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: Belgium discusses tightening measures for fear of possible second wave / Sweden tops EU rate of new daily COVID-19 cases / Ireland drops travel restrictions for travellers coming from 15 European countries / Spain‘s Barcelona goes back into lockdown for 15 days / Austria makes wearing face masks indoors mandatory again / Romania records more than 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases for first time ever / Czech Republic records highest number of active COVID-19 cases since start of pandemic / More than 770 Serbian doctors call for establishing a new COVID-19 crisis team


“SECOND ISCHGL” FEARS: In the picturesque village of St. Wolfgang in Upper Austria, a new coronavirus cluster has been identified, with 62 new infections confirmed over recent days, mostly in workers in the tourism sector. This fuels fears of a “second Ischgl.” EURACTIV Germany reports.

TIGHTER MEASURES: With the daily rate of COVID-19 infections on the rise, Belgium’s National Security Council (CNS) decided on Thursday (23 July) to extend the obligations to wear masks and fill in a travel form for returning from vacation, and to postpone phase 5 of deconfinement. Read more here.

VACCINE HOPE: A preliminary study investigating the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine against COVID-19 has found the vaccine to be “safe” and that it triggered a “significant” immune response in human volunteers.

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.

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. A vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford shows signs of promise after a preliminary study indicated that the vaccine triggers an immune response. One in six BBC England staff, a total of 450 jobs, will be made redundant as part of deep cuts to taxpayer-funded broadcaster’s regional television and radio services. 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. Find out more about the situation in the UK here.

DUBLIN. The Irish government on Tuesday (21 July) said it had decided to drop the restriction for people coming from countries with a similar or lower rate of infection and was planning to drop a 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers arriving from a “green list” of 15 European countries. 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. Sweden, whose softer approach to fighting COVID-19 drew global attention, has one of the EU’s highest rates of new cases but authorities say the spread is slowing. About half of Sweden’s COVID-19-related deaths were recorded in care homes, heavily affecting the elderly, according to the country’s health and social care inspectorate. 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)

BERLIN. Germany’s federal government has reached an agreement with the states on the ability to institute an entry and exit-ban in the event of a coronavirus outbreak. While entire districts will not be sealed off, highly localised restrictions are possible. Meanwhile, Health Minister Jens Spahn encouraged continued vigilance and adherence to the coronavirus restrictions on Monday (13 July). This comes after images of German tourists flouting the regulations while partying in Mallorca, which Spahn and others speculated could become a ‘second Ischgl.’ On Monday (6 July), Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her opposition to some state’s plans to end mask requirements while shopping. Read the latest updates from EURACTIV Germany here.

ROME. Italy’s government will extend its anti-coronavirus decree until the end of July, Health Minister Roberto Speranza announced on Tuesday (14 July). This means that facemasks and quarantine for people from outside the EU will now be mandatory. Besides, 68% of Italian citizens say they are worried about their economic situation after the COVID-19 crisis peak, according to a report conducted by the Italian research institute, Censis. Italy intends to retain a voluntary quarantine for those from outside the EU.  Read more about the situation in Italy here. 

MADRID. In April (the most critical phase of the pandemic) and May, Spain lost more than 15 million tourists. In May, alone, the country lost out on potential revenues from 8 million tourists. On 1 July, Spain and Portugal reopened their joint border. This is part of the Spanish government’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. In a 120-page document entitled ‘Strategic Vision for Portugal’s economic and social recovery plan 2020-2030’, Costa Silva points out that Portugal “could face one of the worst crises in its history”, predicting, in its preliminary version, that the economy could fall by 12% in 2020.  On 2 July, the Portuguese government announced it had offered €55 million in return for 72.5% of national flag carrier TAP’s shares compared to its current 50% share in the company. 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). Find more information on Portugal here.

ATHENS. Fifty new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, the National Public Health Organization (EODY) said on Thursday (9 July), with nearly half relating to people entering Greece by land or air, EURACTIV’s media partner Athens News Agency reports. This comes after 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. Following the uptick in cases in neighbouring states, the Hungarian government announced it will now classify countries into green, yellow and red categories. As of Wednesday (16 July), travellers will have to have two consecutive negative tests conducted before being able to leave quarantine if coming from a country labelled red, compared to one test if entering a country marked yellow. For now, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Sweden and the UK are among the countries marked countries in yellow, while Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine appear on the “red list”. EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov has more on the country’s crisis response.

PRAGUE. With 4,784 active coronavirus cases recorded in the Czech Republic as of Sunday, the country has now reached its highest level since the start of the pandemic. The spike in cases was particularly noticable once Czechs started coming back from their holidays. Read more about the situation in the Czech Republic here.

