possible extensive hospital stay (or be quarantined somewhere for minimally 2-3 weeks if light symptoms) before their vacation starts not to mention have to most likely pay for part of the hotel stays that they can’t use because they are quarantined somewhere else. Even if they can be quarantined at their original hotel, will the said hotel be willing to take a known Covid 19 person? And most likely the passenger didn’t book 14 days at the same hotel before hand so the hotel can possibly be booked up and can’t host a guest for 14 days straight. What then? So Many questions! LOL.

  17. I want to be a millionaire but I only have 500 bucks in my bank and assets

    Reality check of wants and can have. Else it’s just a dream or worse becomes a nightmare

  18. Wondering if this post will be censored, as my last post went down the “rabbit hole”, never to be heard from again. Or is Facebook doing the censorship here now? 🙁

    Follow the Science:

    Latest from the CDC, as from today:

    Fatality rate if you become infected is .27%

    https://townhall.com/tipsheet/mattvespa/2020/05/24/new-cdc-study-on-coronavirus-should-seal-the-deal-on-debate-concerning-reopening-the-country-n2569367?utm_content=buffer93af2&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR3PiIbMTpK3ydH5E0x0J8_ueaZr7VATWftL-I7cFliDDwf-0pWQ1QOEuyI

    Of course, if you are not elderly, with major comorbidities, it becomes much less problematic. If you are, you should stay home, otherwise…..

    If you test positive, you are infectious for a max of 11 days. And that’s from when you are first infected, not from when you eventually “test positive”. So a 14 day quarantine seems rather
    excessive.

    As Shakespeare said “Much Ado About Nothing” !

  19. @kevin You answered your own question. It’s not supposed to be convenient for everyone to travel. Iceland doesn’t care if it’s convenient or not, because unlike in America, health and well-being is more important than the economic impact. Iceland wants the tourist dollars – but not enough to give up the health of their country and its citizens. Unlike in America, where talk about the economy has trumped the fact that nearly 100,000 people have died. So here, Iceland is giving people an option if they’re willing to take it. It’s not meant to serve specifically you, it’s not meant to open the country to widespread tourism, and it’s not meant for the convenience of a tourist. It’s an option.

  20. @Robert Hanson If your post keeps getting “censored” as you say, maybe there’s something about the post and not the people doing the supposed censoring? Ever think about that.

  21. The majority of people visit Iceland for a few days

    If countries do require a 2 week quarantine , I assume most travellers would be going for at least a month and with the knowledge they would have to stay indoors, most likely doing the same as they had done at home Therefore there’s absolutely no point travelling for 99%

  22. @ Ken just google “Beria” for an answer. Of course it’s always about the “post”, and never about the content. Just think about that!

    I might add I NEVER said “keeps getting censored”. Just ONE time, when I posted a scientific article questioning the usefulness of wearing a mask. Which perhaps one cannot question here, or perhaps it was just a tech quitch, in which case no harm. no foul. 🙂

  23. @Lucky, I am an Icelander currently living in the US. I have been monitoring the situation closely as my kids are eager to go home and visit their grandparents this summer.

    Currently there are only a handful of flights in and out of Iceland each week. Icelandair announces these flights a few days in advance. However, the old schedule is still bookable if the flight is more than a week out.

    You can find information on the next flights here:
    https://www.icelandair.com/support/pre-flight/travel-alert/

    This will change in mid-June when Europe starts to open up. Expect Icelandair to first add flights to Germany, Norway and Denmark. They will operate daily flights to these destinations if there is demand.

    Note that the US is still closed for Europeans and vice a versa. Currently the restrictions in Europe are set to end on June 15th but I haven’t found any information on when US will start to open up for Europeans. As a reference the US-Canada border is closed for non-essential travel until June 22nd at least.

    Until the US eases its travel restrictions we will probably continue to see only 2-3 weekly flights between BOS-KEF.

    The 500 tests are enough to cover 4 daily flights (from Europe) if the flights are operating at 2/3 capacity. There is also the possibility of using deCODE Genetics in Iceland, they were analyzing up to 1500 samples per day in March and April.

    By the time we have more regular flights between the US and Iceland I expect them to have stopped testing every single passenger from Europe, this is of course assuming the infection rates remains very low, and moved onto some kind of randomized or focused testing. When adding direct flights to new destinations I think it is likely they will test every passenger for a while to monitor the infection rate coming from that location. This is my educated guess based on reading between the lines in the news coming out of Iceland.

