Coronavirus: What’s happening in Europe

EURACTIV brings you the latest coronavirus reporting out of the capitals. [EPA-EFE | Stephanie Lecocq]

EURACTIV will keep you updated on the latest news on COVID-19 and what is happening throughout Europe, using its network of offices and media partners.


All of EURACTIV’s coronavirus-related stories can be found here.


Top news from across the Capitals: Austria implements new COVID-19 screening programme in response to uptick in cases / Belgium to keep borders closed to non-Europeans until 7 July / Italy to maintain voluntary quarantine for those outside the EU / Spain and Portugal reopen joint border


COVID RESURGENCE: Several European countries have seen a resurgence of cases or large localised outbreaks of COVID-19, and there is still ‘community transmission’ in most EU/EEA countries, according to a new report.

EXTERNAL TRAVEL ‘SAFE LIST’: The EU agreed on a ‘safe travel list’ from which travel to Europe will be possible from 1 July with the notable exception of the United States, where COVID-19 is still spreading.

EU RESPONSE: A new poll conducted in nine member states details both widespread public disapproval of the EU’s coronavirus response and the need for greater cooperation. The report’s authors claim that these results mean the EU should frame its argument for further integration differently.

INTERNAL BORDER REOPENINGS: After nearly three months of COVID-19 restrictions, the bloc is slowly reopening its internal borders. However, nearly every member state is playing by its own timetable and rules. The EURACTIV Media Network took a closer look.

LONDON. Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers will re-open from 4 July in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Tuesday (23 June) as part of the new phase of easing social restrictions. UK medical experts have praised a new treatment for COVID-19 that has been found to reduce mortality by a third for patients on ventilators. Find out more about the situation in the UK here.

DUBLIN. Ireland has not suppressed the spread of COVID-19 enough to reduce social distancing guidelines from two metres to one metre, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on 29 May. On 18 May, Ireland began the first stage of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions with businesses reopening around the country. Meanwhile, the Irish government has decided to back a decentralised model of data processing for its coronavirus app after having met with Apple and Google. Ireland is not far enough along in the fight against COVID-19 to lift the current restrictions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced on 29 April. Read here for more on Ireland’s situation.

NORDICS. The borders between the four Nordic countries – Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland – are open for travel and there is no need for travellers to undergo two-week quarantines, the interior ministers of the five Nordic countries decided on Friday (26 June). As Sweden reported 1,200 new COVID-19 cases and 50 related deaths, travel to and from the country is not recommended and travellers have to undergo a two-week quarantine. 

HELSINKI. On Tuesday evening, the Finnish government decided to lift restrictions on travel and tourism to a number of EU and Schengen area countries starting from 13 July. On 17 June, the government eased restrictions for bars, restaurants and cafes, as these can open at 4 am and close at 2 am at the latest. Self-service buffets will also be permitted, yet businesses can only have 75% occupancy indoors, and customers must have their own seats.  Find more details on Finland here.

STOCKHOLM. Swedes are starting to have doubts about the country’s coronavirus strategy. This comes after Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell voiced his second thoughts on the country’s lax approach. Swedish radio claimed this was due to the country’s disproportionately high mortality rate. The number of COVID-19 infections saw a swift increase on Wednesday (17 June) in the Northern mining towns of Jällivaara and Kiruna, where a total of over 250 new cases were detected. To learn more, read more here.

COPENHAGEN. After two months of closed borders, Denmark eased restrictions slightly on 29 May, reopening for locked out partners from nearby countries including other Nordic countries and Germany. The country will reopen its borders to German, Norwegian, and Icelandic visitors as of 15 June, but will maintain restrictions for the UK and rest of the EU for a few more months. As of 15 June, Denmark has 12,139 confirmed cases, 11,035 recoveries and 597 deaths. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

OSLO. Norway announced on 7 April that it will start to ease measures imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus after locking down early. While schools and universities will start re-opening from 27 April onwards, the ban on large events will remain in place until 15 June. Oslo’s coronavirus measures taken by the government were said to be “the most far-reaching measures Norway’s population has ever experienced in peacetime,” according to Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Read more about the situation in Norway and the Arctic Circle here

REYKJAVIK. Reported in the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the Icelandic government is preparing to open its borders. By 15 June, there should be a system in place with three options for those to arrive: stay in a 14-day quarantine, take a corona test on arrival at the airport or present a document verifying that you have been tested in the country of your departure. The island country of 364,000 inhabitants has defeated the first wave of coronavirus. As of 15 June, there are 1,808 confirmed deaths, 1,794 recovered, and 10 deaths. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)


BALTICS

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have agreed to lift restrictions on travel between the three Baltic states, meaning internal borders between these countries will reopen on 15 May, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Wednesday (6 May). “We agreed that all the three Baltic countries managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Moreover, we trust each other’s health care systems,” the PM added.

