European reaction to the outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

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Publication Date 2020
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Official information sources, media reports and analyses on the outbreak of a coronavirus in Europe (COVID-19 or 2019-nCoV), and in particular on the response from countries and institutions to the sanitary crisis and consequent impact of different sectors of the economy and society.

Selection of Official Websites and Useful Resources (check the latter half of the page for further sources):

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The virus was first detected in China's Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province. On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) alerted to several cases of pneumonia in that city. That virus did not match any other known virus. On 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a new virus, a coronavirus later named COVID-19.

Despite measures by Chinese authorities to contain the virus, it soon started spreading to other cities in the country and later to other countries in the region and beyond. On 28 January, the European Commission activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism - following a request for assistance from France - to provide consular support to EU citizens in Wuhan. The plan included the repatriation of EU citizens back to Europe.

The spread of the disease occurred alongside the spread of rumours and misinformation. Media sources also reported on increasing discrimination against Chinese and east Asian individuals due to this virus. In March 2020, the EU's External Action Service released a report on disinformation relating to the pandemic which was subsequently subject to several updates.

The Council of the European Union held a meeting on 13 February to discuss the implications of the outbreak of human cases of coronavirus. The conclusions adopted at the meeting welcomed the response from the EU to the threat of a possible pandemic outbreak, and called for increased cooperation both at EU and international level. The exchange of views was held on the basis of a steering note prepared by the Council presidency.

The first death in Europe related to this virus was reported by French authorities on 15 February 2020. In late February, media sources reported on clashes in Novi Sanzhary (Ukraine) as locals stoned a bus with people evacuated from Wuhan and heading to a quarantine facility. Elsewhere, the number of cases registered in Europe increased steadily, particularly as Italy faced an outbreak. On 24 February, the European Commission announced a new aid package to contain the disease.

As the number of cases increased substantially across Europe, the European Commission presented to the Council of the European Union on 27 February its first assessment of the potential impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on EU industry. The Presidency of the Council of the European Union decided on 2 March to escalate the Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) arrangement from information sharing mode to full activation mode. On 4 March, the Eurogroup held a conference call to take stock of the latest developments and the impacts on financial markets and the broader economy of the spread of the coronavirus. The Council of the European Union held another meeting on 6 March to discuss the latest developments and response to the outbreak.

The European Parliament's plenary session held a debate on the matter on 10 March, which underlined the need to slow down the spread across Europe. In the meantime, Italian authorities decided to bring the country to a lockdown given the scale of the outbreak. The European Council held a video conference on 10 March on how to coordinate EU efforts to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

On 11 March, the United States announced a ban to individuals coming from the Schengen area. This measure was later extended to the United Kingdom. The EU condemned the unilateral decision from US authorities. Countries across mainland Europe started imposing restrictions on public gatherings, including school closures and other measures, in an attempt to learn from the Italian outbreak and anticipate it. In mid-March, several countries also decided to introduce more restrictive border controls. The scientific and media debate across Europe focused at some point on the virtues and weaknesses of two contrasting approaches - one focused on lockdown (applied in countries like Italy and Spain) and another seen by some as leading to 'herd immunity' (initially championed by the United Kingdom).

On 13 March, the European Commission issued its strategy for a immediate coordinated response to the socio-economic effects of the sanitary crisis. This was followed by a number of more specific initiatives, including on the availability of supplies of personal protective equipment (15 March) and health-related border management (16 March). Following up on the actions undertaken by the Commission, the Eurogroup adopted on 16 March a Statement addressing the economic response to the outbreak. Coordinated action by Member States was also discussed at a video conference held by the European Council on 17 March.

By late March 2020, most European countries had in place measures restricting movement from/to their territories, and many of them had also placed restrictions on movement within the countries. Some stakeholders highlighted the invisibility of EU action to support Member States, as opposed to well-advertised assistance provided by third countries, like China and Russia. The debate thus moved to how far the EU could go in such a crisis, and whether a united effort could be brought about to effectively support Member States in a timely manner.

On 19 March, the European Commission adopted a Temporary Framework aimed at relaxing state aid rules. On the following day, the Commission adopted an assessment seeking to activate the general escape clause of the Stability Growth Pact (SGP). The Eurogroup discussed on 24 March the launch of a precautionary credit line in the framework of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). Some Member States and analysts called for the issuing of the so-called 'coronabonds', a set of EU joint bonds as a way to revive the economy amidst the sanitary crisis. In late March, this appeared to be rejected by the group of fiscally-conservative countries, led by the Netherlands - as media sources reported following a video conference held by the European Council on 26 March.

As countries across Europe went ahead with stricter measures to address the impact of the sanitary crisis, some analysts addressed the impact of those measures on civil liberties and democracy. The debate was further encouraged by an emergency bill adopted in Hungary. A group of EU Member States endorsed a Statement published on 1 April expressing concerns over the risk of violations of the principles of rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights arising from the adoption of certain emergency measures. In Poland, authorities tried to carry out a presidential election amidst the health emergency. The European Parliament held a debate on Hungary's emergency measures in the context of the pandemic on 14 May.