BRATISLAVA. Tuesday (7 July) with 31 new cases, the country’s Health Minister Marek Krajčí said this does not qualify as a second wave because the increase is not exponential and the cases and contacts were both localised and contained.  Read here for the latest on Slovakia.

ZAGREB. After the country made protective masks obligatory in hospitals, restaurants, bars, shops, public transport and other closed facilities following a spike in cases on 11 July, All the officials at the science and education ministry, including Education Minister Blaženka Divjak, were told by epidemiologists on Tuesday that they had to self-isolate and take COVID-19 tests after a ministry state secretary had tested positive for the virus, Croatian news agency Hina reported. While speedy COVID-19 tests had proved to be negative, the officials would have to remain in self-isolation until 22 July as a precautionary measure, Divjak posted on her Facebook profile. 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. Romania recorded for the first time ever more than 1,000 coronavirus infections in a 24-hour interval. By noon on Wednesday, 1,030 people were tested positive for the virus within the past 24 hours, according to data released by public health authorities, while 372 others had tested positive in a test repeat.  The Romanian government extended the state of alert for 30 more days  from 17 July, as the number of new coronavirus infections continued to increase. EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.

LJUBLJANA. After six bidders Coronavirus contact tracing applications should be made mandatory as a means of helping the European Union transition out of the public health crisis and open up its borders, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša said on Wednesday (8 July), against Commission advice. Meanwhile,  passengers at the Gruškovje border crossing — one of the main entry points for travellers from Western and Central Europe in eastern Slovenia, — queued for two and a half hours to enter the country from Croatia on Sunday evening (5 July) as tougher border regime coincided with the first summer vacation weekend. Read more.

BELGRADE.  The number of physicians who have signed the petition “United Against COVID-19,” launched by an informal group of 350 doctors known as “United against COVID” has more than doubled. As of Wednesday (22 July), 770 doctors support the initiative and say they are in favour of establishing a new government team to fight the pandemic. 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. Because the epidemiological situation has worsened in Montenegro, the Czech Republic’s health ministry has decided that as of Monday (13 July), Montenegrin citizens can travel to the Czech Republic only for specific reasons, including employment, studies or family visits. They will also have to present a negative COVID-19 test or quarantine for 14 days because the country has been given the “red stamp” under the Czech Republic’s so-called “traffic light system”. (EURACTIV.rs betabriefing.com )

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 revealFor 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. 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 was 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 (EU/EEA and UK region), there are 1,704,897  reported cases and 182,136 deaths as of Friday (31 July), according to numbers by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

GLOBAL COUNT:

As of Friday (31 July), the worldwide COVID-19 count has now reached 17,312,025 confirmed cases. The global death toll counting 673,568 deaths, according to the latest figures on the Johns Hopkins University global dashboard.


In the United States, at least 4,433,410 cases have been detected as of Tuesday (28 July) with a death toll of 150,450. 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. 

Globally, Brazil now comes second in terms of coronavirus cases as it recorded 2,44,397 cases and 87,737 related deaths as of Tuesday (28 July). While indigenous communities, particularly in the Amazonas region, were the most affected at the start of the pandemic, the virus quickly spread to the larger cities such as São Paulo, which ended up becoming a new hotspot for COVID-19, causing the underfunded healthcare system – according to the city’s mayor – to be on the verge of collapse. Before testing positive for the coronavirus, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro had repeatedly played down the risks of what he called a “little flu”, which led to his supporters protesting regional lockdowns and measures. And even as cases continued to surge, cities such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo gradually lifted lockdowns.

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 July),  Israel recorded a total of 64,649 COVID-19 cases and 480 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.

Iran was one of the worst-hit countries early on in the pandemic and is now thought to be battling a second wave of the virus, with its daily reported death toll sharply in recent weeks, according to BBC reportingSatellite 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 293,606 COVID-19 cases and 15,912 deaths as of Tuesday (28 July).  

Russia reported a total of 823, 525 coronavirus cases and 13,504 deaths as of Tuesday (28 July). 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.

On Tuesday (28 July), China saw the biggest one-day rise in coronavirus cases since March, reports the Financial Times, sparking fears that the country faces a fresh wave of COVID-19. The total number of coronavirus cases in China rose to 83,959, of which 4,634 people have died as of Tuesday (28 July), 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. 

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 Friday (17 July), South Korea recorded a total of 14, 203 cases and 300 deaths. You can read more about how differently Italy and South Korea responded to the pandemic by clicking here.

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