What Iceland is doing after “beating” COVID-19.

Iceland has made remarkable progress in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the active cases are almost non-existent, what’s next? How has the pandemic affected society, and what are the logical next steps?

Reopening the country

Iceland reopened its borders on June 15th, allowing passengers to arrive in Iceland and either be tested for COVID-19 (now 15.000 ISK per person if published after July 1), or quarantine for two weeks. Those arriving need to fill out a pre-registration form and are encouraged to download the Rakning C-19 tracing app.

By testing or quarantining all new arrivals to the country, Iceland hopes to maintain control and protect the progress they have made without completely sealing itself from the rest of the world, thereby slowly helping the tourism industry start back up again in a safe manner.

Encouraging local travel

While slowly opening up borders to allow for more travel into Iceland, companies have been encouraging local travel amongst Icelanders, providing special summer offers and creating exciting events to encourage those already in Iceland to explore their country. Due to the lack of tourism, hotspots around the country are much less crowded, allowing locals to travel while respecting social distancing recommendations.

Advertisement encouraging local travel with appearances by the president of Iceland and first lady.

Increased flexibility for remote work

Companies and institutions have been required, where possible, to let their employees work from home in order to comply with restrictions enforced due to the pandemic. Some institutions have seen the benefits of working from home and are encouraging more flexibility for remote work going forwards. Íslandsbanki, the Bank of Iceland, conducted a survey amongst their employees that showed an interest in being able to work at least partly from home. They showed a marked improvement in productivity in many cases as well as reducing their carbon footprint greatly and improving morale. This summer, they are trialing an initiative where a third of the workforce works from home one day a week over the summer. If this goes well, they aim to introduce it to all departments can choose a flexible work week going forward.

Changes in consumer habits

It is notable to consider the changes that have occurred in consumer habits, as well as improvements to accessibility, as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Banks, insurance companies, stores, and other services were forced to close their doors at the height of restrictions. In many cases, this resulted in developments of online services allowing people to complete important yet mundane tasks remotely: whether sorting out insurance and bank details, attending therapy sessions and meetings or doing the grocery shopping. There is the hope that these services will continue to develop in such a way that mundane tasks can be completed with one click online, giving us more time to do the things we’re passionate about.

Tinna Sigurðardóttir — Speech therapist using Kara Connect to treat her clients.

Accessible therapy solutions

Restrictions on face to face contact and travel have fuelled rapid developments in technology created to make services accessible regardless of location or situation. The use of online therapy solutions and other online services has surged during the pandemic at a time when they were most needed, as mental health is suffering as a result of restrictions, economical crisis and loss of income. Now, when restrictions have been mostly lifted, it seems that people are still choosing to use these online solutions.

This kind of technology is vital in countries such as Iceland that are sparsely populated and remote but not least in order to make services accessible to those unable to commute due to disabilities or living situations. The ability to provide service anywhere regardless of these factors is essential for therapists and health professionals in Iceland and elsewhere.

Will things ever go back to what it was?

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on society. In a world that constantly competes to be faster, more productive, more profitable and more remarkable, being forced to stop, stay at home, slow down and prioritize health is a massive change to people’s daily routines. The question is, will this change last?

Many have spent time learning new skills, getting to know their family better, cleaning out their closets, and re-examining their values, goals, and plans. It could be that during this time, we’ve collectively realized that we are able to work at home, that the flexibility is good for us, that the time we spend on our hobbies and with our loved ones is important to our health. Perhaps this will motivate us to prioritize our time differently: maybe work isn’t always the top priority. Perhaps maintaining a work-life balance will be more essential to our well-being and employers, having felt the same themselves, will be more considerate of this.

The pandemic has shown that it’s possible to trust employees to work from home, allowing for more flexibility with regards to childcare, disabilities, and travel.

If you’re equally able to work from your office as you are in your family cabin while your kids play outside, why shouldn’t that be ok from time to time?

The potential impact on the environment purely from a commuting point of view is also a point to consider. Commuting from the same outskirts to the same town every day, getting into traffic, only to sit at the exact same desk that you have at home, surely doesn’t make sense- at least not every single day for the entire year.

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