As some European nations begin to see their COVID-19 outbreaks let up, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned governments on Wednesday not to lift their clampdown on public life too soon.
WHO’s Europe Regional Director Hans Kluge said this at a news conference in Copenhagen.
“As of today, Europe remains very much at the centre of the pandemic – on one hand, we have reason to be optimistic and on the other, to be very concerned,” Kluge said.
Kluge noted that seven of the top 10 most affected countries around the globe are in Europe.
Kluge singled out Spain, Italy and Germany for their slowing rates of transmission and said that “some good progress” is being made in Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland, according to a transcript.
He, however, expressed worry about the rising number of cases in countries such as Turkey, Israel, Sweden, Finland and Ukraine.
Kluge said there was a “long way to go in this marathon,” adding that it was not the moment to begin relaxing the tough social distancing restrictions that helped halt the spread of the virus.
Denmark, Austria and the Czech Republic have all announced loosening of restrictions.
A spokesperson for Spain’s government said on Wednesday that the public would likely begin to see some measures eased at the end of the month.
Edited By: Fatima Sule/Ijeoma Popoola
German energy providers file joint lawsuit at European court against RWE, E.ON deal
Following the approval of German energy company RWE’s takeover of E.ON’s energy generation assets and trading business, more than ten smaller energy providers in Germany filed an action for annulment with the European Court of Justice (EJC) on Wednesday.
The German energy providers argued in a joint statement that the approval of the deal by the European Commission as well as the German national competition regulator Bundeskartellamt in September 2019 was “clearing the way for two national champions at the expense of medium-sized companies.”
“This deal is associated with considerable disadvantages for competition and thus for all consumers,” the joint statement read.
Central to the deal is an asset swap between RWE and E.ON, two German electric utility companies, valued at more than 40 billion euros (44 billion U.S. dollars). With the merger, E.ON acquired networks and sales divisions and became one of Europe’s largest suppliers of electricity and gas.
In return, RWE took over renewables and once again became a producer of energy from nuclear, coal and gas plants, as well as wind and solar power.
The plaintiffs fear that the “reorganization of the German energy market” as envisaged by RWE and E.ON would eliminate the participation of other suppliers, according to the joint statement.
Although the joint lawsuit at the EJC does not have any immediate effect on the approved restructuring of the RWE and E.ON, the lawsuit announced on Wednesday presents an additional legal risk for the two energy giants.
Despite the COVID-19 crisis, both RWE and E.ON had reported increased revenues and earnings for the first quarter of 2020. On Thursday, E.ON is excepted to present more detailed plans about the restructuring and future plans on its annual general meeting.
European Commission proposes borrowing 750 bln euros as recovery fund
The European Commission on Wednesday proposed borrowing 750 billion euros (826 billion U.S. dollars) in its name from the financial market to help the world‘s largest trading bloc recover from a recession owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
The money is proposed to be channeled to member states through European Union programs and repaid over a long period of time throughout future EU budgets, not before 2028 and not after 2058.
Spotlight: Europeans continue to heal economic wounds, infections top 2 mln
France on Tuesday unveiled a major recovery plan to revive the country’s auto industry, which has been crippled by the loss of sales and production during the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown aimed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, an online dashboard maintained by the WHO European Region showed that 2,044,870 confirmed COVID-19 cases had been reported in 54 countries, with 175,184 deaths as of 10:00 a.m. CET (0800 GMT) on Tuesday.
“HISTORIC PLAN” IN FRANCE
Following a visit to a Valeo car parts factory in northern France, President Emmanuel Macron announced an 8-billion-euro (8.78 billion U.S. dollars) rescue plan to help the recovery of the auto industry.
“The state will provide more than eight billion euros in aid to the sector,” Macron said.
The president, who met with industry bosses early in the day, said the “historic plan,” which aims to “face a historic situation,” was based on a support package and a scrappage scheme to shift towards less polluting vehicles.
“We need to defend our industry and make France Europe’s top producer of clean vehicles,” with an output of one million electric and hybrid cars per year by 2025, said Macron.
“Bankruptcies should be avoided at all costs,” he said. To help promote clean cars, he also announced a higher state bonus for the purchase of a clean vehicle by individual consumers and businesses, from 6,000 euros to 7,000 euros.
