Coronavirus: What’s happening in Europe

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

*** This tracker has been suspended. Look back at how the pandemic hit across Europe and find out what policy measures European governments implemented to counter the first wave.

EURACTIV will keep you updated on the latest COVID-19-related news from across Europe, using its network of offices and media partners.


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


 

LONDON. Though Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is preparing contingency plans for if a second coronavirus spike coincides with a no-deal Brexit, it intends to get workers back in offices as soon as possible and has burned a few bridges with France by imposing a 14-day quarantine on travellers from there. However, returning to normal office life in central London and other big cities would be impossible as long as the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic remain, the Bank of England’s executive director, Alex Brazier, has warned. Find out how the UK is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

DUBLIN. Over the summer, some of Ireland’s most senior public servants – including EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan, Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary and deputy chair of the upper house of parliament, Jerry Buttimer, among others – were caught breaching COVID-19 restrictions on social gathering numbers after attending a parliamentary club dinner on 19 August. Many high-level public officials resigned as a result. Find out how Ireland is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.   

HELSINKI. Though Finland prepared its back to school period with some of Europe’s “strictest travel restrictions” which it imposed from 24 August and saw its GDP drop only very slightly in comparison to other EU member states as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare launched on 31 August a free coronavirus tracing app called Koronavilkku. Within its first four days of availability, the app was downloaded by one in four of Finland’s 5.5 million population. Find out how Finland is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.   

STOCKHOLM. Swedish Prime Minister Löfven and opposition leader Kristersson both agreed on 24 August that the country’s strategy, which had been more relaxed compared to European peers, had to be amended. Though the opposition showed support towards the government’s policy at the height of the pandemic, Kristersson called for everyone going back to work and protecting the elderly, while the PM focused on welfare rather than focusing on “having large tax cuts”. Find out how Sweden is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.    

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)

ROME. To kick-off the start of the school year, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza confirmed that the use of facemasks – which the government plans to distribute 11 million to students and school personnel – will be mandatory in schools “when people are moving around” but can be removed “when students are at their desk”. Still, central and regional authorities keep fighting over a plan to prevent a new outbreak, as some regions are even considering postponing the start of the school year until after the national referendum, due to be held on 20 and 21 September, on a possible constitutional amendment. Find out how Italy is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

MADRID. As Spain passed the grisly milestone of over half a million registered coronavirus cases on 6 September and the country’s tourism industry took a huge hit over summer as Spain had 16 million fewer foreign visitors between June and July, socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez continues to call on all opposition parties to show “unity”, as the key tool to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and to achieve a sound economic recovery. Find out how Spain is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

LISBON. Portugal’s epidemiological has worsened since mid-August, experts from the Directorate General of Health (DGS) and the National Institute of Health Dr Ricardo Jorge (INSA) revealed on 7 September as experts and politicians gathered to discuss the situation. However, Prime Minister Antonio Costa told journalists on his way into a briefing on the COVID-19 situation attended by experts, politicians, business and trade union officials on 7 September that a second lockdown would not be sustainable from a social and economic point of view. Find out how Portugal is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

ATHENS. Though students went back to school on 14 September having to respect measures such as the mandatory wearing of facemasks, the government’s decision to reopen schools has been met with fierce opposition and questions. From 5-6 September, the Greek government announced 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. Find out how Greece is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

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. On 15 September, a new regulation on air traffic bans due to the COVID-19 pandemic came into force, valid from 16 September. While the previous ban had covered 44 countries, the new reduced list includes 30. only new country added to the list is France, while Mexico, India, Albania and Romania were removed from it. The government decided on 1 September that persons quarantining at home after coming into contact with an infected person could be dismissed by their primary care physician after 10 days rather than the previous 14. Besides, unemployment benefits will be increased by around €272 as of 1 September, after those who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic received a monthly solidarity allowance of about €314 from June to August. Find out how Poland is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

PRAGUE. The Czech Republic’s so-called “smart quarantine” system which uses phone and banking data to track people who test positive for COVID-19 encountered some issues over the summer as COVID-19 cases rose, particularly in the capital, Prague, which continues to be the country’s epicentre with stricter restrictions. And while the country´s chief hygienist, Jarmila Rážová, tested positive with the virus on 2 September, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who met with her the day before, decided not to self-isolate as he was “sitting at a sufficiently far distance from her and the window was open”. Find out how the Czech Republic is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

BUDAPEST. Hungary started the new school year by closing the border to non-citizens and non-residents from 1 September in an attempt to curb the rising number of new COVID-19 cases, but allowed citizens from the Visegrad countries to enter if they had previously booked holiday plans. On 6 September, the number of active COVID-19 cases reached an all-time high with currently 3,811 active registered infections, compared to the previous peak of 2,054 at the beginning of May. Find out how Hungary is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

BRATISLAVA. Though schools are imposing strict hygiene measures such as making the wearing of face masks mandatory for students, MPs from neo-fascist ĽSNS refused to wear facemasks during a parliamentary session. Should the number of new coronavirus cases increase, Prime Minister Igor Matovič has said he would not rule out new broad measures. Find out how Slovakia is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

ZAGREB. Croatia has decided that its schools will open on 6 September under three different models, with courses being either held completely in classrooms, or partly in classrooms and online or entirely online despite protests against the country’s measures the day before. Not only are parents reluctant to send their children back to school as the COVID-19 situation still hasn’t improved but authorities have also been criticised for having allowed schools to open without foolproof instructions and contingency planning for worst-case scenarios. Find out how Croatia is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

BUCHAREST. Romania registered the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in Europe on 3 September, Wednesday as it recorded 3.1 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in a 14-day interval, according to data released by the ECDC. This figure is considerably higher than most other European countries. As of 1 September, restaurants, cafes, theatres, cinemas and other spaces used for performances were allowed to open as long as 50% of the available spaces were occupied. Nightclubs, bars and dance clubs remain closed. Find out how Romania is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

SOFIA. If schools were to respect epidemiological measrues, they will be one of the safest places in the country, Bulgaria’s Chief State Health Inspector Angel Kunchev told the National Radio BNR on 13 September. Find out how Bulgaria is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

LJUBLJANA. Slovenia’s state macroeconomic office UMAR forecast on Thursday (24 September) that the national economy would fall 6.7% this year, an improvement on its previous prediction for a 7.6% GDP contraction. The office said the economy could return to pre-crisis levels in 2022, but warned that should a new spread of COVID-19 get out of control, it would severely cripple services and industry. Read more.

The Western Balkans have agreed to work on a joint border-crossing protocol, North Macedonia’s Health Minister Venko Filipče confirmed yesterday in a Facebook post (27 September). Meanwhile, all Balkan countries are still discussing a plan to reopen their borders simultaneously, after they align their entry requirements with the idea of opening the region’s borders to travellers without requiring them to take a COVID-19 PCR test, the health minister added.

BELGRADE. The COVID-19 vaccine, which should be ready around the New Year, will be free and administered on a voluntary basis, promised Serbian Health Minister Zlatibor Loncar . The new school year started on 1 September for Serbia’s elementary and high schools with some classes having to reduce their number. Students will also have to wear face coverings and keep physical distance, while classrooms will be disinfected frequently.   Find out how Serbia is dealing with the coronavirus health crisis as students go back to school and workers return to work.

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 2,416,705  reported cases and 183,054 deaths as of Tuesday (18 August), according to numbers by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

GLOBAL COUNT:

As of 8 September, the worldwide COVID-19 count has now reached 27,431,255 confirmed cases. The global death toll counting 849,306 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 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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