A new reading of the COVID-19 outbreak

TerritoriALL presents today the fidnings of the new ESPON study 'Geography of the COVID-19 outbreak and first policy answers in European regions and cities'

What is the added value of the study and what could be the next steaps in research? Nicolas Rossignol, ESPON Head of Unit explains

TerritoriALL: As Europe is hit by a very strong and sudden second wave, how can the findings of this study help us anticipate what might happen to European regions and cities?

Nicolas Rossignol: The virus will most probably be circulating for (at least) months, and it seems that the geography and determinants of the current ’second wave’ some how differ from the features observed in early 2020. In this context, it will be necessary to keep collecting data and strengthening the analytical tools to adjust the findings of this first study. However, the study already provides a useful framework in which to understand the network-based and place-based processes of diffusion. The acquired knowledge of the disease and the factors facilitating the circulation of the virus certainly explain why the super-spreading events that played a major role during the first wave have not appeared since then. Meanwhile, countries and regions seem to be much more evenly affected, in particular in eastern and south-eastern Europe. Against this backdrop, it is clear that local territorial characteristics driving social interconnectedness have  become key factors in anticipating how the virus might circulate in the mid-term.

The study already provides a useful framework in which to understand the network-based and place-based processes of diffusion.

Both the added value and shortcomings of this first study appear more clearly: trying to explain regional variations by identifying links between the spread of the virus and variables that are likely to influence it is possible and will provide useful hypotheses that can inform policy-making. However, important data challenges still need to be addressed to improve the robustness of the insights provided at different territorial levels. To provide reliable and comparable indicators, COVID-19-related data and territorial data must be combined at the same level of precision. This is of the utmost importance, as results will differ significantly depending on territorial scales. For instance, differences in fatality rates can be more significant within one functional urban area (FUA) than between different FUAs belonging to different regions or different countries. In addition, a better understanding of the socioeconomic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis is necessary to build targeted territorial recovery strategies and this will require work that involves real data/statistics rather than forecasts and risk/impact assessment analyses.

TerritoriALL: Which themes could be the most important to investigate further to better inform regional and local recovery strategies?

This first ESPON study attempts to provide a general overview of policy answers at regional/local levels. However, a more in-depth and qualitative analysis is necessary to better understand how public decisions were taken to counter and mitigate the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic. The World Bank has released a report suggesting that by 2021 an additional 150 million people could fall into extreme poverty; however, little has been done so far to address the social consequences of the crisis across European territories. It would be useful to provide effective territorial evidence to  the social dimension of a crisis that mainly affects the most vulnerable.

Furthermore, territorial cooperation has been strongly and unexpectedly affected by the sudden lockdowns and border closures, and this could happen again. Roland The is, State Secretary for Europe in Saarland, Germany, emphasises this very clearly in his article about the Greater Region acting as a European laboratory in the coronavirus crisis (see page 18. Further research could usefully try to assess the circumstances and conditions under which territorial and cross-border cooperation could keep functioning and how it could contribute to mitigating the impacts of the crisis. By highlighting the situation of cross-border cooperation in the midst of the COVID 19 crisis, the article by Pavel Branda from the Committee of the Regions (see page 20), clearly paves the way for such research. 

This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL

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This article appears in the A regional geography of COVID-19 Issue of TerritoriALL