France‘s massive rescue plan came one day after Deutsche Lufthansa AG said the German government’s Economic Stabilization Fund (WSF) has approved a 9-billion-euro rescue package for the airline.
Lufthansa said the WSF would provide up to 5.7 billion euros in the form of “silent participation” in the company’s assets, of which nearly 4.7 billion euros would be classified as equity in accordance with related financial rules.
Lufthansa was operationally healthy and profitable before the pandemic and has good prospects for the future, but it came into an existential emergency due to the coronavirus crisis, the WSF Committee, which consists of representatives of several federal ministries, said in a statement.
EASING BORDER CONTROLS
In a phased approach, European countries are cautiously easing their border controls, as part of their efforts to reopen the tourism industry, which is one of the hardest-hit sectors and accounts for about 10 percent of the European Union’s economic output.
On May 13, the European Commission had offered a tourism and transport package, recommending that EU member states with “similar overall risk profiles” on the pandemic should open to tourists from each other’s countries. Two days later (on May 15), Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania became the first EU nations to reopen their shared borders.
Starting on Tuesday at midnight, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic will reopen their respective borders to each other’s citizens for stays of no more than 48 hours without quarantine, Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said on social media.
Also on Tuesday, the Czech Republic began reopening its border crossings with neighboring Germany and Austria.
“From Tuesday, we are opening all railway and road crossings with Germany and Austria, as well as the Hrensko river crossing, and we are abolishing comprehensive border controls,” Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Monday in a statement, adding that proof for a negative COVID-19 test will still be mandatory and border checks will be random.
But crossing borders in non-designated areas will still be prohibited until June 13, and the external borders of the Schengen area will be closed until at least June 15, Czech media reported.
Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia had already reached an agreement to allow tourists from the three countries to travel without a quarantine period of 14 days, starting from June 1.
Meanwhile, the German government is planning to lift a travel warning for tourists from 31 European countries from June 15, ending an unprecedented directive against all international travel, German news agency DPA reported on Tuesday.
Alongside Germany’s 26 fellow EU member states, the warning will also be lifted for Britain and the four non-EU members of the borderless Schengen area — Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, DPA reported.
Tourism-dependent countries in Europe look to mid-June ‘D-Day’
“We are working so that on June 15 we may be able to restart all together in Europe.
Germany plans to lift a warning for tourists planning trips to 31 European countries from June 15, ending an unprecedented directive against all international travel.
Alongside Germany’s 27 fellow EU member states, the warning will also be lifted for Britain and the four non-EU members of the borderless Schengen zone, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein, according to a draft policy proposal seen by dpa.
Italy was in talks with Austria over its refusal to open its shared border, Di Maio said, but he had been assured that tourists from Germany would be able to pass through.
Meanwhile, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece have already lifted some travel restrictions and revealed plans to do more based on bilateral agreements and the epidemiological situation in individual countries.
Nationals from other countries must still go to quarantine, with some exceptions, most importantly for those in transit.
Slovenia on May 15 became the first in Europe to declare the COVID-19 epidemic to be over.
Greece, with the continued recovery of its still-fragile economy hinging on tourism, already published a list of countries, some of them non-EU, whose nationals will be allowed to enter without tests or isolation from June 1.
Croatia also said that it will open its borders without restrictions for tourists from multiple EU countries starting on Friday.
In central Europe, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary will allow their nationals to freely travel between the three countries, though on condition that they return within 48 hours.
Overstepping the time limit will still lead to a two-week quarantine and foreigners are not yet allowed to enter freely.
Who oversees the many different arrangements and sets standards is an open question on the continent.
Berlin is pushing for a common EU standard for countries to assess the situation and could propose using a metric already in place within Germany to track local infection levels.
Under the method, a locality must turn to stricter measures if more than 50 new cases of novel coronavirus are reported per 100,000 people in a seven-day period.
The German draft paper says the European Commission should develop a procedure to evaluate protective measures taken.
Edited By: Abdulfatah Babatunde (NAN)
Tunisia arrests 49 for attempting to illegally migrate to Europe
Tunisian security forces arrested 49 people who attempted to illegally cross the Mediterranean toward the European coasts in the past two days, Tunis Afrique presse (TAP) reported Tuesday.
