‘Smart Lockdowns’ Are the Future in Europe

Germany, Italy and Portugal are betting on smaller, local shutdowns to prevent a new surge of coronavirus infections.


By Ferdinando Giugliano, Bloomberg Opinion

June 25, 2020


European Union countries are experimenting with new ways of dealing with the coronavirus. Germany, Portugal and Italy have all enforced selective or “smart” lockdowns, shutting down smaller regions in response to new outbreaks as opposed to bringing their entire countries to a halt.


This approach is the only hope of returning to a more normal life as we wait for a vaccine. However, it also puts a much larger onus on the public sector compared to generalized lockdowns. Health officials have to ensure small outbreaks do not get out of control and force the need for harsher measures.


Germany has seen a number of outbreaks in abattoirs, leading local governments to declare new lockdowns, such as in the municipality of Guetersloh, and enforce partial lockdowns, such as in the nearby town of Warendorf. Over the past few months, Italy has managed to contain some small flare-ups, including one in the tiny region of Molise and one in Rome, without having to impose additional restrictions. But the southern region of Calabria has recently imposed quarantine on an area of the seaside town of Palmi, after a handful of cases were reported. And after a worrying new spike in cases, Portugal has ordered stores in parts of the Lisbon region to shut down early, among other restrictions.


Some of these cases show striking similarities. For example, many of these new outbreaks originated in migrant communities facing overcrowded living quarters or unsafe working conditions. This was true of one meat processing plant owned by the Toennies Group in Germany, where more than a thousand employees, most of them migrants from Eastern Europe, came down with Covid-19. This was also the case of the much smaller outbreak in Italy’s central region of Marche. It was similar in Portugal: At the end of May, an outbreak emerged in Lisbon’s Jamaica neighborhood, which was already struggling with a housing crisis. Health-care facilities are another potential source of contagion, as was the case for the recent flare-up in Rome.


So far, the authorities have managed to contain these outbreaks. In Italy, the number of new infections has been stable in the low hundreds for the past few weeks, despite a substantial reopening of the economy. In Germany, the reproduction rate “R” of the coronavirus, which measures how many people a virus carrier infects on average, shot up to nearly three last weekend — well above the level of one needed to believe the outbreak is under control. Fortunately, this factor has begun to decline. According to the country’s Robert Koch Institute, it also does not appear to be too alarming since the overall number of cases remains relatively low...