Iceland on Wednesday, Feb. 23, rescinded all Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) mandates in place in the country. Authorities in the Nordic nation argued that natural immunity from COVID-19 is necessary to end the pandemic.

The Icelandic Ministry of Health announced the rollback of COVID-19 mandates in a Feb. 23 statement. “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,” its statement said.

Icelanders will no longer be required to comply with curfews or limit public gatherings to under 200 people effective Feb. 25. COVID-19 measures for travelers at Iceland’s borders will also be lifted “regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated.”

Health Minister Willum Thor Thorsson confirmed the lifting of restrictions during a Feb. 23 cabinet meeting. “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,” he said.

Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir told reporters on the same day: “We are returning to normal life, but the virus is still with us.” She added that Iceland may re-impose new restrictions if the situation calls for it.

This was not the first time Iceland lifted COVID-19 restrictions, having done so in the summer periods of 2020 and 2021. However, the Feb. 23 announcement signaled the first time Reykjavik lifted border restrictions. The island nation also stood out among its European neighbors by refusing to implement vaccine passports.

According to the ministry, the decision to lift all restrictions in Iceland was based on the recommendation of Chief Epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason. The official said in a memorandum that he believes a widespread herd immunity – akin to up to 80 percent of the Icelandic population being infected – can lead the country out of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Iceland follows trend of European countries that drop restrictions

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, Iceland has a COVID-19 caseload of 118,684 as of Feb. 25. Sixty-one Icelanders in total have died of the disease as of the same date.

Iceland’s lifting of COVID-19 mandates followed a trend in the European mainland, where countries are easing restrictions. Slovakia announced that majority of restrictions in the country will be lifted beginning Feb. 26. From that date onward, individuals will no longer be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants or attend in-person events.

However, Slovakia’s lifting of mandates is not absolute. Some areas will still have capacity limits in place, and face masks are still required in public transport and indoor settings.

Poland also announced on Feb. 23 that it will lift COVID-19 restrictions from March 1. Polish Health Minister Adam Niedzielski confirmed the lifting of all economic restrictions such as capacity limits in shopping centers, restaurants and other establishments. This lifting is not absolute either – as mask mandates would still be in place for indoor settings and public transport, and those infected with COVID-19 must quarantine for seven days.

Niedzielski cited a downward trend in cases for this decision to lift restrictions. This aligned with remarks he delivered during a Feb. 9 press briefing, where he claimed that “the beginning of the end of the pandemic” is near. The health minister predicted a significant decrease in infections that time, which could put the Polish government in a position to ease restrictions.

“From my point of view, and as often as I have been a pessimist, I am now optimistic. We have the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” he said.

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