SOFIA. Following EU leaders’ emergency teleconference over the coronavirus outbreak on Tuesday (10 March), Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov twice said that one of the issues that came up was that 70% of Europe’s population could be infected by the virus.
Speaking in front of cameras in Bulgaria’s Council of Ministers on Tuesday, on the occasion of an emergency meeting of the country’s Security Council, Borissov said:
“The most important institutes in Europe, my colleagues said, expect 60-70% of the population of Europe to be affected by this virus.”
In a separate post on Facebook, he put the figure even higher:
“Today, at the video conference with my European Council colleagues, specialist analyses were quoted that said that coronavirus would affect more than 70% of Europe’s population.”
Georgi Gotev has more.
The very latest Coronavirus updates from the Capitals
China has said it will help Italy by donating 100,000 high-tech masks, as well as 20,000 protective suits and 50,000 swab samples for testing people, as it no longer needs the equipment given that its number of cases has now decreased.
China’s support comes after Italy had called on EU member states for help in providing personal protective equipment, to which only one member state responded.
Speaking at the teleconference yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron described as “bad” the decision made by Slovenia and Austria to impose travel restrictions with neighbouring Italy. “I sincerely believe that these are bad decisions,” Macron said. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
In France, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tried to reassure voters ahead of Sunday’s first round of municipal elections by presenting a list of precautionary health measures in the face of the coronavirus epidemic and saying: “Once again, I repeat, voting is safe”. Thanks to these measures, “the municipal elections of 15 and 22 March will be able to take place everywhere and in the best sanitary conditions,” the minister wrote in a statement.
Among the measures unveiled are the “particularly careful cleaning of polling stations before and after each round of voting”, as well as the provision of a water point or hydro-alcoholic gel in each polling station. (EURACTIV.FR)
In Belgium, the country remains in “enhanced Phase 2” to slow down the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès told a press conference. The Belgian government has issued advice to cancel indoor events with more than 1,000 people to contain the spread of the virus, there are no restrictions for outdoor events, but people who have a higher risk of infection are advised to avoid large crowds. Schools will remain open, and people can continue to go to work and use public transport for now.
However, despite 267 confirmed cases, virologist Erika Vlieghe told VRT Niews that “the actual number may be many times higher.”
“For a number of days, we have focused primarily on patients who are so sick that they need to be admitted to the hospital. This is due to the limited laboratory capacity, but also due to the limited manpower,” she added. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
In Austria, most universities will remain closed for an undefined period of time starting Monday, as the medical university already shut down on Tuesday (10 March). Besides, events with over 500 participants (more than 100 for indoor events) will have to be cancelled and schools have been asked to prepare for a shutdown. Austria’s stock market rebounded a bit after Monday’s crash but was still 1.5% down when it closed on Tuesday. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
The four Nordic countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland seem to be having different trends when it comes to the coronavirus (COVID-19). While the disease is spreading rapidly in Sweden (around 325) and Norway (around 170), the amount of infections has so far remained rather low in Finland (around 40) and Denmark (around 60). While none of the Nordics, nor Estonia, have reported any deaths caused by the virus, Stockholm had an unprecedented ‘alien’ case as one of the patients diagnosed with COVID-19 was found to have had no connection to anyone with an infection and had not been travelling to infected areas. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)
In Greece, the government has decided to suspend the operation of all educational institutions in the country as of 11 March for precautionary reasons in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus in the country. The measure covers all levels of public and private education and will apply immediately.
In Spain, the government will launch extra stimuli to boost the country’s economy and contribute to mitigating the negative impact of the coronavirus crisis in the most sensitive economic sectors, like tourism, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported. On Tuesday (10 March), the government banned all direct flights from Spanish airports to Italy until 25 March.
