March 24, 2020
Lock-down extends to three more European countries
European countries are entering total lock-down one after the other. Most have the same set of basic social-distancing practices, but differ in how far-reaching their confinement rules are. What worked and at what price will be up for the experts to evaluate once this crisis is over. It is a balancing act between following scientific advice and weighing the economic costs.
The UK and Greece were the latest to join in yesterday, with all non-essential shops closed and strict rules of household confinement. The Netherlands have their version of selected lock-down, still allowing meetings of three and shops to stay open if they allow for a distance of 1.5m between customers. The Netherlands has imposed a total lock-down only on families where one member has the virus.
Greece followed with rules similar to the French and British. People are not allowed to leave their homes other than for medicine, basic food, or exercising with a pet or one member of the household. The French yesterday tightened the rules for outdoor activities, allowing only one-hour walks within 1km of the home. They also ordered the closure of food markets where social distancing is not possible.
For all countries the aim is to lengthen the period over which the virus spreads so that health systems can cope. In Greece an additional concern is raised by the 118,000 asylum seekers waiting in camps on the Aegean islands and on the mainland. Poor hygiene conditions in these camps would help the virus to spread easily. Confinement measures have been in place at the camps since last week.
How long will these lock-down measures last? This is a moving target. France and Spain initially ordered strict confinement until end of March but they are now likely to prolong until mid-April. The UK ordered an initial term of three weeks. The length and severity of the measures will determine the costs to the economy and the state. In France the budget committee of the senate is already predicting a public deficit of 6.3% this year under the current set of measures. Each week costs the French unemployment insurer €2-2.5bn for partial unemployment measures alone. Some companies are restarting production, albeit at a reduced pace. Airbus started partial production yesterday after a temporary shutdown to deep-clean its factories and adjust working practices to the need for greater distance between staff members.