Friday, 3 Jul 2020

Iceland update: start planning, but maybe not flying just yet – A Luxury Travel Blog

Since my last post there have been a number of developments in Iceland. Many positive and some that require re-examining. Therefore I have dedicated this month’s blog post to adding additional information and including any changes. The question posed 1 month ago was, ‘Is it now the right time to come to Iceland?’ My answer to this question hasn’t changed; 

It would seem, with careful planning, a degree of flexibility and working with the locals it might be time to start looking at Iceland as your next big trip.

That statement remains as true today as it did last month. However, there are a number of things to consider before jumping on a plane on the 15th of June. I will elaborate below. 

My personal thoughts

Firstly, before reading on, I would like to offer up my own personal view. 

Iceland is safe! Really safe in fact. But, please think about the repercussions of travelling back to your own country as well. Does your country still have a 2 week quarantine procedure? If you’re unlucky enough to catch COVID-19 while travelling, will you have the means to work while fully quarantined remotely? When you return, will you need to interact with vulnerable people? If the answer to any of these questions is negative or simply ‘don’t know’ then please consider visiting Iceland a little later, maybe in winter instead of summer. It’s just as magical, especially when you add in Northern Lights and ice caves. 

Where to find accurate information

I would like to caveat this post by stating that all the information at the time of writing is up to date. However, since last month’s post things changed rapidly. Therefore, I implore you to read this post in conjunction with the Icelandic Government website and the dedicated COVID-19 website in Iceland for the most up to date info. 

Iceland has only had 8 new cases since the start of May

That’s an impressively low number, especially with only one of those cases being in June so far (as of 13th June 2020). Zero people are hospitalised and only 3 are in isolation in the whole country. With widespread testing and a world class healthcare service I’m confident that these numbers will stay low. 40% of the population are also using the Covid-19 Trace App. So, if a flurry of new cases emerge the hope is that the Icelandic government will be able to stop it in its tracks. 

Local services are open already

Schools, swimming pools, bars, restaurants and clubs are all open. Any tourist attraction that you had your eye on will be fully operational when you get to Iceland, including the world famous Blue Lagoon. A 2 metre social distancing rule is still recommended, but not mandatory. All communal areas must allow for 2 metres but it is your choice whether to maintain that distance. There is also no stipulation that you need to wear a mask, though washing your hands and sanitising surfaces will be a priority. In effect, once you are in Iceland it will feel just like normal. Except there will be way, way less people than normal. 

Anyone in the EU & Schengen can fly from the 15th of June

My previous post suggested that this would be worldwide. That is because that is what the official announcement stated. Sadly, the EU & Schengen area has extended their travel ban until the 1st of July for all non-EU & Schengen nations. And although Iceland may choose not to follow this extension, at the time of writing, it would appear they will. 

So, if you’re from any of the nations in the EU & Schengen zone then you can jump on a plane from the 15th onwards, assuming your country is offering direct flights to Iceland. If you are from the US and other non-EU nations then you must wait 2 weeks more. 

The expectation is that the 1st of July will be the final set date for all countries, but there’s always a small chance that will change. If that’s the case, make sure to book tours and flights with companies that provide refunds or travel vouchers. Icelandair have been great in offering alternatives during all this. Oh, and get good travel insurance. That should be a given at this point. 

IcelandAir and other airlines will be expanding their service

During the shutdown, Icelandair was only flying infrequently to Boston, Stockholm and London. From the 15th of June it is looking likely that they will be expanding the frequency of flights and the destinations too, with Paris, London, Oslo and Zurich being some of the first to fly again. There will be 6 other airlines flying to Iceland too at the same time including; SAS, WizzAir and Lufthansa. It would seem that new routes will be opening up quickly as demand increases again.

Testing on arrival will be free for the first 2 weeks then $113

This is one to watch as details have changed a few times already. For now, the official stance is that you cannot use tests in your own country to skip border testing. The good news, however, is that border testing will be streamlined and affordable. The testing procedure will only take 1 hour and you will be free to go to your hotel and roam the streets of Reykjavik with appropriate caution. You will then be given the test results within a few hours, or the next day at the latest. If you are born in 2005 or later you are exempt from testing. Great news for families with kids!

You must quarantine if you test positive on arrival

This is an important point for sure. If you fly to Iceland and test positive you will need to remain in the country for 2 weeks in your hotel, or a free hotel covered by the government. To minimise this risk you can test in your own country before coming. But bare in mind this is for reassurance that you don’t have it rather than getting to skip testing on arrival. 

If you are near someone on the plane you may need to quarantine too

This is a big one. Even if you don’t test positive, if someone else does near you on the plane then you could potentially still be asked to quarantine for 2 weeks. But, considering Icelandair requires you to wear a face mask at all times, and will appropriately space out seats on the plane, this is relatively low risk. But a risk nonetheless. 

Check your country rules for returning quarantine regulations

Just because Iceland is open, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. When you return to your home country make sure you are aware of what procedures you must take. If you automatically need to quarantine, like in the UK, will you still be able to do your job from home without it affecting your livelihood? Will you be interacting with loved ones shortly after returning? If so maybe the risk is too high for you. 

You can skip testing if from non-high risk countries

This sounds like a great rule for reducing testing and minimising the chance of quarantine. However, at the time of writing, Iceland only considers Greeland and the Faroe Islands to be non-high risk. Keep an eye on this list though as the weeks and months go on. Once your country is deemed non-high risk then you don’t need to be tested. Then, aside from filling out a precautionary form and downloading a tracing App you should be free to enjoy Iceland as it is intended. 

Iceland is empty! Start planning – not flying

So to finish off. Iceland sounds like a great place to visit. And, with so few cases left, along with all public services resuming, a trip here sounds perfect. But, with all the other things to consider first, please don’t rush into booking that dream trip just yet. Get in touch with the locals who know best and start planning – not flying. If you’re used to a summer vacation, great! But maybe this year is the time to expand your horizon and look at the fantastic winter breaks too. 

Glacier hikes, Northern Lights, snowy landscape and ice caves make Iceland an incredible choice for winter. Take away 90% of the tourist numbers from last year and it’ll feel like you have this unique little island all to yourself. It sounds like Iceland in fall and winter is worth saving for, for a little while longer. But I am a little biased being a glacier guide. 

See you relatively soon!

Ryan Connolly is Co-Founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specialises in private trips, taking you to some of the hidden gems of Iceland with a passionate and experienced guide.

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