“I Believe We’ve Reached the Peak” – Chief Epidemiologist

In an interview on the radio station Bylgjan this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason expressed his belief that the peak of the current COVID-19 wave had been reached; infections have begun to dwindle, and a greater proportion of those diagnosed are already self-isolating.

A downward sloping curve?

One hundred two new cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed yesterday. Sixty-two of those infected were already self-isolating. These numbers mark a considerable decline from November 16, when, since the start of the pandemic, a record number of infections were diagnosed in Iceland: 206.

Speaking to the hosts of the radio programme Bítið on the station Bylgjan this morning, Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason stated that there was some indication that the current wave of the pandemic had reached its zenith: “We had 130 infections on Friday, followed by 110 on Saturday, and just over 100 yesterday. We still haven’t reached any definitive conclusions – and we still have to see how many tests were done – but we’re not talking a lot of infections.”

In addition to the relatively few infections, Þórólfur also pointed out that an increasing number of those diagnosed were self-isolating. “It’s usually been about 40-50% of those diagnosed who have been self-isolating, but now that number has increased to over 60% … I believe, deep down, that we’ve already reached the peak of this current outbreak. Some believe that we’re not quite there yet, but I think we are. It may take some time for the curve to flatten out; you would only need a single cluster, say within a school – forty or fifty new infections at the same time – and then the numbers will jump back up again.”

Booster shots making a difference

When asked if the decline in infections meant that residents of Iceland could enjoy a “relatively normal Christmas,” Þórólfur refused to go so far: “I’m not predicting the state of affairs during the holidays. I think we have to wait and see. Even if the curve keeps gradually flattening, it will take time for us to reach forty to fifty new cases a day – which is where we’d like to be. And I think that our recent campaign of booster shots is also helping us; administering boosters to as many people as possible will help us expedite the process.”

As reported by Iceland review last wekk, the health authorities launched a new campaign of COVID-19 booster shots at the Laugardalshöll stadium on November 15. The authorities hope to offer all those who have been fully vaccinated a booster shot by March.

According to Þórólfur, 70% of those who have received an invitation have accepted. “I had hoped for a better rate of attendance, but I don’t think that we can draw any conclusions as yet. I know of many people who couldn’t make it, but I hope that more people will accept the invitation; as it stands, this is our best hope in limiting the spread of infections.”

Þórólfur concluded by saying that the authorities could begin to ease restrictions if the booster campaign proved effective. “Of course, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s an eternal journey, and the waves are washing over us from all directions.”

Record Proportion of First-Time Buyers on Capital Area Housing Market

architecture Gardabær buildings crane urban planning

The proportion of first-time buyers in the Reykjavík capital area housing market has increased significantly over the past year. First-time buyers are younger than before and purchase smaller properties. The average purchase price of properties in this demographic is around ISK 50 million [$382,000; €338,000].

First-time buyers over one third of sales

These figures come from a report published by the Economic Division of Landsbankinn bank today. In the third quarter of 2021, the proportion of all buyers on the property market that were first-time buyers reached a record 33.8%. The average age of first-time buyers has also fallen. It dropped to 29 in the second quarter, its lowest since 2006, rising slightly to 29.2 in the third quarter. The total number of first-time buyers was 983, a decrease from a record 1,354 in the first quarter of this year.

Read More: Iceland’s Housing Market

As the average age of first-time buyers has dropped, so has the average size of the properties they purchase. The average size of apartments purchased by first-time buyers was 94 square metres [1,011 square feet], around 38 square metres [409 sq ft] smaller than the average of other demographics.

More first-time buyers despite rising prices

The Landsbankinn report concludes by stating that rising prices have not prevented many buyers from entering the property market. Lowered interest rates and construction of new apartments have increased access to housing, according to the report. Now that interest rates are rising again and the Central Bank has tightened mortgage requirements, demand for housing is expected to decrease.

While conditions on the market have benefited many middle-class buyers, there are indications that the pandemic recession has had the opposite impact on low-income residents of Iceland. A report published earlier this year found between 5,000 and 7,000 people in Iceland were living in properties classified as commercial or industrial buildings and not residential buildings. The largest group among them were people who had lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.