When Erika & I started planning our move to Iceland last year, COVID-19 was by far and away the big motivation. We didn’t expect to be eligible for a vaccine in California anytime soon, so we wanted to socially distance somewhere for a while. Iceland’s a great place to socially distance because they have a low population density, great Internet connectivity (so I could keep working), and the government seemed to be taking COVID-19 pretty seriously right from the get-go.
The government runs twice-weekly briefings. They’re very open about what challenges they’re facing and what solutions they’re considering. @Iceland_Review live-tweets the briefings, and then runs a recap on IcelandReview.com. In Monday’s briefing, for example, they talked about how they want to tighten border controls further, while continuing to relax domestic restrictions, and Tuesday they announced the new official policy (arrivals need a negative test ahead of time), and it takes effect in April. They regularly telegraph what they’re about to do, like when they recently allowed bars to reopen until 10pm, so it feels more considered than policies felt in California. I’m not saying they are – I obviously don’t know what’s going on in the insides of government – but the Iceland approach just feels more considered from the outside since the government openly discusses what they’re considering, chooses something publicly, and then does it.
They’re taking an interesting compromise approach. The extreme example of COVID-19 handling seems to be New Zealand, which seems to be doing a good job of controlling the virus, but they locked down their borders and locked down domestically for short periods. I’m not saying that’s bad, mind you – desperate times call for desperate measures – but Iceland is much more open right now, although nowhere near as open as the United States. Iceland feels like it’s a good balance between locked down and wide open. It was relatively easy to get an Icelandic teleworker visa and come over here for 6 months, and after the 5-day quarantine, the country’s a beautiful, open place to be.
The population still takes COVID-19 seriously. Even though the case numbers are really low, there doesn’t seem to be mask fatigue, even out in smaller areas. We’ve done a few short road trips, and everywhere we’ve gone, every business has had masking signs up at the front door, and all the patrons have been complying. Masks come off in restaurants, obviously. If you’re dumb enough to try to break quarantine, the locals will notify police, and they will track you down. I love that.
We’ve felt welcome. As an American who doesn’t speak any Icelandic – and every conversation starts in Icelandic here – I kinda expected to encounter some nervousness from locals. I expected people to use hand sanitizer or nervously adjust their mask whenever they realized they were dealing with a foreigner. After all, they don’t know whether I just got out of quarantine, or whether we’ve been here for a month, or longer. I’ve never once felt any discrimination as an outsider – aside from the language barrier, of course, but that’s my own fault.
That’s great, because Icelanders do need tourism badly. The unemployment rates have skyrocketed due to the lack of tourism, and they’re planning to run ad campaigns targeted at vaccinated Americans. If you’re vaccinated, and you can stomach the risk of travel, Iceland’s a magical place to be right now. The downside is that the lack of tourists means a lot of tourist-focused businesses aren’t open, like regularly scheduled sightseeing buses, but the plus is that you’ll have everything to yourself.
Icelanders are slowly getting vaccinated too. Out of the ~350K population, about 6K-8K of the population (~2%) have been vaccinated, about half of the US’s progress. Eventually, us foreigners will have access too, which is a nice gesture, but I can’t imagine getting vaccinated before every last Icelandic citizen does.
When I add it all up, we feel a lot safer here than we did in San Diego. I kept shaking my head every time someone without a mask would get into an elevator with me despite signage absolutely everywhere saying you gotta mask up. The population does what needs to be done, and as a result, they get the rewards of open restaurants, bars, shops, etc. It’s still not back to normal, but it’s way better than a lot of my 2020.