Before you start reading today’s edition of the Capitals, feel free to have a look at the article “EU moves to shore up passenger rights as virus plays havoc” by Sam Morgan.
Also read the story “Farmers call for measures to secure food production as COVID-19 crisis bites” by Gerardo Fortuna.
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.
In today’s news from the Capitals
BRUSSELS. Although Flanders is being harder hit than Wallonia by the coronavirus, most of the European support for Belgium flows to the south of the country, Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA) complained as the Flemish and Walloon governments installed further measures to tackle the crisis.
Meanwhile, around 400,000 people have applied for temporary unemployment due to the coronavirus crisis, according to figures of the Belgian federal government.
Alexandra Brzozowski has more.
Merkel’s address brings no new restrictions. In a rare televised speech to the country, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) did not call for additional restrictions to public life. Instead, she reassured Germans that the government is doing all it can to both prepare the healthcare system and cushion the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
Government proposes ‘catch-all’ COVID-19 emergency legislation. The French government on Wednesday (18 March) proposed ‘catch-all’ emergency legislation to try to respond to the coronavirus. Among the provisions of the text are one on electoral provisions, another on the state of health emergency and the third on “economic emergency measures and adaptation to the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic”.
And while the European Parliament is questioning the relevance of holding a plenary session next week, the French chambers, Senate and National Assembly, will reopen to validate the government’s text. EURACTIV France takes a closer look.
COVID-19 crisis fund increased by almost 400%. The government will increase its corona-crisis-fund from €4 billion to €38 billion to help businesses hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. Channelling former ECB-president Mario Draghi, vice-chancellor Werner Kogler of the Greens said the state will do “whatever it takes – at whatever cost – for jobs and businesses”. EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll has the details.
More cases confirmed. The Irish Department of Health has announced that a further 74 cases of COVID-19 have been identified, bringing the total in the Republic to 366. Dublin currently has the highest number of cases at 14. EURACTIV’s Samuel Stolton looks into more data.
Capital moving close to lockdown. The UK government is moving towards imposing further restrictions on movement in London, which has become the epicentre of the country’s recent spike in coronavirus cases. EURACTIV’s Benjamin Fox has more.
British supermarkets impose limits as panic buying spreads. Britain’s biggest supermarkets, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, imposed limits on purchases of pasta, toilet roll and long life milk on Wednesday (18 March) after alarmed shoppers stripped shelves bare to hoard for possible isolation in the coronavirus outbreak. Read more.
Tragic record. Italy hit a record high of 475 deaths for coronavirus in a single day on Wednesday (18 March). As of Wednesday, Italy’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 2,978, while the total number of confirmed cases is now 31,506, of which 4,025 have been cured. The governor of Lombardy Region Attilio Fontana has raised the alarm over citizens’ lack of respect of the restrictive measures. “As the number of infected people is not decreasing, soon we won’t be able to help who gets sick,” he said, asking people to stay home. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)
Facilitating the return of foreign tourists amid COVID-19 lockdown. Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said on Wednesday (18 March) that Madrid would facilitate the return of foreign tourists to their home after Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that the “worst was still to come”. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Fernando Heller reports.
State of emergency. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa declared a state of emergency on Wednesday (18 March), citing the need to enable authorities to go further in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects. Prime Minister António Costa, said that “the country will not stop” and that the government will do everything it can to maintain the production and distribution of essential goods and services. (Lusa.pt)
Famous artists try to convince citizens to stay home. A number of artists have posted messages on social media to convince Greek citizens to show discipline and stay home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. With all concerts have been cancelled, many artists posted videos singing songs. The country has now reached 387 coronavirus cases while 300 health workers have been quarantined as the COVID-19 crisis worsens. (Sarantis Michalopoulos)
Cyprus readies stricter measures. Nicosia will hold today (19 March) an extraordinary cross-party meeting to discuss stricter measures in the fight against the coronavirus as the number of confirmed cases jumped to 58. Yesterday, another nine cases were confirmed, with one of them a doctor at the Pediatric Department of Limassol General Hospital.
