People will often schedule trips to coincide with a specific event. In Japan, there’s a huge buzz around the sakura (cherry blossom) season. It’s such a big deal that the news has a segment predicting when the bloom will start in each area. The same goes for people who plan trips to see the wildebeest migration in Africa or the Christmas Island red crab migration.
It looks like we got to experience a limited-time event during our trip to Iceland. Our travel dates coincided with the month where the nation removed all COVID restrictions. On June 26, all mask mandates, capacity limits, social distancing guidelines were no more.
This wasn’t a result of trying to ignore the facts, but because Iceland was doing well with containing COVID. Over 87% of adults had received at least one dose of the vaccine and daily cases were in the single digits. All international visitors were being tested at the border. Effective June 26th, besides doing away with mitigation measures, Iceland also stopped requiring international visitors from getting tested upon arrival if they could show proof of completing a vaccination series or of previous infection.
Unfortunately, along with the increased infection spread from the delta variant, cases in Iceland have increased to the worst levels seen during the pandemic. With a 7 day average of new cases now approaching 75, Iceland has put restrictions back in place. Vaccinated visitors will need to show a negative COVID test on arrival. In addition, social distancing and masking requirements are being put back into place, along with limits on hours and service rules for bars and restaurants.
We managed to hit the month where restrictions were gone. While we live in an area with no restrictions, I still don’t feel safe doing some activities even though I’m vaccinated, mainly because there’s a decent risk that someone in the crowd has COVID.
I didn’t feel the same way in Iceland. As soon as we left the airport, our driver looked at us with our masks and said that we could take them off, which we did. I threw it in my pocket and then into my suitcase, where it stayed for the entire trip.
Much of Iceland is perfect for social distancing, since you’re outside. But there were plenty of places we went where we might not have felt as comfortable. We spent time shopping in crowded stores. Eating in enclosed spaces with tables close to each other. We even had dinner at one of our hotels where we were seated family-style around a large table. Even an activity like walking into a hotel and talking to the front desk, maskless, felt a bit foreign.
Surprisingly, after a day or so, we went back to our pre-pandemic selves. We chatted with bartenders, walked around museums, had dinners, stood in lines, etc. It was much easier to go back to our prior actions than I thought it would be.
We lived like this for almost a week. Once we got back to the airport, I found my mask and put it back on. But living maskless for 7 days made me fall back into my old habits. Getting home to an area where the delta variant is surging and new cases all over, it pays to stay vigilant. I’m still going to mask up when going somewhere crowded and try to avoid risky situations.
With Iceland being dependent on tourism but still wanting to keep COVID under control, the new restrictions will continue until August 13th. I’d imagine that’s enough time to see if they’re working. If they are, I’d imagine it gets extended, or if things aren’t getting better, then I’d guess a test on arrival might once again become necessary.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary