Iceland to open to vaccinated visitors

Iceland will open its borders to vaccinated foreigners from Thursday, making the north Atlantic island one of the first countries in the world to reopen to tourists after coronavirus.

Iceland’s government had already allowed vaccinated travellers from the EU to enter without quarantine, but the new decision means visitors from its main tourist destinations of the US and UK will be allowed to enter.

“The world has been through a lot in the past 12 months, and we are all hoping for a slow and safe return to normalcy. This also includes the resumption of the opportunity to travel, which is valuable to culture, trade and enterprise,” said Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir.

Visitors to Iceland will have to show proof of full vaccination from a jab that has been approved by the European Medicines Agency, which currently excludes vaccines from China — a significant source of tourists to the country — as well as Russia’s Sputnik V.

Tourism became one of Iceland’s main industries in the past decade after visitors flocked to the island following the publicity from a 2010 volcano eruption that grounded most of Europe’s air traffic for almost a week.

The number of tourists to Iceland declined by three-quarters last year to just under 500,000, leading to a fall in the island’s gross domestic product of 6.6 per cent in 2020, the biggest decline since the global financial crisis that led to the collapse of the country’s three main banks.

Tourism leapt from representing 3.4 per cent of Iceland’s GDP in 2010 to 8 per cent in 2019, before falling back to 3.5 per cent in 2020.

Bjarnheidur Hallsdottir, chair of the Icelandic tourist board, hailed the reopening as “great and important”, noting that 41 per cent of all hotel stays in 2019 were from visitors from the US and UK.

“This is important, not least because the US and UK are much better at vaccinating their citizens than EU countries,” she added.

The European Commission will on Wednesday call for a “digital green certificate” to be created that would allow EU citizens with proof of vaccination, a negative Covid-19 test, or proof of recovery from the virus to travel inside the bloc. Several countries have started work on their own vaccine passports including Denmark, which hopes to have one ready before the peak summer season. That move has led to protests in Copenhagen against the certificates.

Icelandic authorities said it made little sense to make rules just for the Schengen passport-free area of mostly EU countries that it belongs to.

“When people are protected against the same disease, with the same vaccines that are produced by the same companies, there is no medical reason to discriminate on the basis of the location where the jab is administered,” said chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason. “Our experience shows that the risk of infection from vaccinated individuals is very small or negligible.”

Iceland is also changing its quarantine system for visitors from May 1. Those arriving from countries judged low risk by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will be exempt from quarantine if they present a negative test result at the border.

Iceland is bracing itself for a possible volcanic eruption near its international airport, but volcanologists say it would not create ash clouds as was produced by the 2010 explosion so should have no impact on air travel.

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