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Europe led much of the world into lockdown, but countries across the continent are now tiptoeing out.
Why it matters: Austria, Denmark, Italy and Spain relaxed some measures this week, while Germany and France unveiled staged reopening plans. The U.S., India and other locked-down countries will be watching closely as they consider their own exit strategies.
Flashback: Italy imposed the first nationwide coronavirus lockdown on March 9, with nearly all of Europe following suit over the next two weeks.
The big picture: “One of the reasons why governments went into lockdown was that the public health benefits are very visceral — they’re right there, whereas the consequences are much more nebulous and far-reaching and diffuse,” says Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, a professor of economics at Oxford. “That’s changing now.”
The answer, according to U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, is not for at least three weeks.
State of play: The deep freeze is beginning to thaw elsewhere in Europe, with Austria opening small shops this week and Danish day cares and grade schools reopening.
The bottom line: The coronavirus crisis has imbued governments with authority they never sought — to shutter businesses and keep their citizens at home.
While it might not be ethically or politically feasible to put a price on life, "governments do it all the time," de Neve says.
But, but, but: There's more to consider than simply lives lost to COVID-19 vs. GDP lost due to lockdowns.
Where things stand: The coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented drop in self-reported happiness in the U.K., but the decline leveled off once the government put forward a clear plan.
What to watch: He anticipates a point at which an extended lockdown would cause discontent to rise and trust in government to fall — particularly for younger people, who are least vulnerable to the virus but among the most impacted by the lockdown.
Where's the peak? Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that the thinnest of margins — an infection rate of 1.0 vs. 1.2 — will determine whether Germany’s outbreak remains manageable or outstrips hospital capacity and forces a new clampdown.
Why it matters: The key to reopening economies will therefore be to quickly identify and isolate those who are exposed to the virus.
1. Some epidemiologists have proposed intense testing campaigns in which most of the population — even those who don’t have symptoms — are tested as often as once a week.
2. Antibody tests could be used to pinpoint those who have recovered.
3. Contact tracing in Europe lags behind countries like South Korea, where cellphone data is used to locate and then isolate those who recently interacted with anyone who tests positive.
4. Governments are also reserving the right to tighten lockdowns again if caseloads rise, as Singapore recently did.
The waiting game. Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
If European countries are able to ease out of lockdown into some sort of equilibrium, it might look quite a bit like Sweden does now.
Zoom in: Sweden did not impose a lockdown, making it virtually unique within Europe.
While Sweden has suffered far more deaths than its Nordic neighbors (1,203, compared to 143 in Norway), Tegnell says that's because of a high number of deaths in nursing homes.
The bottom line: “We do believe that the main difference between our policy and many other countries’ policies is that they are sustainable," Tegnell says, noting that "the virus will be with us for a long time."
Patients depart Paris for less crowded hospitals in Brittany. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron has shown uncharacteristic humility this week, acknowledging personal "failings" as he extended France's lockdown for four weeks.
Flashback: Macron previously portrayed himself as the commanding general in a "war" against the virus.
Macron has also spent his presidency calling for a strong, unified Europe.
“We are at a moment of truth, which is to decide whether the European Union is a political project or just a market project. I think it’s a political project. ... We need financial transfers and solidarity, if only so that Europe holds on," he said.— Emmanuel Macron
What to watch: Macron is still bursting with plans and ambitions. He wants Europe to help Africa cope with the virus and to use the lessons from the pandemic to fight climate change.
The bottom line: “I don’t know if we are at the beginning or the middle of this crisis," Macron acknowledged. "No one knows."
Scrubbing the streets in Arequipa, Peru. Photo: Diego Ramos/AFP via Getty
"It's almost diplomatic, the way I'm talking, but it's because I'm actually upset about what's going on."— Nigeria's parliamentary speaker scolding China's ambassador over the treatment of Africans in Guangzhou