Previously, Baltic health ministers Tanel Kiik, Ilze Vinkele and Aurelijus Veryga issued a joint statement on the importance of transnational solidarity and cooperation, confirming mutual assistance in increasing the preparedness of the health care systems.

TALLINN.  After the government declared a state of emergency on 12 March to last until 1 May, it imposed new restrictions on 25 March. Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in public spaces, while people will have to keep a distance of at least two metres between each other. Read more about the situation in Estonia here.

RIGA. In Latvia, there was a state of emergency from 13 March which was due to last until the 14 April but was extended by the Cabinet of Ministers extended the state of emergency until 9 June, although some restrictions were eased. As of 14 June, there were 1,097 confirmed deaths, 845 recoveries and 28 deaths.

VILNIUS. Lithuania reviews a ‘safe list’ of countries every week. While all controls have been lifted on the Lithuanian–Polish border as of 1 June, Lithuania is allowing arrivals from EEA countries ( plus Switzerland and the UK) where new COVID-19 infections have been lower than 15 per 100,000 persons in the last two weeks. The ‘safe list’ is reviewed every week and at the moment, only travel from the UK, Sweden and Portugal remains restricted, while travellers from Belgium are required to quarantine themselves for 14 days. Lithuania proceeded to ease quarantine restrictions according to the four-stage exit plan. Find more on the situation in Lithuania here.

 

BERLIN. On Sunday (5 July), the economy minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania came out in favour of scrapping the state’s mask requirement in shops, kicking off a wave of criticism from other state officials and national politicians. On 29 June, North Rhine-Westphalian premier Armin Laschet announced a week-long extension to restrictions in Gütersloh, one of the districts put into lockdown last week following a massive outbreak at a meatpacking plant.  Read the latest updates from EURACTIV Germany here.

ROME. Italy intends to retain a voluntary quarantine for those from outside the EU. The country’s ruling parties are bickering over whether to use the ESM to to fuel economic recovery. Italy’s education ministry released a series of guidelines on Tuesday to assist the relaunch of school activities in September, which leave regional administrations plenty of room to adopt specific measures depending on the health situation. Read more about the situation in Italy here. 

MADRID. On 1 July, Spain and Portugal reopened their joint border. This is part of the Spanish govenrment’s bid to get the country into a ‘new normal’ and also boost the tourism industry, a core part of the Spanish economy. Other tourists from the Schengen area were allowed into the country starting on 21 June. For more details on the current situation in Spain, see here.

LISBON. The COVID-19 situation in Portugal, despite a series of new infections, is still a long way from causing major disruption and crisis in  Portugal’s national health service, authorities said on Wednesday (24 June). Portugal lifted more restrictions for Lisbon on Monday (15 June). Shopping centres are allowed to reopen, and people can gather in groups of up to 20 people. Portugal’s land border with Spain will remain closed until 1 July. As of 1 June, Portugal entered its third phase of deconfinement. Find more information on Portugal here.

ATHENS. The Greek government announced over the weekend the steps that tourists need to take in order to travel to Greece. First of all, they need to complete a special online form at travel.gov.gr at least 48 hours before travelling. EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopolous has more on the state-of-play in Greece.

NICOSIA. The transport minister’s decree issuing a 14-day ban on flights to Cyprus airports came into force on Saturday (21 March).  A total of 421 people who were abroad and excluded because of the coronavirus pandemic were repatriated on Friday (20 March), with another 439 expected on Saturday with three chartered flights from the United Kingdom. In Cyprus, the government has ordered the shutdown of private businesses, including retail stores, nightclubs, hotels, and shopping centres, after closing border crossing points in the north of the country. As of Monday (15 June), the country counted 980 cases of COVID-19, 18 deaths and 807 recoveries. (Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com)

LA VALETTA. Malta can no longer guarantee the rescue of migrants or allow their disembarkation during the coronavirus emergency, the Malta government said on Thursday (9 April). Starting Monday (23 March), all non-essential shops and services will be closed, while organised public meetings and gatherings will be cancelled. In what unions have called ‘the darkest day” in the history of national aviation, the Maltese government announced it will close its airspace starting midnight on Friday (20 March), while the international airport will remain open only for cargo flights, humanitarian aid and repatriations, airport authorities told personnel.