“A unit of the Tunisian Maritime Guard intercepted a stolen boat on Sunday night with 14 people on board,” Houssem Jbabli, spokesman of the National Guard, was quoted by TAP as saying.
The arrestees, five of whom are wanted for common civil cases, are from the provinces of Tunis and Sfax, according to Jbabli.
The maritime guards also seized important sums pf money in foreign currency, he added.
In a second operation that took place in Kerkennah Islands in Sfax, eight people aged between 20 and 32 were arrested for preparing an illegal immigration attempt.
In Nabeul Province, the maritime guards intercepted 21 people in a boat off Korba’s coast, trying to cross illegally the Mediterranean.
Six others were arrested in the coastal town of Kelibia in Nabeul.
These individuals, who are from the provinces of Tunis, Manouba and Beja, have admitted to planning to illegally reach Italy from the coasts of Kelibia, 70 km away from the Italian island of Pantelleria, according to TAP.
Tunisia, located in the central Mediterranean, is one of the main points of access to the Europe through irregular channels.
The number of attempts of illegal immigration from the Tunisian coasts toward Italy has been increasing despite the strict measures by the Tunisian authorities to combat the problem.
China’s economic comeback helps Europe’s economy: Belgian official
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Uzbekistan eyes Europe-China air freight market
Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirzioyev has instructed the government to enter the Europe-China air cargo market to overcome the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the president’s press service said Monday.
The president tasked the ministry of transport to develop a business model for Uzbekistan Airways and Uzbekistan Airports, as well as the development of rail and road transportation, according to the press service.
Mirziyoyev also discussed with government officials about the issues of transferring the management of Uzbekistan Airways to a foreign company, attracting new air carriers and modernizing airports in the country, according to the press service.
Uzbekistan’s transport companies have suffered a loss of over 33 million U.S. dollars due to the pandemic, and the figure is likely to increase, the press service said, adding that Uzbekistan Airways and Uzbekistan Airports were already given loan extension and tax benefits worth of millions of dollars.
Washington’s Europe travel ban leads to “final viral infusion” in U.S. — media
A report by The Washington Post on Saturday said that the White House’s travel restrictions on Europe have prompted the crush of passengers from then COVID-19 epicenter and triggered a “final viral infusion” in the United States.
Citing the crowded population and cursory temperature check at U.S. airports after a 30-day Europe travel ban went into effect in March, the report said these scenes showed “how a policy intended to block the pathogen’s entry into the United States instead delivered one final viral infusion.”
“(President Donald) Trump has repeatedly touted his decision in January to restrict travel from China as evidence that he acted decisively to contain the coronavirus,” the article said. “But it was his administration’s response to the threat from Europe that proved more consequential to the majority of the more than 94,000 people who have died and the 1.6 million now infected in the United States.”
On March 11, Trump announced a suspension of travel from more than two dozen European countries to the United States for the next 30 days. The ban did not apply to American citizens who would be screened before entering the country.
Alarmed by the announcement, many American nationals including students in Europe chose to fly back to the United States. “As those exposed travelers fanned out into U.S. cities and suburbs, they became part of an influx from Europe that went unchecked for weeks,” the report said.
Last month, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo also blamed the White House for its botched response to contain the coronavirus, saying, “We closed the front door with the China travel ban, but we left the back door wide open.”
Malta holds another boatload of rescued migrants on high seas pending European solution
Malta has rescued a group of 140 migrants and chartered a third tourist boat to hold them on the high seas after refusing their disembarkation, a government spokesman has confirmed.
Sources said the 140 rescued on Friday were in distress as their dinghy, which was already too small for all those people, was taking in water.
Following its decision to close its ports, the government still wanted to live up to its international obligations to rescue people at sea who were in distress. On April 30, it chartered a tourist boat to house the 57 migrants rescued earlier in the day.
A second boat was chartered a week later after the Maltese army rescued another boatload of 120 migrants. Ten of them were allowed to disembark for purely humanitarian reasons.
The third boat commissioned on Friday will take the remaining 121 of a group of 140 rescued earlier in the day, as 19 of the group — mostly children, their parents and three pregnant women — were allowed to disembark in Malta.
The three chartered boats are outside Malta’s waters until a European solution is found. Malta is calling for solidarity from other EU member states.
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