After 100,000 Deaths, Picture of Fractured Europe Emerging

Europe is expected to reach 100,000 coronavirus deaths in the coming days as a mood of uncertainty hangs over the continent.  

People shop in a covered market in downtown Rome on Friday. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse via AP)

(CN) — French President Emmanuel Macron is wondering if the era of globalization is over. In Italy, fears are rising that the coronavirus pandemic and the economic anguish it’s causing will give new life to the mafia. In the United Kingdom, Brits are furiously debating why so many of their compatriots are dying while an old rival, Germany, can confidently talk about having its outbreak under control.

Undaunted by the crisis, the U.K. government says the pandemic will not delay its departure from the European Union. Meanwhile, far to the east, the number of infected people is rising dangerously fast in Russia.

The dead, meanwhile, keep mounting across the continent: Europe is on pace to reach 100,000 deaths by the end of the weekend. On Friday, official tallies in Europe had recorded more than 94,000 fatalities linked to Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

This is the troubling snapshot of a fractured and deeply wounded Europe nearly two months after Italy discovered — to the world’s shock — that the deadly coronavirus had taken root in and around Milan, the country’s financial capital.

The mood of uncertainty — and a growing sense the world has been permanently upended — hanging over Europe permeated a wide-ranging interview Macron gave to the Financial Times newspaper. The interview was published on Thursday.

“I don’t know if we are at the beginning or the middle of this crisis – no one knows,” he said. “There is lots of uncertainty and that should make us very humble.”

The 42-year-old liberal French president, whom many see as the guiding light of European politics, worried that the EU will be hijacked by populist nationalist politicians feeding off anger over Europe’s failures to handle the pandemic. Many politicians, especially on the far right, are eager to see the trans-European project fail and unravel. They view it as imposing rules and regulations that hurt national economies and cultures.

Macron pointed his finger at China for covering up the severity of its coronavirus outbreak and said the pandemic proves Europe needs to become less reliant on China. He called on Germany and the Netherlands, Europe’s richer countries, to help hard-hit southern countries like Italy and Spain or watch Europe become even more fractured. He said the age of globalization may be ending.

“It will change the nature of globalization, with which we have lived for the past 40 years,” the French president said. “We had the impression there were no more borders. It was all about faster and faster circulation and accumulation.”

The president credited globalization with bringing down the Berlin Wall and helping lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Macron, who once worked as a Rothschild investment banker, said this global system has become “hyper-financialized.”

“Particularly in recent years it increased inequalities in developed countries,” he said. “And it was clear that this kind of globalization was reaching the end of its cycle, it was undermining democracy.”

He mused: “We all face the profound need to invent something new, because that is all we can do.”

France, meanwhile, reported another devastating death toll on Friday: 761 new deaths to bring its total to 18,681.

A man with a protective face mask passes taped-off benches in London on Friday. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Across the English Channel, the United Kingdom reported its own staggering toll on Friday: 847 new deaths in hospitals, raising its death count to 14,676. For several days, the U.K. has reported the highest daily death tolls in Europe and this has left many Brits furious at their government’s handling of the pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed imposing a lockdown and after the outbreak worsened the U.K. found itself with shortages of protective equipment ventilators and tests. On Friday, British media reported that medical staff were going to run out of protective gowns over the weekend.

With the U.K.’s death toll on track to eclipse other European nations, the government has found itself repeatedly having to fend off questions about why the outbreak is so bad in the U.K. compared to Germany, another commercial and political titan in Europe.

Side-by-side comparisons are frequent in British newspapers and on social media.

Intensive care unit beds: In recent days, Germany had more than twice as many critical care beds that were vacant than England even has in its system. Ventilators: Germany has far more than the U.K. Testing: Germany’s labs spat out coronavirus test results at more than five times the rate the U.K. does.  

By Friday, Germany had reported a total of 4,193 deaths and 138,497 confirmed cases.

German health officials on Friday said the outbreak was “manageable” and under control. With its health system not under incredible stress, Germany is even taking in patients from other countries.

On social media it’s common to hear Brits complaining. One such lament reads: “Sadly the U.K. can’t even help itself. Meanwhile Germany is trying to help patients from various countries within its capacity.”

Earlier this week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel went into detail about something called the “R value” of the virus – the reproduction rate that indicates the number of people who will get infected by someone with the virus. At a daily briefing Thursday, British health officials were asked about Britain’s rate: It was higher than Germany’s but falling, they promised.

The pandemic also has interrupted talks between the EU and the U.K. over a trade agreement enabling the U.K. to exit the EU smoothly. The U.K. government insists it will not delay its departure from the EU even in the midst of the pandemic.

“Transition [out of the EU] ends on 31 December this year. We will not ask to extend it. If the EU asks we will say no,” the U.K.’s chief negotiator, David Frost, said.

In hard-hit Italy, meanwhile, there are growing concerns that the country is headed into a steep recession that could paralyze a nation already struggling under heavy public debt and leave millions of people desperately poor.

On Friday, the University of Tuscia estimated that about 21 million people in Italy are in serious economic trouble and that about 10 million people have no income because of the nationwide lockdown. An estimated 3 million Italians do not report their income to the government and those workers will not be eligible for unemployment claims.

With so many Italians facing economic hardship, government officials are warning they may become prey to criminal organizations.

There are reports of mafia clans distributing food to needy families and handing out interest-free loans to gain influence and power over people and businesses. Italian officials warn the criminal groups are helping those in need so that they can exploit them later, for example requiring them to smuggle drugs.

It’s not all grim. Many countries where outbreaks appear to be contained are easing lockdowns and allowing stores to reopen. In Austria, thousands of stores were allowed to open this week. The Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Poland and Germany will also be easing restrictions next week. Much of Europe is hoping to lift restrictions in May.

While a growing number of European countries are beginning to see an end to their epidemics, the crisis appears set to explode in Russia.

For the sixth day in a row, the number of confirmed cases surged in Russia. On Friday, the government said 4,070 new cases of infection had been detected, bringing its total to more than 32,000. The virus has reportedly killed 273 people in Russia.

With the outbreak getting worse, Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to postpone a massive Victory Day parade planned for May 9 celebrating the 75th anniversary of the World War II victory.

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Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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