COVID-19: diving in and making cuts

18.05.2020 - 13:44
Mynd: Grímur Jón Sigurðsson / RÚV
Queues formed outside Reykjavík swimming pools last night as they opened at 00.01. Pools in all municipalities around the country are open again today. Global ratings agency S&P has left Iceland’s credit rating unchanged and forecasts a smaller recession than the Icelandic banks. Most commentators are united in predicting another interest rate cut from the Central Bank of Iceland this week, though. The State is going to pay for arriving passengers’ COVID-19 testing, and more in today’s round-up.
  • No new coronavirus cases were diagnosed yesterday, for the fifth day in a row. The number of active cases in the country remains at six, including four patients diagnosed in May and two who were diagnosed earlier. 532 people are in quarantine, largely including people in mandatory quarantine after arriving in Iceland within the last 14 days. 
  • Iceland’s swimming pools are open today for the first time since 23rd March and those in Reykjavík opened at 00.01 to long queues and will stay open non-stop until 22.00 tonight, before returning to normal hours tomorrow. As the above video shows, there was a party atmosphere among guests and staff alike and City of Reykjavík sources say it was very easy to find staff willing to work overnight. Pools are limited to 50 percent of their registered capacity for the time being. Laugardalslaug, for example, can only accept 350 guests at a time instead of a maximum of 700.  
  • State police civil protection chief Víðir Reynisson, appearing in today’s edition of The Week in Iceland, reminds people that social distancing rules remain in place—noting that people waiting for the pools last night were often closer together than two metres. He adds, however, that he understands that there is something of a party atmosphere in the air right now, and predicts people will become more vigilant again as the novelty wears off in the next week or two. 
  • Most financial experts are predicting another interest rate cut on Wednesday, with a significant likelihood that the Central Bank of Iceland key rate will dip below one percent for the first time ever. Low interest rates and the weakest króna exchange rates since mid-2015 are not causing a spike in inflation, as has usually been the case. S&P has confirmed its A/A-1 with stable outlook rating for Iceland and predicts a 7.5 percent recession this year followed by growth next year. The ratings agency therefore predicts a roughly two percent smaller recession than reports last week from both Landsbankinn and Íslandsbanki. 
  • Már Kristjánsson, senior infectious diseases physician at Landspítali national university hospital, has told RÚV his colleagues are split on the decision to allow arriving passengers to choose between COVID-19 testing or two weeks’ quarantine from the middle of June. The possible economic benefits of opening the country up again are clear, but there is also a risk of a second coronavirus wave. Only time will tell how effective the new system will be. 
  • Keflavík Internnational Airport is currently processing roughly one flight every day or two, while the editor of the Túristi travel industry news website predicts the airport could be welcoming two to four flights per day before the end of June. He believes Wizz Air will be the first non-Icelandic airline to return to Keflavík. 
  • COVID-19 testing at the airport will cost up to 50,000 krónur per person, which the Icelandic State has undertaken to pay for. The authorities are budgting for around 1,000 tests a day, for a bill of around 50 million krónur every day. Víðir Reynisson says that when passenger numbers eventually go over 1,000 per day, a system of random testing may be introduced. 
  • In other news, 60 percent of further education students surveyed admitted that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their mental health. Colleges and universities moved all teaching online during the assembly ban and many students report feeling anxiety as a result. 
  • With most Icelanders planning to holiday in Iceland this summer, the counry’s caravan and camper van salespeople have been having a bumper spring, with a sharp spike in sales, it is reported. 
  • Churches opened for mass for the first time yesterday since the strict rules came into effect in March. Religious assemblies are now permitted again, as long as the two-metre rule is applied and no more than 50 people gather at the same time. 
  • There were half as many sales contracts signed by people buying new homes this April than in March, the latest figures show, with the older generation most likely to postpone their plans to move home. Estate agents hope the market will start moving again now that the assembly ban is being slowly relaxed. 
  • Nine municipalities in Iceland are particularly badly hit by the economic effects of COVID-19 and may find themselves unable to provide the minimum services expected of them by law before the end of the year. If so, local government minister Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson says the government will step in to cover the shortfall. The lack of direct tourist income is compounded by high unemployment, also caused by the lack of tourists, Sigurður says.

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