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December 10, 2020

Europe

EUROPE: Managing the pandemic – what we are watching

BY Antonio Barroso, Andrius Tursa, Carsten Nickel, Luis Cornago

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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.

EUROPE: Managing the pandemic – what we are watching 1

France

– The seven-day rolling average of cases has stabilized at around 11,000, well above the 5,000 threshold the government said would have to be reached for the second stage of lockdown exit to kick in on 15 December.

– Prime Minister Jean Castex will give a press conference today at 6pm local time to announce the government’s decision on the matter; it is unclear whether some of the restrictions will still be relaxed.

– Unlike with past vaccination campaigns, the government will allow GPs to immunize individuals against Covid-19 to try reducing the high levels of public distrust towards the vaccine.

Spain

– With daily Covid-19 cases at around 10,000, some regional authorities have introduced additional restrictions such as stricter night-time curfews to curb a recent surge in infections. Regions will probably extend or modify some of the measures currently in place ahead of the holiday season.

– The government has announced it would make Covid-19 tests and vaccines VAT-free before the end of the year. Around 2.5mn people are expected to be immunized by the end of March.

– Finance Minister Maria Jesus Montero has signaled the government would not try to introduce changes to the labor market immediately. Rather, it will engage in negotiations with trade unions and employers in the coming months. A substantial repeal of the 2012 reform to the jobs markets remains unlikely.

Italy

– The second peak in the pandemic may be abating, at least temporarily, with rates for new infections and deaths reaching their lowest levels in weeks. Italy reported 14,842 new cases on 8 December. The daily death figure (634 yesterday) has now dropped every day since reaching its all-time high of 993 on 3 December.

– Struggling to contain the second wave, authorities have adopted stricter measures for the festive season. The new curbs include a near-total ban on international and domestic travel from 21 December to 6 January, aimed both at avoiding spreading the virus across the country and limiting get-togethers.

– The government has unveiled the national Covid-19 recovery plan outline for spending funds from the EU Recovery Fund. The draft plan, which allocates a total of EUR 196bn to six key areas, has not been approved yet by the government due to a dispute within the ruling coalition about the governance of the financial resources provided by the EU.

Germany

– After stabilizing just above 21 cases per 100,000 people, the seven-day rolling average of new infections has now begun to climb again, to 23 cases.

– The government of Bavaria – hit particularly hard by the pandemic – led the way with a tightening of restrictions as of this week and including the New Year holidays; Saxony has followed suit.

– Several regional states are now calling for a new, nation-wide coordination effort, but Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in Brussels for the European Council until Friday afternoon; the quickly emerging consensus seems to favor a tight lockdown, including school closures, for around two weeks right after Christmas.

United Kingdom

– After having fallen substantially over recent weeks, the seven-day rolling average of new infections has re-increased to more than 23 cases per 100,000 citizens lately.

– The beginning roll-out of the vaccine puts the UK at the forefront of the global vaccination effort; the downside risk is that this further increases the pressure on PM Boris Johnson when the government will review regional lockdown tiers on 16 December.

– Meanwhile, a post-Brexit trade deal is still possible, as both sides might continue their talks until much closer to the only relevant deadline of 31 December.

Greece

– The 7-day rolling average for new cases is now 1510 per day, showing the first signs of a gradual decline. However, the national health system’s intensive care units are still under tremendous pressure, especially in northern Greece.

– Earlier this week, the government indicated it would maintain core lockdown measures through the Christmas holidays. Schools, courts, and restaurants will remain closed until 8 January, while non-essential travel between Greece’s administrative regions will also be banned. Those arriving in Greece before then will be required to go into precautionary quarantine for ten days.

– The government remains under fire over its testing strategy. An apparent decrease in the number of tests carried out nationally (from close to 30k tests in mid-November to between 10-11k in the past week) is now raising further questions at a time when experts are seemingly unable to explain persistently high infection rates.

Poland

– The second wave of the pandemic appears to be retreating as the seven-day average of new daily cases has contracted by 16% to 10,655, and the number of daily deaths has fallen by 8% to 460. The total count of active cases is 32% lower compared to the peak two weeks ago.

– A ban on international flights to nine non-EU countries, including the US (excluding airports in Illinois and New York), has been extended until 31 December.

– The government has published a draft immunization strategy for public consultation. According to the health ministry, mass vaccinations are expected to start in the second half of January, with up to 1mn of residents getting inoculated per month. While vaccinations will be voluntary, a package of benefits will be provided to the immunized.

Hungary

– The count of new infections has declined by 13% to around 4,900 per day during the past week, but the hospitalization rate and the number of intensive care patients remain largely stable. The Covid-19 related deaths are continuing to rise, averaging more than 160 per day in the past week.

– The current partial lockdown – entailing a 8pm-5am curfew, a closure of restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment, cultural facilities, and a ban on events – has been extended until 11 January. However, a temporary easing of restrictions could be expected around Christmas.

– The government has launched an early registration procedure for vaccination and plans to start the process in Q1 2021. Priority groups will include health workers, the elderly, and the chronically-ll. While the cabinet is considering using the Chinese and Russian vaccines (among others), recent polls show that only 20% of citizens would be willing to receive them.

More by Antonio Barroso, Andrius Tursa, Carsten Nickel, Luis Cornago