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Europe’s virus outbreak shows signs of slowing on lockdowns

Italy’s new confirmed cases totaled 4 316 on Sunday, lower than the day before.
Image: Jacobia Dahm/Bloomberg

Germany saw the lowest number of new coronavirus cases in six days in a tentative sign that the spread of the deadly disease may be slowing in Europe’s worst-hit countries.

The most recent figures from Spain, Italy, Germany and France suggested containment measures that have idled millions of workers are having an effect. While most leaders pleaded for patience, Austria and Denmark may announce plans to start gradually rolling back restrictions on Monday.

German infections rose by 4 031 to surpass 100 000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death toll rose by 140, the lowest daily increase in nearly a week. The coming days will show if the trend holds. New cases and deaths have consistently dropped over weekends as regional health authorities have been slower to report figures.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff said it’s critical to reduce the number of infections before taking decisions on easing social-distancing rules. The concern is that patients require ventilation for a longer period of time than initially anticipated “because more and more older people get infected,” Helge Braun told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

Reports on Covid-19 related outbreaks in nursing homes and hospitals are increasing, and the number of deaths is relatively high in some of these outbreaks, the German health authority said. Europe’s largest economy continues to have the third-highest number of confirmed cases in Europe.

Spain and Italy — the epicenters of the pandemic in region — have the highest death tolls worldwide. That means officials have to weigh any attempts to restart parts of the economy against the risk of reigniting the outbreak.

“It’s the lockdown measures that are helping us,” Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s public health institute, said in Rome on Sunday. Rules designed to limit contact between people have led to a “significant slowdown in the spread,” he said.

Italy’s new confirmed cases totaled 4 316 on Sunday, lower than the day before. Total infections rose to 128 948 cases, slightly fewer than Spain.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is due to present plans later in Vienna for gradually relaunching the economy — probably starting with opening some stores beyond groceries and pharmacies. The country’s number of active coronavirus patients dropped for the first time over the weekend as recoveries outnumbered new positive tests on both days.

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen may also announce a partial roll-back of lockdown measures as early as Monday. Still, she’s made clear that any slight uptick in the number of cases would be followed by an instant return to tight restrictions.

Italy is heading into its fifth week under lockdown, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he can’t say when it will be lifted.

He is expected to announce revised rules and timelines by the end of next week, Il Messaggero newspaper reported. Italy’s measures have been extended through at least April 13, and Spain’s will now be in force at least until April 25.

To deal with the economic fallout of the crisis, the Italian prime minister renewed his call for joint euro-area debt issuance that’s opposed by Germany.

“As the Italian government, I invite all its European partners to approve a European recovery and reinvestment plan,” he said on NBC. “It’s an ambitious common plan to rebuild the European economy to be financed through European recovery bonds.”

In an op-ed for publications in Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and Greece, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz called for the quick financial stabilisation of European countries hit by the coronavirus, while avoiding any mention of joint debt issuance. He said the European Stability Mechanism rescue fund “already now offers the possibility for euro countries to raise capital jointly with the same advantageous terms for all.”

© 2020 Bloomberg

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