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Virus data volatility complicates end in Europe’s lockdowns

  • Jeannette Neumann and Alex Nicholson

    Bloomberg

Madrid   /   Sun, April 12, 2020   /   11:04 pm
Virus data volatility complicates end in Europe’s lockdowns The grandstands that should be used during upcoming Holy Week celebrations are dismantled in an empty Plaza de San Francisco in Seville, Spain, on March 14, 2020. Seville decided to cancel its famous Holy Week processions, scheduled for April 5 to 12, due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. (AFP/Cristina Quicler )

The ups and downs in the emergence of new coronavirus cases in Europe are complicating efforts to determine when lockdowns can safely be eased without the risk of a resurgence.

Spain and Germany on Sunday reported that the number of new infections slowed. A day earlier, Italy reported its highest number of new cases in a week, while the death toll there climbed to about 20,000. In Spain, the number of fatalities rose after falling for three days, taking the total deaths to nearly 17,000.

The volatility of the pandemic’s march in the world’s hardest-hit countries is making it difficult for authorities to give their citizens clarity about when lockdowns will be lifted, and what kind of restrictions will remain in place and for how long. The lockdowns are estimated to cost the global economy about $5 trillion and governments around the world are keen to safely resume economic activity to minimize unemployment and bankruptcies.

Europe is likely to experience a more severe recession than the rest of the world and may not recover before next year, according to European Central Bank Vice President Luis de Guindos.

“In any case, 2021 will not be able to make up for all of the downturn in 2020,” Guindos said in an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia and published on the ECB’s website.

The pandemic has claimed more than 109,000 lives around the world, with Italy and the U.S. each counting about 20,000 deaths from the pathogen. Russia, which seemed to have avoided a significant outbreak, said the number of its new cases increased overnight by about a third to 2,186.

The UK surpassed the threshold of 10,000 deaths Sunday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was released from hospital after spending three nights in intensive care, where he was given oxygen to help with his breathing. Johnson spent a week in the hospital after contracting COVID-19.

The epicenter of the global pandemic has shifted to the US from Italy. Still, the rise in new cases in Italy offered little encouragement for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte as he seeks a tentative restart to commercial and public life. Conte, who has extended the country’s lockdown until May 3, held out the prospect of a gradual restart to normal life after that.

In Spain, 619 people died from coronavirus in the past 24 hours. There were 4,167 new infections, a dip from the previous day and part of a broader decline in the number of new cases since the end of March.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Sunday that the efforts by tens of millions of Spaniards to stay home during the past four weeks was helping to stall the spread of the virus.

Some employees in Spain’s construction and heavy industries are preparing to go back to work on Monday as tougher restrictions that were in place for the last two weeks or so are lifted. Sanchez said the government would remain vigilant “to avoid a relapse – and put at risk all that we have accomplished together” by adhering to the confinement orders.

“That’s why the lifting of the lockdown, which will begin no sooner than within two weeks, will be staggered and very cautious,” Sanchez said during televised remarks Sunday in Madrid.

Meanwhile, China, where the virus originated, said on Sunday that more than half its 99 new cases were from passengers on a plane to Shanghai from Russia.

Russia saw its cases rise to 15,770. Twenty-four people died, increasing Russia’s death toll to 130. In response, officials in Moscow, a city of 12.7 million residents, have pledged to tighten the lockdown in Russia’s capital city. Muscovites will now be required to receive permission to travel after voluntary restrictions failed to keep people off the streets.

The outbreak in Russia is a growing concern for officials in neighboring China, where authorities appear to have tamed the pandemic within their own borders, allowing Beijing to pivot toward staving off imported cases. China only allows one inbound flight per week by foreign airlines but coronavirus infections have also entered China from the land border the country shares with Russia.

Separately, Iran said on Sunday it will lift a ban on traveling between provinces as of April 20. Iranian officials have already begun to ease some social-distancing regulations on businesses in a bid to alleviate the virus’s toll on the economy, which was already hard-hit by sanctions. The death toll in Iran has risen to 4,357, with over 70,000 known cases.