VATICAN CITY. One of the prelates tested positive for COVID-19 lives in the same residence as Pope Francis, internal sources told Italian news agency Ansa, adding that prevention measures had already been adopted for people living in the building. Meanwhile, at least 28 priests have died of coronavirus in Northern Italy, Italy’s daily Avvenire reported, and two nunneries have been isolated in Rome, as 59 nuns were tested positive to the virus. Pope Francis’ Easter services in April are to be held without the faithful attending due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Vatican said on Sunday (15 March), in a step believed to be unprecedented in modern times. Read more here.

WARSAW. Polish elections have now been moved to 28 June, when in-person voting will take place. There will however be postal voting options for people in quarantine. Poland will soon lift border controls Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said on Tuesday (2 June). EURACTIV Poland looks into the details.

BUDAPEST. The Hungarian parliament passed legislation on Tuesday (16 June) calling on the government to end the state of emergency, thereby ending Orbán’s controversial powers. The movement restrictions were lifted in Budapest on 18 May, two weeks after the government relaxed the measures outside of the capital. Shops, beaches, as well as the open-air areas of cafes and restaurants were allowed to reopen on 4 May. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has more on the country’s crisis response.

PRAGUE. The Czech Republic has reduced the EU’s list of of non-EU safe travel countries, whose residents will be allowed into the country. The number of cyber incidents increased by one-third during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Czech Republic, said Karel Řehka, director of the Czech National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NCISA) during a Security Conference held on Thursday (25 June) in Prague. Read more about the situation in the Czech Republic here.

BRATISLAVA. Slovakia is against a default opening of the EU’s external borders and supports a gradual opening based on the epidemiologic situation, said Foreign Minister Ivan Korčok. While the Slovakian state of emergency ended on 13 June, shops will continue to remain closed on Sundays, which has been controversial. There have been delays in implementing the coronavirus tracking app, as it still requires approval from Apple and Google. Read here for the latest on Slovakia.

ZAGREB. Croatia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s election commission will have to explain its voting ban for COVID positive patients. With parliamentary elections being around the corner, Croatia is currently debating whether Prime Minister Andrej Plenković should self-isolate after being in close contact with Serbian tennis player Novak Đoković, who tested positive for COVID-19 during a tennis tournament in Zadar, Croatia.  Read more.

SOFIA. The Bulgarian government extended its so-called ‘epidemic emergency’ until 15 July. Bulgaria’s tourism industry, which is worth about 12% of the country’s GDP, could see its income fall by 50% due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the worst-case scenario. Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in North Macedonia, Bulgaria has decided, again, to close its borders with its neighbour. Those who are allowed to enter the country from North Macedonia, such as Bulgarian citizens or medical workers, for example, will be quarantined for 14 days. EURACTIV Bulgaria has more details.

BUCHAREST. On Wednesday (1 July), Romania presented it COVID-19 recovery plan, including massive investments and other measures to relaunch the economy.  Romania registered another spike in the number of new cases on Wednesday (17 June), reporting the largest number of infections within 24 hours since the end of the state of emergency (15 May). EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.

LJUBLJANA. Given the new spike in coronavirus infections in recent days, the government is already discussing a bill on intervention measures to prepare for the possible second wave. Radio Slovenija reported the measures will primarily aim to prevent large gatherings. As of Wednesday (24 June), the use of protective masks is again mandatory in enclosed public spaces and on public transport. Read more.

BELGRADE.  Opposition party leader, Dragan Djilas (Party of Freedom and Justice), has criticised Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić for all the COVID-related deaths in the last two months. Despite the recent upticks in COVID-19 cases in the country, Vučić warned that at this point it’s “impossible to lock the country down,” as we “need to work to live.”The Serbian Crisis Headquarters “concealed the truth, to say the least, which it should not have done,” said psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin, adding that, “this is immoral to the extreme” and a violation of professional ethics.  EURACTIV Serbia gives you the latest about the situation in the country here.