On 2 April, the European Commission adopted another package of measures addressing the economic impact of the outbreak. Following up on the requests adopted by the European Council, the Eurogroup held a video conference on 7 April to discuss and agree on ways to support the economic response to the impact of the pandemic. Eurozone finance ministers eventually adopted a report setting out a number of proposals on 9 April, but the issuing of joint debt emerged again as a major source of tension between two factions. EU national leaders held another video conference on 23 April, in which they endorsed the immediate economic response to the crisis agreed by the Eurogroup. They also tasked the European Commission with coming up with a proposal for a European Recovery Fund.

In mid-April, a number of countries across Europe - such as Norway and Austria - started introducing measures looking to ease the restrictions imposed by the virus outbreak, following a decreasing number of daily new cases. On 15 April, the European Commission and European Council presidents presented a Roadmap setting out a coordinated approach to lifting the containment measures across the European Union. On 17 April, the European Parliament adopted a Resolution setting out its views on the EU's coordinated approach to address the pandemic. Facing struggling airline and tourism industries, a debate emerged among EU Member States in late April over the existing EU passenger rights and the rules applying to cancelled tickets. On 13 May, the Commission issued a package of initiatives aimed at providing a common framework for reviving the transport and tourism sectors across the EU.

On 4 May, the European Commission launched a virtual pledging event called Coronavirus Global Response Initiative, aimed at gathering funds to ensure the collaborative development and universal deployment of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against COVID-19.

France and Germany published on 18 May a joint initiative proposing to bridge the gap between positions among Member States when it comes to a longer-time economic recovery instrument. This was announced as a contribution to the Commission's own proposal, which was unveiled on 27 May under the designation of Next Generation EU, as part of an overall plan for European economic recovery.

Related Links
Commentary and Analysis
Wikipedia: 2020 coronavirus outbreak in Europe
Euro|topics: Dossier: Coronavirus
The Conversation: Tag: COVID-19
Chatham House: Research Topics: Coronavirus Pandemic
The Economist: A global pandemic: The Economist’s coverage of the coronavirus
EPRS Blog: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
EuroSurveillance: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
Spiegel Online International: Themes: Coronavirus
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Special Projects: Global Pandemic - Coronavirus and Global Disorder
European Council on Foreign Relations: Coronavirus
Centre for European Reform: Hot Topics: Coronavirus
Bruegel: Tag: Coronavirus
Centre for European Policy Studies: Topics: COVID-19
LSE: EUROPP Blog: Coronavirus
Foreign Policy: Tag: Coronavirus
Jacques Delors Institute: Tag: COVID-19
Clingendael: Research Program: Coronavirus
Kluwer Competition Law: Blog: COVID-19
LSE: School of Public Policy: Social Science Response to COVID-19
Foreign Affairs: Tags: Coronavirus
openDemocracy: Tags: COVID-19
EUvsDisinfo: Coronavirus
French Institute of International Relations: COVID-19 and geopolitics: IFRI's analyses
RAND Corporation: COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from RAND
GMFUS: Coronavirus crisis
Istituto Affari Internazionali: Tag: Coronavirus
Polish Institute of International Affairs: Search: COVID-19
International Energy Agency (IEA): Topics: COVID-19

The Guardian: Coronavirus outbreak
Deutsche Welle: Coronavirus
France24: Coronavirus
The Independent: Coronavirus
Politico: Coronavirus
EurActiv: Coronavirus
Euronews: Tag: Coronavirus
BBC News: Coronavirus outbreak
EUObserver: Focus: Coronavirus
The New York Times: The Coronavirus Outbreak
Bloomberg: Tag: Coronavirus
The Local: Tag: Coronavirus
RTÉ News: Coronavirus

World Health Organization: Health Topics: Coronavirus
World Health Organization: Emergencies: Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
EU ECDC: Pneumonia cases associated with novel coronavirus, China
European Commission: Coronavirus response
General Secretariat of the Council: COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak
WHO Europe: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
European Central Bank: Coronavirus
European Parliament: Headlines: The EU's response to the coronavirus
National Authorities in the EU/EEA and UK: Information on COVID-19 in different countries
EU EEAS: Coronavirus: latest updates from the EEAS
Publications Office of the European Union: General Publications on COVID-19
European Youth Portal: Coronavirus: news & tips
General Secretariat of the Council: Topics: COVID-19
UN Regional Information Centre for Western Europe: COVID-19 Engagement Hub
European Parliament: Legislative Observatory: Procedures relating to the EU’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic

ESO Records
European Sources Online (ESO): Tag: COVID-19 Outbreak

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