In Portugal, the next few matches in professional football competitions, scheduled for next weekend, will be played behind closed doors, all flights to Italy are suspended for 14 days, and museums, theatres and other events in Lisbon and Porto will be shut down. As Portugal has now reached 41 COVID-19 cases, the government ordered last Saturday a temporary suspension of visits to hospitals, homes and prisons in the Northern region, which has so far been the worst affected. Some educational establishments have also been closed. (Lusa.pt)
In Poland, 22 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed so far. In response to the crisis, Poland has banned all mass gatherings and the largest university – the University of Warsaw – suspended all lectures and classes until 14 April. On Tuesday (10 March) evening, President Andrzej Duda delivered a speech in which he said “that the situation is serious” and that “in the days to come the number of cases will grow”. (Łukasz Gadzała | EURACTIV.pl)
In the Czech Republic, 21 new coronavirus cases had been reported, meaning that the country now has a total of 61 cases. Health Minister Adam Vojtěch described the situation as a “dynamic increase” and announced stricter measures, such as the quarantining of foreigners with infection symptoms coming from abroad, the closing of all heritage sites by the National Institute for the Preservation of Monuments until further notice, as well as the closure of schools and universities and the cancellation of public events with more than 100 participants. (Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz)
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spoke of an action plan to protect the economy from the impact of the coronavirus at an event organised by the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MKIK), asking the chamber to gather feedback from economic players concerning sectors facing difficulties by the end of April. Instead of blanket macroeconomic measures, sectors most heavily impacted, such as the tourism industry, would receive targeted government support, the PM said without detailing the forms of support. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
In Romania, the total number of coronavirus cases jumped to 29 on Tuesday (10 March) after 12 new cases had been reported. Although Romania has failed to appoint a new government, as not only have many party leaders previously said they could not vote for a cabinet which has almost the same names as the one toppled by Parliament a few weeks ago, but the party proposing a new government would rather it had not enough votes, the coronavirus threat has made the investiture of a PNL-led government (conservative-liberal) almost certain. Parliament will hold a vote on the Florin Citu-led cabinet on Thursday (12 March) as many politicians have called for an end of political games and the appointment of a full-power government rather than a weak, interim executive. (EURACTIV.ro)
In Serbia, as the country has reached a total of five coronavirus cases according to the health ministry’s statement of 10 March, the government introduced additional measures to counter the spread and has temporarily banned foreign nationals coming from the virus-stricken areas in Italy, certain parts of China and Switzerland, South Korea, and Iran, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has said. “For everything else, we will maintain hourly consultations with health authorities and will keep the citizens updated,” Brnabic said, adding that all decisions were being adopted with the advice and opinions of experts, doctors and epidemiologists. (EURACTIV.rs)
In other news from the Capitals
Merkel and Macron to travel to Turkey. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are set to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul on Tuesday (17 March) to reach an agreement on the on-going refugee dispute, which began when the Turkish president opened his country’s border to Greece on 29 February. EURACTIV Germany’s Sarah Lawton has more.
Post-Brexit budget marks the end of austerity? Boris Johnson’s government will end ten years of Conservative austerity on Wednesday (10 March) when it is expected to lay out plans to increase infrastructure spending to its highest level in decades. Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first post-Brexit budget is set to promise £600 billion (€700 billion) of capital spending over the next five years, ploughing money into a raft of new road and rail projects including the controversial, and expensive, HS2 rail network. EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox has the story.
Coalition negotiations are ongoing. Leader of the “For the people” (ZA’LUDI) party and former president Andrej Kiska has withdrawn from the coalition negotiations and rumours suggest he will not be taking up his mandate in parliament, citing heart problems. The party’s Veronika Remišová is taking over from him in the negotiations.
