Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the article “Bulgarian authorities struggle to enforce containment with Roma population” by EURACTIV Bulgaria’s Krassen Nikolov.
To stay up-to-date on everything to do with the coronavirus across the capitals, feel free to check out EURACTIV’s comprehensive overview, which is regularly updated with the help of our network of offices and media partners.
Today’s news from the Capitals
EU INSTITUTIONS. Beijing strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s latest habit of calling the coronavirus a “Chinese virus” and urged everyone to follow the science instead. At the same time, China has stepped up efforts to send equipment and experts to Europe, now the epicentre of the pandemic, in what AFP described as ‘mask diplomacy’.
Sarantis Michalopoulos has the story: China rejects US ‘stigma’ over coronavirus, winks at EU
Still no confinement in Germany. With 13,620 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday (19 March), the German government announced more measures to continue bolstering the healthcare system, as well as lessen the economic impacts of the coronavirus. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz announced a multi-billion-euro-aid package for the self-employed and for micro-businesses, who have so far been left out of relief measures.
However, the country is not implementing any new legal measures either to restrict access to public spaces or foster social distancing. While bars, schools, fitness studios, and ‘unnecessary shops’ are all closed, restaurants remain open from 6am to 6pm, which has tempted many to ignore the government social distancing advice. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)
Read more about Germany’s COVID-19 response.
2020 deficit could reach 7%. While the French government continues to announce stimulus spending, as well as support measures for companies, employees and the research sector worth billions to mitigate the COVID-19 crisis, economist Eric Chaney predicts that this could cause a 15% contraction in activity in the second quarter for France. EURACTIV France has the story: “France’s budget deficit could skyrocket to 7% of GDP in COVID-19 aftermath”
New law urges retired doctors to return to work. 65,000 retired doctors and nurses will be asked to return to the NHS to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak as part of a new law published Thursday (19 March). Benjamin Fox reports from London.
Government confirmed. A government led by French-speaking liberal Sophie Wilmès got the green light from parliament: 84 votes in favour, 44 against (N-VA, Belang, PTB) and no abstentions. It is now legally in full exercise of its powers, although the PM previously promised not to go beyond the scope of current affairs for matters that do not fall under the COVID-19 crisis. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
650 people given corona fines. Since the Austrian government imposed a partial lockdown as of Monday (16 March) that permits people to leave their homes to buy groceries, help others, go to work (though working from home is advised) or take walks with flatmates, the police have already fined 650 people up to €3,600 each for not respecting these restrictions. The measures are supposed to run out on Sunday by default but it is widely assumed they will be prolonged, perhaps even tightened. (Philipp Grüll | EURACTIV.de)
Read also: “Austrian ski resort became a COVID-19 hotspot”
Credit institutions’ capital requirements lowered. In a bid to support the economy, the Finnish Board of the Financial Supervisory Authority has decided to lower the capital requirements of all credit institutions by 1%.
The decision is designed to increase the lending capacity of Finnish banks and their ability to credit households and businesses by around €52 billion. While the actual effects will depend on the measures taken by the credit institutions themselves, the board emphasised that banks will be monitored closely so that they won’t channel the effects of these measures into dividends or performance bonuses. (Pekka Vänttinen | EURACTIV.com)
Italy overtakes China. A total of 33,190 COVID-19 cases as of Thursday and a death toll of 3,405 means Italy has now overtaken China’s numbers. Concerned about the lack of respect for the emergency measures, Lombardy Governor Attilio Fontana called on Italian PM Giuseppe Conte to deploy a “massive use of the army” to ensure compliance with the imposed restriction of movement. In an interview with daily Corriere della Sera, Conte has said that extending the current lockdown – which is set to end by the of April – will be inevitable. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
More medical staff needed. While the number of COVID-19 patients saw a 25% increase on Thursday compared to the day before, as the country had 3,431 more patients (total: 17,147), the number of deaths also increased by 169 (total: 767), according to Spain’s health ministry. Fernando Simón, Director of the Coordination Centre for Alerts and Health Emergencies at the health ministry, stressed that 939 people were in intensive care units and 1,107 had been discharged from hospitals, EURACTIV’s partner EFE reported.
Spain’s Health Minister, Salvador Illa, also announced the recruitment of 30,000 extra nurses and doctors. While most of them are in their last years of internships, known as MIR in Spain, others are senior and already retired doctors.
To keep up to date with COVID-19 developments in Spain, click here.
