This updated weekly piece provides snapshots of how selected European governments are dealing with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you want to discuss any of the countries mentioned in more detail.
- The seven-day rolling average of cases has decreased in recent days but remains above 10,000. Following the imposition of the state of emergency in Madrid last week, Catalonia’s regional government has closed restaurants and bars for two weeks. The restrictions will also have to be validated by a regional court. Meanwhile, the central government will probably try to avoid extending the state of emergency in Madrid beyond the planned 15 days, as this would require a vote in parliament.
- The government has launched a controversial reform to modify how several members of Spain’s General Council of the Judiciary (the body that governs the judiciary) are elected by parliament. The changes – which, if approved, will be challenged by the opposition before the Constitutional Court – would make it easier for the ruling parties to choose new members of the institution.
- The government has sent to Brussels the contours of its budgetary plans for next year. The draft budget for 2021 is likely to be adopted and sent to parliament in the coming days.
- Infections have experienced a strong surge in the last days, with the seven-day rolling average of cases currently above 17,000 and the positivity rate above 12%. President Emmanuel Macron announced yesterday a night curfew for eight large cities and the re-imposition of the state of “health emergency.”
- Macron also announced additional economic support measures, such as the reactivation of full state support for furlough schemes for the sectors most negatively affected by the second wave of the virus and a delay in the repayment of state-guaranteed loans.
- The government is considering appointing a committee to determine whether next March’s regional and departmental elections should be postponed. However, a delay will probably be only be decided if there is enough consensus among the largest political parties.
- Italy registered 7,332 new coronavirus infections on 14 October – the country’s highest-ever daily tally. Prior to yesterday’s record number of cases, the highest rise in a single day was on 21 March, with 6,557 new cases, during the nationwide lockdown. However, only 26,336 swabs were taken on 21 March compared to 152,196 taken on 14 October. Although the country’s daily deaths remain relatively low, the number of people in intensive care (559 yesterday) with the virus has risen steadily.
- The surge in new infections has raised new concerns about the country’s test-and-trace system and hospitals’ ability to cope with the worsening situation. As the government has failed to beef up the testing capacity and the health system during the summer, the likelihood of a new nationwide lockdown to stop infections is rising.
- The government is expected to extend a furlough program for 18 weeks from 1 January. A moratorium on loan and mortgage payments will also be prolonged. These measures will be included in the 2021 budget, whose draft is due to be sent to the European Commission this week.
- The number of daily new infections has increased substantially over the last week; up from around 2,000 cases, it is now hovering around the 4,000 mark. This has motivated a new coordination meeting between the chancellor and the 16 regional state leaders that was reminiscent of late-night European Council gatherings.
- The locally different pandemic outlook continues to complicate a quick agreement on more stringent measures. The meeting with Merkel returned new thresholds for private gatherings dependent on a local rate of either 35 or 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. While local management has had its advantages so far, the risk now is that the messaging remains too detailed to have a clear effect on citizens’ behavior.
- The most visible bone of contention – a ban on hotels hosting inner-German tourists if they cannot produce a negative test that is no older than 48 hours, imposed by 12 of the 16 states – was not resolved during the eight-hours meeting with Merkel. New coordination meetings will likely have to follow over the coming days.
- Daily new cases are now around 20,000 infections, as the renewed spread of the virus shows no sign of abating; the government has reacted with the announcement of a new, three-tier strategy for local lockdowns to prevent a return to restrictive measures for the entire country. The latter might, however, soon turn out to be inevitable.
- The complicated nature of UK politics continues to hamper effective management of the renewed pandemic threat: local institutional capacity remains too limited to enforce tailor-made measures effectively; regional administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales are imposing their own, more stringent lockdowns; and while the opposition and public opinion are pushing for a short nationwide lockdown, this pits old rural and new urban Tory constituencies against each other.
- Economically, the only way of convincing local authorities to buy into the government’s local lockdown system is by offering them new support measures alongside; this, however, will be a difficult sell with Tory fiscal hawks – and the limited track record of any local measure taken so far means that questions remain about their effectiveness.
- The country maintains the highest seven-day average of new Covid-19 infections in Europe (and the world). The number of hospitalized patients, severe cases and deaths from Covid-19 is also rising. The government has mandated the closure of restaurants, bars and night clubs between 14 October and 3 November. All schools are shifting to distance education, and gatherings of more than six people are prohibited. A full lockdown cannot be ruled out if the epidemiological situation continues to deteriorate.
- The cabinet has deferred the payment of VAT, income, and road taxes until the end of the year. The government has also rolled out subsidies for sports venues, cultural institutions, and artists, while the “Anti-Virus A” job support scheme was extended until the end of the year.
- The opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) has threatened to push for a vote of no confidence in the Andrej Babis (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, ANO) cabinet over the mishandling of the pandemic as soon as the state of emergency is lifted.
- The average number of new daily infections has more than doubled during the past seven days and is approaching 5,000. The death count is soaring too, and some hospitals are already struggling to cope with the increased inflow of new patients.
- The government is considering imposing new containment measures, including the introduction of dedicated shopping/service hours for seniors, stricter requirements for weddings, and a tighter face mask regime. Dozens of counties, including major cities, are expected to be declared as epidemiological “red zones” with the toughest restrictions in place.
- Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (Law and Justice, PiS) has ruled out the possibility of a complete lockdown, calling it “detrimental” for the economy. However, a partial lockdown of selected economic activities might be expected if the situation continues to worsen.