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: Croatia to welcome citizens of 10 EU countries / Romania lifts a batch of new restrictions / German Bundestag reaches agreement on further aid /  France to ease up restrictions as of 2 June / UK top advisor Cummings could get away with lockdown rules breach


RECOVERY PACKAGE: Ursula von der Leyen presented the €750 billion Commission proposal on Wednesday (27 May). The plan comes with green strings attached and could be covered financially by new sources of revenue by extending the EU’s carbon market to the aviation and shipping sectors. The EU executive is also considering bringing back Europe-wide plans for a digital services tax to finance the fund and has doubled down on some aspects of its agri-funding.

EURO FEARS: The ECB has warned that disputes between eurozone countries over the coronavirus response and repaying debts could revive threats to exit the single currency.

EU BACKS WHO: World Health Organisation member states agreed to an independent probe into the UN agency’s handling of the crisis and an EU-brokered resolution that was in stark contrast to US criticism of the body’s actions during the pandemic.

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)

LONDON. Dominic Cummings, chief political advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to survive a damaging row over whether he broke the government’s lockdown rules. About 40 Conservative lawmakers have already called for Cummings to step down. In March, Cummings drove his family 400km from London to his parents’ farm after his wife contracted COVID-19, despite rules to stay in place and self-isolate for two weeks. Meanwhile, English schools are top reopen on 1 June as planned, Johnson announced on Sunday (24 May). 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 Friday (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.

HELSINKI. The Franco-German recovery package is a signal that the EU has a broader future perspective than before, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (SDP) said on Monday (25 May). Meanwhile, Finnish schools opened on Thursday (14 May) after almost a two-month closure amidst mixed reactions and feelings and flag carrier Finnair announced on Monday (18 May) that it will resume its flights in July to major European cities such as London, Brussels, Berlin, Paris and Moscow. Find more details on Finland here.

STOCKHOLM. On Wednesday (13 May) the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs extended its former decision regarding travels abroad. The advice against non-essential travelling applies now until 15 July. A former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt thinks that Anders Tegnell, the state epidemiologist of the country should keep a lower profile. Mr Tegnell has been the mastermind behind Sweden’s coronavirus strategy, becoming its public face thanks to daily media briefings. To learn more, read more here.

COPENHAGEN. After a month of closures, Danish children younger than 11 returned to the country’s schools and daycares on 15 April, making Denmark the first European country to reopen its schools. However, restaurants and bars will remain closed until 11 May, when the second phase of lifting restrictions begins. On this day, older students are also expected to return to school. As of 3 May, Denmark has 9,523 confirmed cases with 484 deaths. 6,987 people have recovered. (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 it recorded 18 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday (14 May) and no infections have been detected for the past several days. (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, a state of emergency has been in force since 13 March and will apply until 14 April. While all educational institutions have been closed and will be organising remote teaching, all public events, meetings, processions and pickets with more than 200 participants have also been banned as of 13 March. As of 17 March, Latvia is not letting most foreigners enter the country, the prime minister said.

VILNIUS.  Lithuania is proceeding to ease quarantine restrictions according to the four-stage exit plan, which would include allowing small events and various other services to resume by the end of May, after having declared a nationwide quarantine on 16 March. Lithuania has said that neighbouring Belarus could be ‘uncontrolled hotspot’ of COVID-19 and that the country will prohibit people from crossing the border if there is no “adequate” response to the coronavirus crisis on the Belarusian side. Breaching self-isolation rules has been criminalised by the Lithuanian parliament,  Seimas, after it backed amendments on 28 April that render the offence punishable by up to a year in prison. Find more on the situation in Lithuania here.

 

BERLIN. The Bundestag has reached an agreement on further aid to combat the impacts of the coronavirus. This includes more funding to ease the financial burden on restaurants and families in particular. Germany’s Health Ministry plans to push for more testing of asymptomatic people, including school children, teachers, and those in the food industry. Meanwhile, on Tuesday (26 May), the German government and all 16 states reached an agreement to prolong the country’s contact restrictions until 29 June. However, some states are already asserting their right to ease restrictions more quickly. Read the latest updates from EURACTIV Germany here.

ROME. Up to 2.2% of Italy’s total workforce, which corresponds to 385,000 people, have lost their job due to the country’s lockdown measures, the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat) estimated. While Italy plans to lift travel restrictions on 3 June, there are discussions around whether to prolong border closures with the most-impacted regions, which has sparked a debate in the country. Gyms and swimming pools resumed their activities on Monday (25 May). This is the latest in the Italian government’s drastic reversal of COVID-19 restrictions, which began on 18 May as shops and restaurants reopened. Read more about the situation in Italy here. 

MADRID. On Wednesday (27 May), Spain held a moment of silence for the more than 27,000 people killed by COVID-19. On Monday (25 May) the government began the first of a four-stage process of lockdown easing measures. Spain will reopen their borders for foreign tourists as of July, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez announced on 23 May. For more details on the current situation in Spain, see here.

LISBON. On Friday (29 May), the Portuguese Council of Ministers extended the state of emergency which is supposed to end on Sunday (31 May) for another 15 days. Portuguese airline TAP has been forced to rescind the route recovery plan it released on Monday (25 May), after PM Costa said the plan had “no credibility,” as the government had not yet released its plan to reopen borders. Portugal’s political parties have called for more aid for businesses and workers’ wages. To that end, the government will present the parliament with a supplementary state budget with investments in various areas. Find more information on Portugal here.