    Currently there are only two known active cases in Iceland. The health authorities know that by opening up we will most likely re-introduce the virus but it is not seen as an option to remain closed until a vaccine is found. There is also a confidence that that with the testing and contact tracing that is in place it will be possible to keep the cases few and isolated.

  24. I hate to burst the bubble, but this will NEVER EVER happen. It’s a stupid idea. It will be opened to all kinds of fraud. And testing just doesn’t men anything.

  25. I, for one, wouldn’t have thought Americans would be on the top of the list for tourists. Sentiment in Australia isn’t great about the American handling of the pandemic. Watching with horror the shambles that is happening over there.

  26. @Robert Hanson – the website you keep posting is a tool of the conservative right…not exactly the most trustworthy on the subject these days (“it’s a hoax! it will magically disappear!”) The owner “targets audiences interested in Christian values and what it describes as ‘family-themed content and conservative values.'”.

    Hard pass.

  27. @iceman: thank you for your detailed response. I have a trip scheduled June 20 from MSP to KEF, and online Icelandair still shows flights going from Minneapolis to Iceland. But is that truly the case? We have been going back-and-forth about whether to keep this trip or cancel. It’s breaking my heart if we cancel, but the logistics appear to be against us currently.

  28. No thank you, I just want my refund from Icelandic Air. I’m not getting on any plane anytime soon if at all. They should honor people’s request that don’t feel comfortable traveling.

  29. Still a significant risk to be in a metal tube (fuselage) for several hours. Lucky shouldn’t go yet. In the next 6 weeks, there will be better data to what happens when stay at home orders in the US are relaxed. More dying or less?

  30. DB says:
    May 26, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    Why are we testing for a virus that 99.8% of people survive again?

    Fake news. Not 99.8% survival rate. It is more like 1% death rate and 5% life long health problems rate and 5% medium term health problems and one hairdresser can infect over 100 people in a few days who go on to infect 1000 more people.

  31. We were ready to book a trip to Iceland for three weeks leaving at the end of June.

    After reading this, we have reconsidered. I don’t mind getting a CV test before we depart and would be able to arrange it. This was our plan. The major problem is (as others have pointed out), what happens when someone on the flight tests positive? Do they quarantine people on the flight? With potentially 182 passengers, what are the odds that at least one will test positive? I would think very high…especially coming from New York or Boston. Remember,… in random antibody testing 15% test positive,… meaning at some point they presumable would have tested positive in a nasal swab test. 15% of 182 is 27 passengers. It seems more likely than not that in a random sample of 182 people,… someone will test positive.

    While I appreciate Iceland trying to open tourism, they need to require a negative test BEFORE getting on the plane. My negative test is rendered meaningless as soon as you allow an untested passenger on my flight.

    No way am I risking 14 days of quarantine hell in Reykjavik.

  32. Robert Hanson says:
    May 26, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    Of course, if you are not elderly, with major comorbidities, it becomes much less problematic. If you are, you should stay home, otherwise…..

    Not true, fake news.

    You have a major underlying condition if you only have high blood pressure. Almost 100 million Americans have this.

    You have a major underlying condition if you only are diabetic. Millions and millions of Americans have this.

    Have high blood pressure controlled by pills and you are at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19. Nothing to laugh at. How would you like it if you were deathly ill thinking “oh, maybe I should have taken it seriously?”

  33. @DB – I suggest that YOU check your facts.

    Aside from the fact both that website and article are obviously awful sources for factual news for anyone with half a brain cell, did you actually read it?

    1. It’s not a “fact”, it’s an estimate based on their most optimistic projections.

    2. The death rate is based on what will happen with the lockdown implemented. Without a lockdown, it will be significantly higher.

    3. A 0.27% death rate equals up to a million deaths in the US alone. While it’s beyond obvious that you couldn’t care less about other people dying and just want more money and more “freedom”, not everyone shares your utter distain for human life.

    So Mr Facts, care to explain why you couldn’t be bothered to even skim read the report you’re so obsessed with? Or are you deliberately lying as your ilk often do?

  34. @derek and @Callum

    You should consider ceasing the spread of sensationalized projections and take a more objective and probabilistic approach. First, conditions like high blood pressure, old age, and diabetes are simply comorbidities. They’re not major comborbidities and it takes multiple of them combined to pose a threat. What impact can the lockdown have on fatality rate aside from waiting and hoping for a vaccine? The lockdown is only dispersing death into the future, not lowering the fatality rate. When that at-risk person finally comes out of hiding, they’ll just encounter the virus at that time and die later.

