Europe’s Virus Deaths Slow While U.K. Fatalities Pass 20,000

Daniele Lepido, Rudy Ruitenberg and Rebecca Smith

(Bloomberg) --

Coronavirus deaths slowed in key European countries, though an increase in the U.K. underscored the risks facing the region’s leaders as they plan to relax lockdown measures.

Italy counted the fewest deaths in almost six weeks on Saturday and France reported the smallest daily increase since March 29. Spain announced less than 400 fatalities for the second day in row, and deaths in Germany dropped to the lowest in five days.

By contrast, the U.K. became the fifth country with more than 20,000 casualties from the virus as the death toll rose by 813 in the latest 24-hour period.

“The sun might be shining, but the virus hasn’t gone away,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said in a Twitter post. “Stop the spread, stay home.”

With Europe’s economies battered by lockdowns imposed to bring the epidemic under control, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that her country will boost funding to the European Union to mitigate the economic fallout. She also called on the EU to use planned stimulus spending to reduce dependence on global supply chains, including for items such as face masks.

“The economic damage will be great,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast. Germany will have to commit to “much more” of a contribution to reconstruction than its existing funding plans for the EU, she said.

Some of Europe’s worst-hit countries are preparing to ease restrictions. Italy plans an initial reopening of businesses on May 4 and France intends to gradually restart the economy as of May 11. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Saturday he plans to allow outdoor exercise and walks starting May 2, the second step to chip away at confinement in the European country with the most confirmed infections.

Germany’s government expects output to shrink by 6.3% this year, the worst contraction since at least 1950, Handelsblatt reported, citing draft projections. Even so, European manufacturers are restarting factories — with little visibility on consumer demand.

Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey has said a 35% drop in U.K. economic output in the second quarter isn’t implausible. The BOE has launched unprecedented measures to support output and prevent long-term economic harm, Bailey said in an editorial in The Sun newspaper on Saturday.

The European Central Bank takes center stage on Thursday when its governing council holds a scheduled policy meeting. The central bank will increase emergency bond-buying in the coming months, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists.

Johnson Recovering

Health officials in Spain said deaths rose by 378 to 22,902. With the bulk of confinement measures in force until May 9, the government is relaxing one of the world’s strictest lockdowns on Sunday to let some children go outside for an hour a day with an adult.

Italy, faced with Europe’s deadliest outbreak, reported 415 fatalities, the fewest since March 17. The death toll since the start of the outbreak rose to 26,384.

Deaths in Germany rose by 148 to 5,723 in the 24 hours through Saturday morning, less than Friday’s increase of 260, according to Johns Hopkins University data. U.K. deaths rose by 813 to 20,319. Only the U.S., Italy, Spain and France have reported more fatalities linked to Covid-19.

While Johnson is easing back to work after his battle with the virus, there’s no date for his full-time return. The U.K. Treasury is preparing plans to allow non-essential businesses to reopen while ensuring they’re free from the coronavirus, The Times reported, citing a Treasury blueprint.

‘Never Before’

Deaths increased to 6,917 in Belgium, which has the world’s highest per-capita death rate. Its government plans to gradually allow businesses to reopen in the first half of May.

“We have never before tried out an exit strategy like this,” Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said late Friday in Brussels. “Nothing will be carved in marble, especially not the target dates.”

(Updates with further Spanish easing in seventh paragraph.)

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