TIRANA.  Tirana announced that, as of Saturday (14 March), it will ban travel to and from Greece to halt the spread of coronavirus in Albania. Prime Minister Edi Rama warned those coming from countries affected by the coronavirus will be fined if they do not go into self-isolation. While all educational institutions will be closed until 3 April, the police have closed over 500 cafes, nightclubs, gyms and live music venues on the orders of the government. (Tea Trubić Macan; Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

SARAJEVO.  Although the town of Tešanj has so far been largely spared by the pandemic, it has become the country’s new epicentre following the infection of 19 workers of the Koža-komerc factory on Thursday (28 May).  The epidemiological situation in the rest of the country continues to be stable. On Thursday (28 May), it was announced that Bosnia and Herzegovina will reopen its borders beginning in June. Federation Health Minister Vjekoslav Mandic announced further relaxation of lockdown measures, while the head of the Federation public health institute, Davor Pehar, said that travel to Croatia and introduction of quick tests for the coronavirus would depend on guidelines issued at the European Union level, Hina reports. You can find more information on Bosnia and Herzegovina here

PODGORICA. The government dismissed as ‘fake news’ reports by some news websites in Serbia that the Montenegrin government had allegedly been planning to declare a state of emergency as a pretext to stop mass protests organised by the Serbian Orthodox Chuch against the new law on religious freedoms and church assets in the country. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)

PRIŠTINA. Kosovar President Hashim Thaci signed into law a decree declaring the state of emergency on Tuesday (17 March). The cabinet quickly reacted, as the deputy PM, Haki Abazi, has said that PM Albin Kurti does not agree with the president’s stance and that he had been informed during a Council meeting the day before. The state of emergency decision needs to be passed by the Kosovo Assembly with a two-thirds majority. (EURACTIV.rs betabriefing.com)

SKOPJE. In a cabinet meeting on Saturday evening, the government decided to impose a curfew starting Sunday (22 March) between 9 pm and 6 am. This was announced by PM Oliver Spasovski in a Facebook post.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has issued a statement warning about the severe side-effects of chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for COVID-19. “Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine are known to potentially cause heart rhythm problems, and these could be exacerbated if treatment is combined with other medicines, such as the antibiotic azithromycin, that have similar effects on the heart,” EMA said.

After a reduced European Parliament plenary session discussed COVID-19 (10 March), group leaders adopted a revised meeting calendar of parliamentary activities for the next few months. Administrative staff have been tasked with rolling out technology that will “facilitate the remote participation” of MEPs during the prolonged period of remote working brought on as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, documents seen by EURACTIV reveal. For the next sessions in May, June and July, the Parliament has decided to cancel its Strasbourg sessions and replace them with mini-plenaries in Brussels. On Monday (23 March), the institution recorded its first death, EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna reports.

As part of their remote working programme, the European Commission has had to make a number of changes as to how employees are able to carry out their work from a distance, EURACTIV’s Sam Stolton reports. Given that so many employees working remotely could cause the security of internal networks to be compromised, the executive is constantly ‘monitoring’ the situation.

Since the beginning of March, the number of European Council meetings, its preparatory bodies and working groups has been reduced, according to the Council’s General Secretariat. Decisions on which meetings to maintain will be taken on a regular basis by the presidency. EU leaders in their first-ever teleconference decided they will, as well as health ministers and interior ministers, consult with one another on a daily basis. A crucial 26-27 March EU summit was held by videoconference, but in the future confidentiality could prove to be the biggest problem.

The European Central Bank (ECB) chief Christine Lagarde has responded to a recent German court ruling that challenged the bank’s authority by saying the ECB is an independent institution, accountable to the European Parliament, that will continue to do whatever it takes to deliver its mandate. German Green MEP Sven Giegold said on Monday (11 May) the conflict between Germany and the ECB should come to an end as the eurozone is in danger. Giegold had asked EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen if the executive would initiate infringement proceedings against Germany after the German top court questioned the legality of the 2015 European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme. The ECB decided on Thursday (12 March) to inject more money into the real economy to combat the economic fallout linked to the coronavirus crisis as markets continue to plunge. To learn more, see here. However, ECB chief Christine Lagarde’s comments on anti-crisis measures caused a spike in Italian bonds yields, triggering harsh reactions in Italy.

As Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic, NATO foreign ministers on Thursday (2 April) tasked Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Tod Wolters, with coordinating the air transport of medical equipment and personnel to fight the “invisible enemy” of the coronavirus. The Alliance has been scaling down its military exercises to avoid a further spread but will continue its missions, but nevertheless, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it is expected of allies to maintain defence spending despite the economic impact of the virus outbreak. Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borissov criticised Europe’s lack of preparedness against biological threats. Also, feel free to check out our exclusive video interview with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

EUROPEAN COUNT:

Europe has been declared the world centre for the coronavirus outbreak on 13 March, according to the WHO. In a press briefing at headquarters, WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesushe confirmed Europe had more cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, excluding China.

In Europe alone, there are 1,556,709  reported cases and 176,172 deaths as of Tuesday (30 June), according to numbers by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

GLOBAL COUNT:

As of Tuesday (30 June), the worldwide COVID-19 count has now topped 10 million, with 10,273,001 confirmed cases. The global death toll counting 505,295 deaths, according to the latest figures on the Johns Hopkins University global dashboard.


In the United States, at least 2,682,011 cases have been detected as of Tuesday (30 June) with a death toll of 128,788. Unemployment rates hit a record high on 16 April amidst the coronavirus outbreak, the Independent reported. The US Congress agreed to an unprecedented $2,000 billion economic support plan, about one-tenth of the US total economic output, to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. Travel restrictions into the US went into effect as of 13 March, including a trans-Atlantic travel ban from Europe’s Schengen area, which has left European officials furious as they fear this will wound economies already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Yemen announced the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the war-torn country on Friday (10 April), prompting concerns that an outbreak could devastate an already crippled healthcare system.

All travellers arriving in Israel must go into self-quarantine for two weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on 9 March. As of Tuesday (28 June),  Israel recorded a total of 24,441 COVID-19 cases, 17,218 recoveries and 319 deaths. The government approved the tracking of cellphones by the Shin Bet security service in order to inform people who were unwittingly close to someone diagnosed with the virus during the two weeks prior to the diagnosis, bypassing the necessary approval from the Knesset, Hareetz reports.

Satellite photos of Iran show the coronavirus crisis in the country is likely much worse than its government is letting on, showing two large burial trenches recently dug at a cemetery outside Qom, Iran’s religious capital, visible from outer space. However, according to official figures, Iran recorded about 255,000 COVID-19 cases, close to 186,000 recoveries and 10,670 deaths as of Tuesday (30 June).  

Saudi Arabia has put the Qatif region, a Shiite-minority stronghold, on lockdown over coronavirus, with locals saying the actions represents discrimination by the Sunni-majority government.

Russia reported a total of 647,849 coronavirus cases as of Tuesday (30 June) with a daily rise of 6,719. The country’s death toll was at 9,320. Since the outbreak, Moscow had ordered all its elderly people to remain at home and closed its border with Belarus, one of the country’s last open land borders, as the government rolled out a new series of measures to combat further virus spread. Russia’s land borders to foreigners from Poland (the enclave of Kaliningrad), China and Norway were already closed earlier, while the number of flights to and from the EU has been reduced. The Russian government announced a “high alert” status for all 85 of its regions, requiring the whole country to take anti-coronavirus measures such as banning large gatherings, moving schools to online classes and encouraging working from home.

The total number of coronavirus cases in China rose to 83,531, of which 4,634 people have died and 78, 469 have recovered as of Tuesday (30 June), showing a trend of slow stabilisation. On 25 June, China’s Military Commission approved the use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the military’s research unit and CanSino Biologics (6185.HK) after clinical trials proved it was safe and showed some efficacy, Reuters reported. At the height of the pandemic, Chinese internet giant Alibaba sent 2 million face masks to Europe via Liège airport, where almost 500,000 mouth masks and other medical equipment such as test kits onboard arrived in several flights in March. 

Quarantine measures are being tightened again in Hong Kong, fearing a second outbreak of the coronavirus. While civil servants have to work from home, companies are asked to let their employees work from home as much as possible, schools will be staying closed for longer and university exams have been postponed. Hong Kong’s measures eased slightly after the outbreak of the virus appeared to be under control. 

While South Korea was among the first countries to successfully ‘flattened’ the curve after having the highest number of infections in February,  it has recently seen an increase in cases. As of Tuesday (30 June), South Korea recorded a total of 12,800 cases, 11,537 recoveries and 282 deaths. You can read more about how differently Italy and South Korea responded to the pandemic by clicking here.

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