    A 0.27% death rate projects forward to a million deaths in the U.S.?!? No. Death rates don’t project forward. They only exist in the here and now with actual data, not extrapolated guesses. Such an extrapolation fails to consider countless factors…like deaths due to other causes, vaccines, long-term antibody creation, and the onset of new and different comorbidities.

    @derek

    Would be great if you could cite a source on the 5% lifelong and 5% medium-term heath problem statistics. This is fascinating insight you’ve mysteriously gained, particularly since the first COVID-19 diagnosis was only in November 2019. How was your source able to prove a hypothesis in 7 months that literally requires a lifelong observation term?!?

    But here’s a fact: the world has a population of nearly 7,800,000,000 people. Only 352,000 have died from COVID-19. That’s only 0.0045% of the population. Here’s another fun fact: over 9,000,000 die each year from cancer. Why are the lives of 352,000 people so much more valuable to you than those of 9,000,000?!? My opinion: neither of you could care less about the 345,000 or the 9,000,0000. You seem to be selfishly thinking about only your own lives and whether you’ll get sick…because in your head its contagious after all and affects all people with equal likelihood!

  35. @UA-NYC, Callum and derek
    Only human beings are worth talking to – not neo-nazis to whom facts do not matter!

    Actually, the Spanish flu fatality rate was somewhere between 1~2 percent. The reason why tens of millions of people died was everyone had it. 1/3 of the world population had it.
    COVID has higher fatility rate – yet is no less contagious than Spanish flu. 5.5 million in less than half year and counting up.

  36. @Jay

    COVID-19 does not possess a fatality rate of higher than 1-2%. The documented CFAR is barely 7% and, as evidenced by all the mask-wearing, orders of magnitudes more people have the virus or think they have the virus and are not reporting, not testing, or are asymptomatic. Either this or they’re just ignorant. The Spanish Flu killed over two orders of magnitude more people than COVID-19. You’re extrapolating mathematical trends and statistics about as intelligently as a 5 year old. Speaking of which, does your babysitter know you have access to the Internet?!?

    Back on topic: I wouldn’t bother with a visit to Iceland with these policies. Poorly conceived!

  37. @DB – I’m interested in reading a citation for your facts. Can you provide one?

    I will accept your statement is true if you can provide a credible source. It, unfortunately, appears to be in direct conflict with numerous reliable sources of information.

  38. @Wade, I couldn’t have said it better myself! People are being utter fools, and acting out of complete irrationality. Sad!

  39. Yea this seems like a brilliant idea. Fly all the way to Iceland, get tested and then find out the person in the next row from you was positive and now you are stuck in a foreign country for quarantine and possibly having insurance issues. The whole thing sounds quite suspect if they are letting Americans in given some people in this country seem to have problems even wearing a face mask. Whole thing sounds like a recipe for disaster and possibly a very expensive recipe for disaster. How about waiting until the US is fully open before jetting off to some other country? The travel experience is likely to be total crap and have fun with the inflated prices because all the impatient people who are going to want to travel at the very first opportunity are going to pile in. Seems like a great way to get COVID.

  40. Cyprus and Greece will open their borders to travellers from some lower risk countries. The Baltics have implemented a travel bubble. The Nordic countries are also having talks with Germany, Switzerland, Israel and Singapore. I’m sorry, but travellers from higher risk countries (USA, U.K., Brazil, Sweden amongst others) are not likely to be included as they have higher transmission rates.

    If Iceland were to open their borders to Americans, they are likely to be excluded from the “approved traveller” list in other countries.

  41. I have trip booked from London to Iceland mid July. Personally I am hoping all will be gone by mid July, no testing or 14 day quarantine required. Most European countries plan to get rid of 14 day quarantine from July and no airport can process so many tests on arrival, so all these nice rules will be crushed by reality, these will go away as fast as they came.

  42. I still scratch my head about this ‘test on arrival’ plan. If someone tests positive on arrival, isn’t it possible that they’ve infected several people on their flight who won’t immediately be detectable and will have been let into the country? Surely making people take a test at their origin immediately BEFORE getting on their flight would make more sense – if you’re negative you can travel, if you’re positive you can’t? Am I missing something here?

  43. Robert Hanson quotes a piece from “townhall.com”. Here is a snap from Wikipedia re townhall.com:

    “Townhall.com features commentary by various conservative columnists and guest commentary by politicians.[7] Guest contributors have included Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Lara Trump.”

    ’nuff said.

  44. Just getting a test before I fly.

    Then don’t have to worry about 14 day quarantines or anyone running out of a free test

    Problem solved

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