ATHENS. Greece will restart its tourism season for countries that have the pandemic under control as of 15 June. Until then, the country will have a 14-day quarantine for passengers arriving from abroad in place until the end of May. Meanwhile, Aegean Airlines will start to gradually increase domestic flights as of Monday (18 May) it said on Thursday, while it will restart basic itineraries abroad interrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. 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 Thursday (9 April), the country counted 526 cases of COVID-19 and 9 deaths. (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 PM Mateusz Morawiecki announced the third stage of lifting lockdown restrictions, which will reopen hairdressers and restaurants. This stage is set to begin next week (18 May). Meanwhile, Poland’s main opposition group threatened to block plans for the delayed presidential election on Tuesday (12 May). EURACTIV Poland looks into the details.

BUDAPEST. On Tuesday (26 May), the government sent a bill to parliament calling for an end of the state of emergency, which once adopted will end on 20 June. 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. Coal mining halted due to coronavirus in the Darkov area. A blanket testing of all miners revealed 212 positive cases of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the state of emergency declared on 12 March in an effort to contain the coronavirus outbreak ended on Monday (18 May). However, some restrictions will remain in force. Read more about the situation in the Czech Republic here.

BRATISLAVA. Although the state of emergency is due to come to an end in mid-June, it remains unclear whether this will be the case. There have been delays in implementing the coronavirus tracking app, as it still requires approval from Apple and Google. Slovakia began the fourth phase of deconfinement. As of 20 May shopping malls reopened, as well as indoor restaurants will be able to open with some limitations. Read here for the latest on Slovakia.

ZAGREB. The country’s Civic Guard issued  a decision on Thursday (28 May) allowing citizens of 10 EU countries to enter Croatia under the same conditions that were valid prior to th COVID-19 outbreak, Interior Minister Davor Božinović announced. New data on the rescue package shows that employers applied for the government to cover the salaries of 485,000  workers. Meanwhile, from 18 May, cultural activities are starting to resume with reopening of cinemas, theatres and concert halls, but places of public gathering will need to apply social distance measures including keeping the distance of 1.5 metres between a limited number of spectators.  Read more.

SOFIA. As of 25 May, Bulgarian authorities have started opening kindergartens across the country after a closure period of two and a half months. Also, the country lifted more of its COVID-19 restrictions, as restaurants and cafés opened gardens on 6 May. People in Bulgaria now only have to wear masks in public transportation and enclosed public spaces. Meanwhile, Bulgaria intends to end its mandatory quarantine for those coming from neighbouring countries as of June. EURACTIV Bulgaria has more details.

BUCHAREST. In order to check the population immunity to the new coronavirus after the peak of the epidemic the Romanian Secretary of State for Health announced on this Sunday (24 May) that the country will be testing about 30,000 people. Previously, President Klaus Iohannis said he could declare another state of emergency if COVID-19 infections go up, noting that while most Romanians had observed social distancing and other measures, several had broken them. As of Friday (15 May), Romania is under a state of alert, which replaced the state of emergency after two months, with fewer restrictions, but the media reported many cases of ignoring the rules.  EURACTIV Romania’s Bogdan Neagu has more.

LJUBLJANA. As the country has been experiencing a positive epidemiological situation, high school graduates will pass their final exams on Saturday (30 May). Slovenia’s Foreign Minister met with his Hungarian counterpart on Thursday (28 May) to discuss borders. A spokesperson for the ministry expects a bilateral agreement “very soon.” From Tuesday (26 May), EU citizens are allowed to enter Slovenia as tourists without having to go into quarantine, provided they produce evidence of a tourist booking at the border. Read more.

BELGRADE.  The country has reached an agreement with its neighbours to reopen its borders as of 1 June, and FM Ivica Dačić issued a statement saying how the pandemic made clear the importance of cooperation in the region. However, after Montenegro shut off its borders to Serbian nationals, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told TV Pink on Monday (25 June) that Belgrade would not close its borders to the country, noting that Montenegro’s “real reason” for shutting out Serbians was not the pandemic. As of 1 June, gatherings of up to 1,000 people will be allowed and all Serbian citizens without symptoms would be able to take a rapid non-compulsory serology test to detect COVID-19 antibodies for €10. 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.

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 1,328,457  reported cases and 159,172 deaths as of Thursday (21 May), according to numbers by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

GLOBAL COUNT:

As of Thursday (21 May), the worldwide COVID-19 count has now topped 5 million, with 5,047,377 confirmed cases. The global death toll counting 329,816 deaths, according to the latest figures on the Johns Hopkins University global dashboard.


In the United States, at least 770,564 cases have been detected as of Monday (20 April) with a death toll of 41,114. Unemployment rates hit a record high on Thursday (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 Friday (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 Monday evening (9 March). According to the Ministry of Health, with more than 26,000 citizens in quarantine, including nearly 2,500 medical officials. 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. As of Sunday (4 April), the country has more than 58,226 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 3,603 deaths, according to official figures, but experts suggest there may be many more. Meanwhile, Iranian President Rouhani has announced that the travel restrictions and the command to stay at home will remain in effect for another two to three weeks

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 1,786 more coronavirus cases on Friday (10 April), its largest daily rise so far, taking the national tally of confirmed infections to 11,917, as the number of coronavirus-related deaths rose by 18 to 94, the Russian coronavirus crisis response centre has said. Moscow has previously ordered all its elderly people to remain at home for the next three weeks 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 cases in China rose to 82,747, of which 4,632 people have died as of Monday (20 April), showing a trend of slow stabilisation. China’s new infections could soon reach zero for the first time in months, experts believe, but warn it is not excluded that there might be a second wave. Chinese internet giant Alibaba is sending 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. The Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation announced a donation of 500,000 test kits to the US after they had previously made similar donations to Japan, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Spain.

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. 

South Korea, which was hit by the coronavirus at about the same time as Italy, quarantined only a few thousand, of whom 67 people died, compared to Italy which had millions on lockdown and a death toll that has now surpassed the 1,000-mark. For background on the disparity, see here.

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