Measures Taken By Europe To Contain The Outbreak Of Coronavirus
On 17th March, European leaders agreed to close the European Union’s external borders. The decision followed a proposal by European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Only essential travel will be allowed for at least a month – but the ban doesn’t affect trade.
On 13th March, Slovakia, Malta, and the Czech Republic announced they would close off their borders to fellow EU member states in an effort to contain the outbreak.
Switzerland, not a member of the EU but part of the European Schengen free-trade agreement, has tightened border controls with its neighbors. Geneva closed commercial activities and banned meetings of more than five people, as well as religious services.
France went into lockdown on 17th March, with President Emmanuel Macron saying people should only leave home to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or receive medical care. It will deploy 100,000 troops to enforce the new rules.
On 20th March, the country known for its Tour de France cycle race went a step further and banned recreational cycling. It also ruled that people could only exercise within a mile (2km) of their homes.
The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the strictest measures for the country yet on 23rd March, which amounted to a partial lockdown. He said people could only leave home to buy essential food and medicine, to exercise once a day, and travel to work was “absolutely necessary”.
He banned public gatherings of more than two people and ordered the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods. The new measures came at the end of the first day of school closures, as many parents were coming to terms with homeschooling.
In a bid to draft extra health-workers to tackle the outbreak, letters have been sent to more than 65,000 retired doctors and nurses in England and Wales asking them to return to the country’s National Health Service.
Meanwhile, in an effort to help slow the virus’ spread, Norwegians were asked to return home from their holiday mountain cabins. The recommendation was made to ensure smaller municipalities could support their core populations. Anyone caught breaking their quarantine or self-isolation at home could face a fine or imprisonment, according to new guidelines from the Norwegian government.
Italy, which has the highest number of cases of coronavirus after China, has extended its emergency measures. These include scrapping the final exams of 10,000 student doctors. They will be immediately deployed to work as general practitioners or in care homes for the elderly, freeing up more experienced doctors to go to hospitals and ease the burden on the country’s health service.
In Italy, nationwide restrictions on travel are in place and all shops – apart from food stores and pharmacies – are closed, as are schools, gyms, museums, cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs.
On 21st March, as the country announced nearly 800 deaths in a single day, Italy expanded its lockdown by ordering the closing of all non-essential businesses and factories. The government has also called in the military to enforce the lockdown.
However, one town in the worst-hit northern region of Italy has managed to slow the spread by experimenting with blanket testing. Vò, near Venice, began testing its entire population of 3,300 people when the pandemic began.
It imposed a strict quarantine on those infected and their contacts and, as of 13th March, the town has not registered any new cases.
Spain on 14th March announced a 15-day state of emergency, ordering bars, restaurants, and most shops to close, and restricting transport. As of 25 March, the country was the 2nd worst hit in Europe – behind Italy – with more than 3,000 deaths.
Many other European countries have closed schools, urged people who can work from home to do so and banned mass gatherings. (As of 13th March, 61 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and South America had announced school and university closures, affecting almost half a billion students around the world.)
On 16th March, Germany closed its borders with France, Austria, and Switzerland, except for commercial traffic. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a press conference on 11 March that 60-70% of the population could contract COVID-19. The cities of Berlin and Cologne have closed all bars, clubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls.
Governments and businesses are taking steps to mitigate the impact on business and to help provide essential equipment. The Danish government announced that until 9th June the government would pay 75% of employees’ salaries for private companies who are struggling, providing they didn’t cut staff.
“If there’s a big drop in activity, and production is halted, we understand the need to send home employees. But we ask you: Don’t fire them,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a news conference on 15th March.
In Ireland, on 21st March, the government announced that private hospitals would become part of the public health system. “There can be no room for public versus private” in the current crisis, explained health minister Simon Harris.
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