Emergency measures. Confirmed cases and number of deaths numbered 785 and four, respectively, as of Thursday, according to the Portuguese authorities. Prime Minister António Costa announced the main measures of the state of emergency, which had been declared by Portuguese President Rebelo de Sousa the day before. (lusa.pt)
Last message before total lockdown. Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis warned citizens to abide by the extraordinary measures otherwise a total lockdown will be imposed. The government and health experts have reportedly been disturbed by cases of civilians boarding ships to get to islands. If this is repeated this coming weekend then a prohibition of traffic is not ruled out.
The authorities have ordered seasonal hotels and tourist facilities to remain closed until 30 April and are thinking of temporarily banning all foreign flights as of 22 March.
Read more about Greece and the coronavirus developments here.
Sorry to be going. As the last session of the outgoing government took place on Thursday, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said he was sorry for it to be over, adding that “I took over in a difficult situation, and I am handing over in an even more difficult one”. Pellegrini became prime minister after Robert Fico was forced to resign in the aftermath of the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and leaves the post amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Interior ministry joins fight against ‘corona-disinformation’. The Czech interior ministry’s Centre Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats, which was established three years ago, will be in charge of fighting fake news and disinformation linked to the coronavirus pandemic, Interior Minister Jan Hamáček confirmed to Deník N. So far, only journalists and NGOs have been fighting disinformation regarding the virus. (Lukáš Hendrych | EURACTIV.cz)
Read more about the state of play regarding the coronavirus outbreak in the Czech Republic.
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
In Bulgaria, home to a large Roma population, authorities are struggling to enforce the strict containment measures generally respected by the population. Many Bulgarian Roma are said to have returned from Western Europe in recent days where they may have contracted the coronavirus. Krassen Nikolov reports from Sofia.
Extraordinary legislation. Bulgaria’s parliament adopted a law proposed by the ruling part that will allow the military to help implement anti-epidemic measures in cities and at the border, to stop vehicles and people until the arrival of police authorities, to use physical force and assistive devices when necessary. Mobile operators’ location data will be stored and used for the detection and isolation of quarantined persons. Police officers have the right to access to such data.
Quarantine for all Bulgarians arriving in Bulgaria from abroad is mandatory. The quarantine period is 14 to 21 days or more depending on the result of a second test. According to the urgently adopted sanctions at the end of last week, quarantine violation is punished by imprisonment of up to four years and a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 levs (€5,000 to €25,000). The total number of people tested positive so far remains relatively low – 110. Three people have died from the outbreak.
Diaspora stay away. President Klaus Iohannis said on Thursday that during the outbreak, it is better that Romanians living abroad do not come back to Romania for the Easter vacation. EURACTIV Romania has more.
Slovenia tightens measures. Slovenia enforced a ban on all kinds of public gatherings from midnight on Friday, with only essential trips outside allowed, including work or going to the nearest shop. Violations will entail a €400 fine. Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who only took office last week, blamed the previous government for not having drafted proper emergency plans and secured equipment. “We observed the events in Northern Italy and did not believe the virus could come to us,” Jansa said.
A different kind of Croatia. As of midnight, one of the most widespread traditions in the country, drinking coffee in the sun, has been suspended for at least 30 days. Restaurants, fitness centres, beauty salons and other services businesses have followed that lead. “The measures taken yesterday are even stricter than those that were in place during the war in the 1990s. This is an extraordinary situation and we have to get used to it,” said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at the start of a government meeting. EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan has the details.
Fabrizi: Brussels looking for ways to help Serbia. Head of the EU Delegation to Serbia, Sem Fabrizi, announced on Thursday that Brussels was looking into ways to help Serbia in its struggle against the coronavirus, adding that it wasn’t true that the EU had banned the sale of medical equipment to Serbia. Commenting on a statement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on a ban on medical equipment exports from the EU, Fabrizi explained to the Serbian broadcasting company that it was not a ban but a mechanism of state control. EURACTIV Serbia has more.
In other news, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told Prva TV on Thursday that he “was in China during the epidemic when many in Europe looked on as China was implementing measures, but these measures brought results. China overcame the epidemic and that is the formula that it has provided to everyone for how to fight” the virus. The foreign minister also said that the cabinet was holding multiple sessions a day and passing decisions based on the situation with the objective of preventing coronavirus fatalities in Serbia.
Dacic said that bans and limitations on movement had so far produced the results that were hoped for. As for foreign policy, he said, it is currently limited to discussing the COVID-19 virus, and telephone and video communications on purchasing equipment and medicine. As for Serbian citizens who live abroad, Dacic said that the crisis camp was taking care of urgent cases and that returning to Serbia by plane was now virtually impossible.
Meanwhile, small and medium-sized businesses in vulnerable sectors are the most affected by the current state of emergency in Serbia, Serbian Association of Managers president Dragoljub Damjanovic said during an online conference in Belgrade. EURACTIV Serbia has the story.
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Daniel Eck, Sam Morgan]