New Law Permits Making Stay at Quarantine Hotel Mandatory

Vala Hafstað

Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, approved an amendment to disease prevention laws yesterday morning, granting the minister of health permission to obligate travelers arriving from high-risk COVID-19 areas to stay at a quarantine hotel or in isolation at a quarantine facility when they arrive in Iceland, Morgunblaðið reports. The amendment was passed with 22 votes against two. Twenty-two MPs abstained and 11 were absent.

The chief epidemiologist may, however, provide exemptions to travelers able to show that their private facilities fulfill all requirements for quarantine. An application for such an exemption must be turned in two days prior to arrival.

The permission granted by the amendment is good through the end of June this summer.

Before being passed, two provisions were made to the bill: the first one requires government measures to be based on recommendations from the chief epidemiologist. The second one gives the chief epidemiologist and the minister of health permission to base their regulations on information regarding the 14-day incidence of COVID-19 in a particular area and on the spread of different variants of the coronavirus there.

What this essentially means is that instead of defining a high-risk area as one with a particular 14-day incidence rate, the law allows the chief epidemiologist to decide how to define it – both in terms of the incidence rate as well as in terms of variants of the coronavirus that have spread in a particular country.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is pleased with the amendment. “In my opinion, this is a good piece of legislation,” he states. “It gives a certain leeway… It doesn’t specify which incidence rate to compare to.”

Fosshótel on Þórunnartún, Reykjavík, which serves as a quarantine hotel, is almost booked up. It can accommodate 300 guests. A new quarantine hotel was opened yesterday – Hótel Rauðará, on Rauðarárstígur, Reykjavík. The plan is for people believed to have been exposed to COVID-19 to be housed there.

Þórólfur has sent a memo to the minister of health with his suggestions for a new regulation. Keflavík Chief Superintendent Sigurgeir Sigmundsson does not expect a new regulation to take effect until Monday, at the earliest. 

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