21st Jan 2021


EU leaders seek 'exit strategies' as infections slow

  • The glimmer of hope from the latest figures has prompted European leaders to look into possible exit strategies from their national lockdowns (Photo: Markus Meier)

EU leaders have begun to explore possible exit strategies to their national lockdowns - as the latest figures in the worst-hit member states indicate a slowing in the rate of new coronavirus cases and deaths.

Italy, Spain, France and Germany on Monday (6 April) all reported declines in their daily death tolls from the virus, roughly three weeks after lockdowns and restrictive measures entered into force.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The Spanish health ministry reported on Monday 637 registered coronavirus deaths in previous 24 hours - which marks the fifth consecutive-day decline in deaths since a peak of 950 fatalities recorded on 2 April.

As Spain overtook Italy and became the second worst-affected country worldwide, the Spanish government announced that lockdown measures, which began on March 14, will be extended until 26 April.

Following the north-south split over possible 'coronabonds' last week, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez also called for EU solidarity among member states, in an article published on Sunday in several European newspapers.

Italy, which still has the world's highest-recorded death rate from coronavirus, reported its lowest daily coronavirus death toll for more than two weeks on Sunday - when the country registered 525 fatalities and its third consecutive daily decline in deaths.

"The curve has reached a plateau and begun to descend," said the head of Italy's health institute Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), Silvio Brusaferro, on Sunday.

"If this is confirmed, we need to start thinking about the second phase and keep down the spread of this disease," he added.

Italy was the first European country to go into lockdown on 10 March - a measure that has saved an estimated 30,000 lives, according to ISS.

The quarantine will officially expire on 13 April, but it is expected soon to be extended until the end of the month.

Likewise, France also reported on Sunday the slowing down of both its daily death toll and new cases, although the figures have been disrupted by a massive spike in the number of previously-unreported deaths, especially in nursing homes.

On 2 and 2 April, the French government added to the national totals some 1,416 deaths and 17,827 such additional cases.

Meanwhile, Germany also recorded on Monday its fourth consecutive day with a decline in new confirmed cases - with 3,677 new cases and 92 deaths in the past 24 hours.

The 'Second Phase'

The glimmer of hope from these figures prompted European leaders to look into possible exit strategies to the national lockdowns.

Denmark and Austria announced on Monday the first steps of their exit strategies, aiming to ease lockdown measures and get out of the crisis faster than others.

Spanish lawmakers are expected to discuss this week easing quarantine measures - which are considered the hardest of Europe together with Italy.

"I think that, for instance, it would be possible to start allowing sports very soon. Going out running, individually and in a controlled way, or allowing parents to walk with their children while complying with social distancing measures," the president of the Spanish Society of Epidemiology, Pere Godoy, told El País.

However, the World Health Organization's director for Europe, Hans Kluge, recently referred to "careful optimism" when speaking about the situation in Spain.

Meanwhile, Italian media on Sunday reported that the government led by Giuseppe Conte was preparing a five-point plan to open businesses gradually, while keeping social distancing measures in place.

Once the lockdown measures are lifted, Italy and Spain are considering to make compulsory the use of masks in certain public spaces - an initiative that Austria has recently imposed in supermarkets and grocery shops.

"Masks are important because they prevent the spread of infections," said the chief of the Italian civil protection service, Angelo Borrelli.

Additionally, massive testing and "contact tracing" are considered essential to exit quarantine measures gradually.

Spain, for instance, wants to use one million testing kits to act as "rapid screening" in hospitals, nursing homes and other essential sectors pursuing a two-fold objective: to acknowledge the real extent of the pandemic and identify the asymptomatic coronavirus patients.

Likewise, national authorities of many EU countries announced that "contact tracing" would also be extended with the use of mobile data and applications.

However, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), it is essential to accurately identify the triggers for the activation, and subsequently for the de-activation, of the range of surveillance systems that have to be established or strengthened, while considering the incubation period and the time taken to report cases.


Coronabonds clash continues This WEEK

Finance ministers will hold all-important online meeting to find ways to mitigate the econmic fallout from the pandemic and heal wounds between northern and southern member states.

Coronavirus exposes lack of common data approach

The enormous differences between coronavirus cases reported worldwide raise questions on how countries are tracking their outbreaks - or even deliberately underreporting them.


A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough

The 1948-51Marshall Plan provided about €118bn in today's figures in American assistance to European countries. These numbers are dwarfed by prospective needs, and the needs are not just European or American - but global.

Coronavirus threat to EU farm seasonal workers

The restrictive measures taken by many member states to respond to the coronavirus outbreak make it difficult for EU farmers and fishermen to continue their daily work - which is disrupting the agri-food sector across the continent.

EU science chief who 'quit' had been told to resign

Contested version of events cloud the shock resignation of Mauro Ferrari as president of the European Research Council. Ferrari dramatically tendered his resignation on 7 April. But his colleagues overseeing the council wanted him gone already by late March.


How the EU's virus-alert agency failed

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an EU agency, was meant to highlight threats from infectious diseases, but painted a rosy picture of Covid-19.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines
  2. Russia files for Sputnik vaccine registration in EU
  3. Destruction and three deaths in Madrid explosion
  4. Liberals kick out Lithuanian MEP for homophobic jibes
  5. Air pollution killing thousands of Europeans a year
  6. First migrant tragedy of 2021 claims 43 lives
  7. Train revival needed to meet EU climate goals
  8. NGOs shame Monaco for persecuting UK whistleblower

EU seeks more health powers after dubious Covid-19 response

After the lack of coordination evidenced during the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Commission put forward a set of proposals to strengthen the preparedness of members states in cross-border health threats.


BioNTech: Stop talking about their 'migration background'

I understand that the German-Turkish community - often subjected to condescension in Germany - celebrated the story. Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türecki represent scientific excellence and business success at the highest level.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  2. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?
  3. Turkish minister in Brussels to discuss new migrant deal
  4. EU leaders to discuss vaccine certificates
  5. On Erdoğan and Europe's 'ontological' choice
  6. MEPs call to halt Russia pipeline over Navalny arrest
  7. EU targets vaccinating 70% of adults by summer
  8. Portugal pushes to start delayed 'future EU' conference

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us