From Iceland — COVID-19 Tourist Tests: Epidemiologist's Proposal Approved, Economic Analysis

COVID-19 Tourist Tests: Epidemiologist’s Proposal Approved, Economic Analysis

Published June 2, 2020

Poppy Askham
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Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason’s recommendations for offering COVID-19 tests to tourists have been accepted by the Health Minister, Svandís Svavarsdóttir. From June 15th, tourists will be able to provide a health certificate or opt for a coronavirus screening at Keflavik airport, instead of completing a two-week quarantine.

Þórólfur’s proposal indicates that travellers who can show proof that they have tested negative for COVID-19 up to four days before travelling will be exempt from quarantine. However, Þórólfur warns that antibody tests are not as reliable as other forms of testing, so may not be allowed as evidence that a traveller has recovered from the virus.

The report also reiterates that just 500 tests will be processed per day initially. Considerable increases in funding and manpower will be needed to boost testing levels, but 4,000 samples per day could be analysed by October. The project will likely run for six months, provided the current coronavirus situation does not change dramatically.

Tourists Likely To Be Charged For Tests

An economic assessment of the project was released this morning. It confirmed earlier claims that testing would cost about 160 million ISK in the first two weeks if 500 visitors arrived per day.

It was previously thought that the state would finance the first two weeks of the project, but this is looking increasingly unlikely. The report recommends that travellers pay for tests rather than the state, explaining that the cost of each sample is likely to outbalance the tax revenue the Treasury would receive from an individual traveller.

The cost of airport screenings for tourists will be announced in the coming days according to a government statement. 

Leadership row resolved

Þórólfur  will take the lead on airport screenings, following last week’s dispute between deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson and the Health Minister . The project will be carried out in coordination with the Capital authorities, deCODE and Landspitali’s department of biological and viral sciences, according to a government statement.

The prime minister appointed the new coordination team after deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson publicly refused to participate if the project was lead by Svandís. As reported, in a RUV interview, Kári complained that his company had not been consulted despite his offer of advice and equipment and noted that Svandís had not thanked deCODE for its crucial drive-through virus screening service. He stated that he had lost all trust in the health ministry and called for Þórólfur to manage the project.

The prime minister called an impromptu meeting to resolve the dispute. Soon after Kári announced that deCODE would participate after all, under Þórólfur’s leadership rather than Svandis’.

Note: Due to the effect the Coronavirus is having on tourism in Iceland, it’s become increasingly difficult for the Grapevine to survive. If you enjoy our content and want to help the Grapevine’s journalists do things like eat and pay rent, please consider joining our High Five Club.

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