This is now the fifth weekly update about actions taken by regions and cities across the EU in response to the COVID-19 crisis. So far, around 150 stories by members of the European Committee of the Regions, by regions and cities, and by other partners have been posted on the map and on the wall created as part of the CoR's COVID-19 Platform. Thank you to everyone. The process of de-confinement and recovery will be long and complex and your experiences may well help others in other corners of Europe – and, sometimes, beyond.
Denmark has a strong unitary system and most action in the crisis has been taken at the national level. Nevertheless, Danish regions have taken initiatives to brace themselves for the impact COVID-19 would eventually have. Before the first case was confirmed in Denmark, local hospitals in Aalborg, Aarhus, Odense and other cities began clearing space and making preparations for a large number of cases. Municipal authorities have cooperated with health-care professionals in creating 'drive-through' tests in various parts of the country. This model mirrors that implemented by South Korea, where tests are administered in the patient's car; as well as being convenient, the risk of contagion is drastically reduced. The town of Ringsted has yet to identify a case of coronavirus, but the municipality – of which CoR member Per Nørhave (ECR) is deputy mayor – has already transformed a home for the disabled into a temporary care facility for those discharged from hospital after recovering from COVID-19. The facility is seen as a critical part of preparations: the elderly or otherwise disabled may need special care even after recovery and, moreover, they may face the risk of re-infection.
The German Land of Bavaria on 24 April adopted new measures to provide relief in the coronavirus. This includes the BayernFonds, to support companies in extraordinary corona-related financial difficulties. This should help avoid corporate insolvencies, job losses and relieve acute burdens in numerous sectors of the economy. Regional media such as Schwäbische and RTL have the details on a plan potentially worth €60 billion.
The regional government of Navarra has written in with an update of its efforts to contain the COVID-19 crisis. In the past month, medical staff have benefited from the support of volunteers who have sown personal protection gowns, and from a public-private collaboration that purchased sanitary material. The government is providing €13 million of support to farmers. And, by the regional government's count, 100 innovative social collaboration projects have been launched to address the challenges of COVID-19.
The Italian Region Valle d'Aosta, of which Pierluigi Marquis (EA) is a Councillor and CoR Member, provided an update on their covid response, flagging a €25 million set of measures supporting families, businesses and workers. Initiatives include deferrals on regional taxes on auto vehicles, a regional fund for loans to the self-employed, micro and small and medium-sized businesses, relif contributions on liquidity financing for businesses and liberal professions, compensation to categories with no other means of income support and other social and economic initiatives. Regional councillors allowances and contributions are being reduced, in favour of strengthening local healthcare support.
In the region of Asturias, represented at the CoR by Javier Vila Ferrero (PES), a package of measures was approved by the government early in the emergency. The objective of the €32M fund was to advance the payment of unemployment benefits to workers affected by a temporary loss of employment and to support the self-employed, micro-businesses, SMEs and municipalities in the region. Regional measures include up to €400 for the self-employed and people who carry out activity on their own and cannot keep their activities during this time. The regional administration will also grant a six-month tax deferral for self-employed entrepreneurs, SMEs and micro-SMEs and a €10M credit line to improve business liquidity fully guaranteed by the Regional Credit Agency, (Asturgar). More information on the economic and social measures launched by the Principality of Asturias is available here.
Employees in the Czech city of Hradec Králové, where CoR member Oldřich Vlasák (ECR) is a counsellor, have responded on the nationwide requirement to wear masks by sowing and distributing free masks to the elderly and to students. The city has set up toll-free numbers that people can call for up-to-date information and, at the end of April, the city extended its support to local businesses. Among these are a waiver for the whole of 2020 on fees for using public space, 10 million CZK (€368,000) to support local businesses, and the suspension of rent for tenants who were forced to temporarily shut down their business. The city government has also created a financial reserve totalling 150 million CZK (€5.52 million) to provide further assistance, if necessary.
The Slovak Žilina region launched a campaign to get assistance for seniors in selected nursing homes. The region has decided to lend a helping hand to seniors, who often face loneliness and feelings of abandonment during the coronavirus period. The local government thus created a campaign to encourage those elderly citizens confined in a nursing home during in this difficult time. "Old age is not easy. Even though our seniors are close to us and we pay close attention to them, we know that the elderly often face loneliness. With the advent of coronavirus, we need to think even more about them, because their social contact has fallen to a minimum. Apart from people in their immediate surroundings, they have no one to talk to, fraternize with or say a few words to. We want to alleviate social exclusion with our Letters for Seniors campaign," said the President of the Žilina region, Erika Jurinová, ECR alternate member at the CoR.
The Portuguese municipality of Póvoa de Varzim, whose mayor, Aires Pereira (EPP), is a member of the CoR, has launched a range of initiatives as part of a pre-emptive and proactive approach to mitigating the impact of COVID-19. These include the creation of a free HelpLine to support to victims and vulnerable persons, including elderly people and people with mental-health needs, along with the creation of an interactive map (available here) aimed at promoting local businesses. Every day, public spaces in several urban areas are disinfected, and around 110 coronavirus tests a day are being currently taken at the Drive-Thru Test Centre of Póvoa de Varzim, strategically located next to the new COVID-19 Care Centre. Mayor Pereira, has also prepared a video message on its institutional view about the impact of the pandemic in the EU; it is available here.
Christophe Rouillon, mayor of Coulaines and president of the PES group in the CoR, says the 10-member municipal crisis team is meeting three times a week to discuss mitigation efforts and the approach of the de-confinement phase, planned for 11 May. Billboards, letters, social-media and online messaging are being used to inform the public (awareness of domestic violence emergency numbers has been one area of particular focus), and social solidarity has been a critical element in the town's work. Groceries and medication are delivered to the vulnerable, a grocery is now operating a drive-in service and – with due security in place – a Saturday market has been maintained. Sports clubs and music schools are providing remote activities, while schools and recreational centres have been sharing fun and practical information with children on social networks. More details here, including the group president's message to the EU.