According to unofficial and unconfirmed media reports, OĽaNO should get the defence and interior ministries, while “We are family” will nominate the chief of the intelligence agency (SIS). “Freedom and solidarity” could take the ministry of finance but apparently, none of the parties is very keen to take over the health ministry. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Hungary to block NATO-Ukraine meetings. Hungary will continue to block NATO-Ukraine Council meetings until minority rights are restored in Ukraine, Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, told lawmakers on Tuesday, as reported by Hungary Today and Interfax-Ukraine. In a speech in parliament, Szijjártó said Hungary’s stance had been portrayed on the global stage as a Russia-friendly policy, which the foreign minister called “absurd”. He added that while the lives of 150,000 ethnic Hungarians may be less important than geopolitical considerations, “for us, this community is more important than any geopolitical matter”. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Energy consumption. 43% of people in Bulgaria say that information about how much energy is consumed by the provision and use of online services would not influence their use of these services, a Eurobarometer study showed. Compared to other EU member states, Bulgaria has the lowest proportion of people (14%) who say that this information would influence their usage. (dnevnik.bg)
New foreign minister wants secret special envoy for Croatia. The likely candidate for new Slovenian foreign minister, Anže Logar (SDS-EPP), spoke on Tuesday in favour of strengthening relations with Croatia while protecting Slovenian national interests on Tuesday (10 March), adding that Slovenia would have a better insight into their relationship with Croatia if it appointed a special, secret envoy for relations with its neighbour. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec digs deeper.
In other news, defence minister-candidate, Matej Tonin (NSi-EPP), has said that the last decade has been one of stagnation and setbacks for the Slovenian army, adding that he doubts he’d be able to resolve everything his predecessors had failed to find solutions for in just two years. “I am aware that I am coming to the line as a firefighter and only when the fire is extinguished will a serious reconstruction of the system begin”, Tonin said in parliament. When it comes to recruiting, he said that the coalition agreement clearly states that a recruiting system will be introduced gradually and warned that the mere introduction of this system will not solve all the problems of the military and that it will not be cheap. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Removing busts of former political leaders becomes a political issue. Almost like in London’s “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”, President Zoran Milanović’s decision to remove all busts from the vestibule of his office has become a contentious political issue. EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec has more.
And as of Wednesday, Croatian police will be deployed at the Greek-Turkish border as part of an operation conducted by the European border and coast guard agency Frontex, the interior ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. Four Croatian police officers were sent to Greece on Tuesday to help guard the Greek-Turkish land border as part of Frontex’s Rapid Border Intervention 2020 mission. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Serbian PM thanks US tariff policy, calls on EU to take a clearer stand. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic thanked US President Donald Trump and his administration on Tuesday for consistently abiding by what they say on the necessity of Kosovo lifting the tariffs on goods coming from Serbia, and called on the EU to provide a clearer stand on the tariffs. EURACTIV Serbia takes a closer look.
Court acquits Bosnian Serb accused of joining the pro-Russian militia in Ukraine. Bosnia’s State Court acquitted Gavrilo Stević, who has been accused of joining pro-Russian paramilitary formations in Ukraine, the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) reported. Prosecutors have alleged that Stevic crossed the border to Serbia in July 2014 and flew to Moscow from Belgrade. From there, he allegedly travelled to Rostov-on-Don in Ukraine and joined the ‘Jovan Sević’ paramilitary group. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
Visas first, then dialogue with Serbia. “I just hosted a meeting with the envoys of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron and told them that there will be no dialogue with Belgrade until the EU waives visas for our citizens”, Kosovo president Hashim Thaci told the media after the meeting. Read more.
Turkish ‘Gulenist’ facing deportation seeks asylum in Albania. Selami Simsek, who claims he would be prosecuted as a member of cleric Fethullah Gulen’s movement if he were to be extradited to Turkey, is waiting to hear if he has been granted political asylum in Albania, BIRN reported. His father, Sami Simsek, who recently arrived from Turkey, said he was afraid that his son could share the fate of Harun Celik, a Turkish teacher who was put on a plane by Albanian authorities and sent to Turkey on 1 January. (Željko Trkanjec | EURACTIV.hr)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Zoran Radosavljevic]