Health & Education

COVID-19 in the EU

Europe: Challenges of Coronavirus Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is unfolding, and EU members are preparing themselves for economic paralysis.

The hope that the new coronavirus would be contained and overcome in its place of origin died a long time ago, and now COVID-19 is almost everywhere.

Places as far apart as South Korea, Iran, and Italy have turned into major epicenters of the new coronavirus outside china, proving that viruses can indiscriminately infect all regions and territories.

As Italy’s fight against COVID-19 gets more serious, the EU—which has not experienced a serious epidemic since its formation—is bracing itself.

As of 11 March, Spain, France, and Germany are closely following Iran and Korea in the list of the worst affected nations. Italy, with 10,149 positive coronavirus cases, has turned into the second largest cluster of COVID-19 after China.

Well over 15,000 people in the EU have been afflicted with the virus so far, to say nothing of potential asymptomatic carriers of the disease who continue to walk freely.

COVID-19 has now spread to all EU members, as the only virus-free member, Cyprus, confirmed two cases on 10 March.

If the spreading pattern that COVID-19 has exhibited thus far is anything to go by, an epidemic across the EU seems almost inevitable; many European nations are already bracing themselves for the worst.

Other EU members, especially those with few infected citizens, are not certain whether they should err on the side of caution and mimic Italy’s strict measures.

Yesterday, the Italian government enforced a nationwide quarantine, closing the schools, canceling all public events, and banning all forms of local and international travel.

Another important question is whether the EU can help its members in this hour of need. It is not clear whether the EU has any contingency plans for crisis-management during pandemics and—if such plans exist—how practical they are.

If all EU members may soon experience challenges similar to those Italy is currently grappling with, the members may not be in much of a position to support each other.

The worst danger for the bloc, however, is that the economic paralysis caused by the outbreak will trigger a recession across the EU, particularly if most member states reach the peak of infection more-or-less around the same time.

Germany, the largest economy in the bloc, is preparing for the worst. Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on 11 March that up to 60-70% of German citizens are likely to catch the virus, adding that in the absence of a cure, Germany’s best bet is to reduce the speed of transmission.

This strategy is currently the only available option to most European nations.

Buying time allows the healthcare infrastructure across the EU to deal with the affected population over several weeks or even months, as the overburdening of the health service can lead to catastrophic consequences.

At the same time, most EU members are working on relief plans to assist the affected population and escape an economic crisis.

Today, Giuseppe Conte upgraded Italy’s relief plan to EUR25 billion. The country had previously set EUR7.5 billion aside to fight the economic effects of COVID-19 epidemic.

The number of new cases spiked in Spain on 9-10 February, signaling that Spain may be heading in the same direction as Italy.

Spain has already suspended most public events and banned gatherings of over 1,000 people, though no strict lockdown has been introduced yet.

“We are working on avoiding the Italian scenario,” said Spain’s health minister, Salvador Illa, on 10 March. If Germany’s predictions are to be trusted, however, avoiding an “Italian scenario” may not be an option anymore.

On the plus side, however, the EU has the required infrastructure to slow down the rhythm of transmission and implement economic relief packages—which are, after all, the only known strategies at this stage which can minimize the damages of COVID-19.

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