Meanwhile, Cypriot media reported that almost all flights landing at the Paphos Airport were empty except for a Ryanair flight from Liverpool carrying six passengers. (Sarantis Michalopoulos)
Incoming foreign minister to be quarantined. After future Prime Minister Igor Matovič of the conservative movement Ordinary People (OĽaNO) officially presented the names of ministers in his incoming government to which President Zuzana Čaputová voiced no reservations, the new foreign minister, Ivan Korčok, will need to go in quarantine for 14 days before he will be able to assume office.
Korčok (nominated by the Freedom and Solidarity Party) is a career diplomat with a substantial EU track record who has served as the Slovak ambassador to the US. “The principal interest of Slovakia must be the European Union and NATO. Our task is to be actively involved in the discussion on the future of the EU after the departure of Great Britain,” Korčok has said. (Zuzana Gabrižová | EURACTIV.sk)
Solidarity and mandatory facemasks. Starting at midnight today (19 March), all citizens have had to wear facemasks or other items to cover their mouth and nose with, the government announced on Wednesday (18 March).
As the ongoing pandemic has caused a wave of solidarity among Czechs, who have started many groups focused on helping the elderly, babysitting, hospital services or sewing facemasks, President Miloš Zeman, who many criticised for “hiding from the public” in recent days, should deliver a speech on TV tonight.(Ondřej Plevák | EURACTIV.cz)
New economic measures. Hungary’s PM Viktor Orbán announced a new set of economic measures to help mitigate the impact of the virus, including a moratorium on principal and interest payments until the end of the year for all households and enterprises. These will be the first measures of many more to come to protect jobs “because we learned in the past 10 years that if there is work, there is everything,” the PM said.
“We know that the pandemic is not only threatening people’s lives, though that is the most important, but also endangers the work, the workplace,” said Orbán in a video posted on Facebook. To read more about Hungary’s response to coronavirus, click here. (Vlagyiszlav Makszimov | EURACTIV.com)
WARSAW Anti-crisis shield. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced the creation of a so-called “anti-crisis shield” in connection with the coronavirus pandemic involving a package of actions to support entrepreneurs and employees affected by the crisis. The total value of the support package is expected to amount to PLN 212 billion (€46,7 billion) which equates to about 9.2% of Poland’s GDP. (Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)
NEWS FROM THE BALKANS
Third coronavirus death. The total number of confirmed cases is now 94 and the ski resort city of Bansko remains blocked as a hub of the epidemic. Two citizens of North Macedonia who visited Bansko have also tested positive for coronavirus. All flights to Italy and Spain have been cancelled, and entry bans have been imposed on travellers from Italy, Spain, France, Netherlands, Germany, UK, Northern Ireland, Switzerland, China, India, Iran, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Belgium remains an exception. (Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)
More power to the civic guard. Croatian parliament has given greater powers to the national civil guard as the country faces the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of 108 MPs approved the amendments, meaning that starting tomorrow, the guard will legally be able to make decisions and issue recommendations which will be implemented by local civil protection authorities. The amended bill is aimed at ensuring uniform action by authorities in adopting and implementing decisions that regulate citizens’ and legal persons’ everyday activities during the pandemic. EURACTIV Croatia’s Tea Trubić Macan has more.
Merkel and Vucic discuss Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, coronavirus, cooperation. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and German Chancellor Angela Merkel advocate the prompt resumption of the dialogue for reaching a comprehensive agreement on the full normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina, it was announced on Wednesday (18 March) following a teleconference. EURACTIV Serbia reports.
In other news, a professor at the Belgrade School of Economy, Ljubodrag Savic, said on Wednesday (18 March) that a new economic crisis following the global outbreak of coronavirus would be worse than the global meltdown in 2008. EURACTIV Serbia has the story.