“We are returning to normal life but the virus is still with us,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told reporters on Wednesday, reported AFP. She said the country may impose new restrictions if needed, such as if a new variant emerges.
The country’s minister of health, Willum Þór Þórsson, said in a statement, “We can truly rejoice at this turning-point, but nonetheless I encourage people to be careful, practice personal infection prevention measures, and not to interact with others if they notice symptoms.”
Both domestically and at the border, all rules on quarantine, social gatherings, and school regulations regarding COVID-19 will be removed, Willum announced. This includes rules on a gathering limit of 200 people indoors.
“[N]o disease prevention measures will be in place at the border, regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated,” according to a government announcement. Iceland has previously lifted domestic restrictions twice, in the summers of 2020 and 2021. However, this is the first time it is lifting border restrictions.
The Ministry of Health also said in a statement to Reuters, citing infectious disease authorities, “Widespread societal resistance to COVID-19 is the main route out of the epidemic. To achieve this, as many people as possible need to be infected with the virus as the vaccines are not enough, even though they provide good protection against serious illness.”
The decision to lift all restrictions was based on the recommendation of chief epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason. In a memorandum, Þórólfur said that in his opinion, a widespread herd immunity akin to an infection of up to 80 percent of the population is the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Iceland has a population of about 368,000. About 110,000 people—or about 30 percent of the population—have been diagnosed with COVID-19. However, it is estimated from antibody testing that another 110,000 have already been infected without being diagnosed, the ministries said.
Recently, about 2,100 and 2,800 infections have been diagnosed daily, but serious illness has not increased in the same manner.
A total of 60 people in Iceland have died due to COVID-19.
Separately, Poland and Slovakia are also easing COVID-19 restrictions.
Poland’s health minister, Adam Niedzielski, said on Wednesday that all economic restrictions will be lifted from March 1, including capacity restrictions in shopping centers, restaurants, and more. He cites a downward trend in new infections for the decision. The country will still mandate masks in indoor settings and public transport, and require that COVID-19 infected people quarantine for seven days.
In Slovakia, almost all measures will be lifted starting on Feb. 26, after which people will no longer require to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants, or join sporting and cultural events. Some areas will still have capacity limits, and masks will still be required indoors and public transport, however.