From Iceland — COVID-19 In Iceland: Icelandic Gov't, Icelandair, Tourism Chief Respond To US Travel Ban

COVID-19 In Iceland: Icelandic Gov’t, Icelandair, Tourism Chief Respond To US Travel Ban

Published March 12, 2020

Photo by
Art Bicnick

The announcement last night from US President Donald J. Trump that incoming flights from Europe to the US would be banned for the next 30 days has already evoked response from numerous related parties in Iceland. These include the director of Icelandair, the director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board, and the Minister of Finance.

The facts of the matter

First, it is important to understand what this travel ban entails. The ban goes into effect at 23:59 EST tomorrow. US Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf released a statement on the matter, which also details who is affected and how.

The ban “suspends the entry of most foreign nationals who have been in certain European countries at any point during the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to the United States. These countries, known as the Schengen Area, include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. This does not apply to legal permanent residents, (generally) immediate family members of U.S. citizens, and other individuals who are identified in the proclamation,” the statement reads in part.

In other words, US citizens can still travel to Europe and back again, but foreign nationals within the Schengen area—including Icelanders—will not be able to visit the US until the ban is lifted. More detailed information can be found in the presidential proclamation text.

Surprise and concern

Bogi Nils Bogason, the director of Icelandair, told RÚV that the company is reviewing the situation. The company will likely be reducing more flights for March and April. The company emphasises that they are still in a good financial position—despite shares in the company having dropped 23% this morning.

Skarphéðinn Berg Steinarsson, the director general of the Icelandic Tourist Board, told reporters that the announcement came as a surprise to him. While he said that he is certain the travel ban will have some effect on tourism in Iceland, he also said that the ban would be in effect for “a relatively short period of time” and that April is not exactly the high season for tourism in Iceland.

“An enormous trauma”

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson characterised the travel ban as “an enormous trauma for a nation that is steadily building its performance on the arrival of tourists to the country. It is clear that the effects we are facing go beyond that which we could have imagined two weeks or ten days ago, or even since Monday.”

Bjarni underlined the importance of having a sensible response to the COVID-19 situation within Iceland.

“We need to stand together with responsible and sensible behaviour,” he said in part. “If we lose control of this situation, we will meet a certain threshold that the health system can handle, as we have seen in other countries. This needs to be our top priority.”

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