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9th Dec 2021

Major regional discrepancies in Covid-19 response, report finds

  • Many regions in Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland and Romania had a higher number of hospital beds than regions in Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark or Ireland (Photo: morberg)

EU regions were unevenly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report published on Monday (12 October) by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR).

The most economically hard-hit regions were those under strict lockdown measures for the longest - not necessarily those with the highest death-rates or most cases detected, it finds.

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Meanwhile, nearly 60 percent of Europeans think more influence in policy-making by local authorities would help the EU overcome the economic and social impact of the pandemic, the report states.

While Europeans trust local and regional government more than they trust national governments or the EU itself to handle the pandemic, citizens from northern and western countries in particular have higher confidence in local and regional authorities than those in the south and east of the EU.

Mayors and regional governors have been in charge of enforcing quarantines, distributing aid, mobilising public resources, ensuring the effective delivery of public services, particularly in the area of healthcare, and planning lockdown relaxation measures.

The Covid-19 crisis has accentuated the need for effective coordination between decentralised and centralised powers.

"These challenging times could be turned into an opportunity to reinforce local democracy and to reflect collectively on Europe's founding values during the Conference on the future of Europe," reads the CoR report.

The EU regions previously said that the delayed conference should take place as soon as possible as it is a "timely opportunity" to debate how to make local and regional authorities fully-involved in the EU-wide response to Covid-19.

Asymmetric impact

The pandemic, meanwhile, has also brought to the frontline the regional disparities in healthcare systems which, in many cases, have suffered from underinvestment in the years following the previous crisis.

Many regions in Austria, Germany, France, Hungary, Poland and Romania had a higher number of hospital beds than regions in Spain, Italy, Sweden, Denmark or Ireland, for instance.

Western and nordic European regions stand out with higher shares of healthcare workers than those in southern and eastern countries.

Local and regional authorities, with significant health competences, have struggled to respond effectively to the pandemic, with some of them, such as regions with ageing populations, being under noticeable pressure.

For example, Lombardy, which is the best-equipped Italian region for critical-care beds, reported high pressure during the peak of the pandemic since the demand for intensive care beds was more then 1,000 units for 29 consecutive days.

Meanwhile, the report states that health is the top priority for Europeans in terms of policy areas where local and regional authorities should have more influence on EU-level decisions.

Additionally, the CoR report found that the most socially and economically hard-hit regions are those that were under strict lockdown measures for the longest period and not necessarily those with the highest death rates or most cases detected.

For example, the Grand-Est region in France had one of the highest death tolls and numbers of cases in France, but was less affected than Rhône-Alpes in terms of the economic slowdown.

The CoR identifies that Île-de-France, the Spanish regions of Andalusia, Castile and León, Madrid and Valencia and most of the Italian regions have been hardest hit, along with coastal regions in Croatia, eastern Bulgaria and Greece.

While regions in southern and eastern Europe are more vulnerable due to their high level of micro-enterprises and self-employed workers, the Mediterranean and Alpine regions are at high risk due to their reliance on tourism, the report finds.

In Portugal, where tourism represents about 23 percent of all employment and 10 percent of GDP, the coronavirus crisis already caused at least a five-percent contraction in GDP from tourism alone.

The CoR stressed that the allocation of the recovery fund should be based on the socioeconomic vulnerabilities identified across EU regions.

It called for a recovery and resilience forum to be organised annually by the CoR and European Commission in order to ensure that the recovery plan works for cities and regions.

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