3 mins

Why we need new evidence to better address the social consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic

Nicolas Rossignol

ESPON' s first attempt to contribute to the policy debate about the impact of COVID-19 was to investigate if territorial features could somehow explain how the virus has been circulating across European territories. The study on the geography of the COVID-19 outbreak, introduced in the November 2020 edition of this magazine, revealed a clear pattern of what happened between February and July 2020 by considering the interaction of network and proximity logics, as well as super spreading events as accelerators.

«Covid is not an equal opportunity killer» (Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize in Economics, August 2020).

However, after this first wave and irrespective of the strictness of sanitary measures taken at national and regional levels, infection rates surged again in autumn 2020, which resulted in EU Member States reverting to different forms of containment measures, including lockdowns. Unlike the first wave, in spring 2020, the second COVID-19 wave has affected European regions and countries more evenly. COVID-19 and the sanitary measures taken to contain its spread have already had various disruptive impacts on people's lives and on how cities, metropolitan areas and regions function.

"Policy makers at all levels of governance require new territorial evidence"

Containment measures resulted in abrupt changes in the way people work, study, shop, socialise and move around. The outcomes of these measures have been detrimental in many ways, resulting in, inter alia, people losing their jobs or having to make ends meet with a reduced income, being socially isolated, and/or having to balance work and teaching their children at home. From this point of view, the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to be yet another way to reveal persisting territorial inequalities between European regions.

Already, effective impacts are being assessed and some evidence has emerged: Eurofound's survey on the impact of the pandemic on people's living conditions and financial situation in Europe has revealed that close to 10 %of the respondents became unemployed after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with rising numbers among the self-employed (13 %); almost 6 out of 10 were forced to ask for financial support to make ends meet; and young women were the most likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic, various institutions and academics have tried to analyse its development and, particularly, its potential economic impacts. The ongoing and fast-paced development of this crisis, though, makes data gathering a particular challenge, especially gathering comparable up-to-date data that would allow a pan-European analysis. Policymakers at all levels of governance require new territorial evidence to be able to develop policy measures to cope with the immediate effects of the pandemic in the short term and to manage its long-term impacts. This evidence needs to encompass analyses not only of the economic impacts but also of the pandemic' s ramifications for social cohesion and for environmental quality.

Against that background, ESPON decided to do its bit in delivering such territorial evidence. A new applied research has just been launched aiming to analyse further the geographical patterns of the COVID-19 pandemic from its onset until as far as possible into 2021 and to focus on the social consequences, including their territorial dimensions, an aspect that has so far not been addressed by pan-European research at regional and local levels (see map next page for a first policy reading done in the latest ESPON study).

Implemented with the support of the Committee of the Regions, the European Confederation of Local Intermediate Authorities, the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions and Eurocities, this study will gather new data to measure the effective direct and indirect social consequences of containment measures taken in response to the pandemic in European regions and cities. Capitalising on the COVID-19 crisis as a window of opportunity, this new project will also highlight emerging and innovative measures adopted by cities and regions.

Through this, we expect to better inform policy making on all levels of governance in the recovery from the crisis set off by COVID-19. Let's meet up in the next edition of this magazine to share with you the first results of this exciting new project.

Nicolas Rossignol is Head of Unit Evidence and Outreach at ESPON EGTC.

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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