Covid-19 Daily Report / 02/05/2020 / Auxipress

Covid-19 Weekly Report 05/05 - Media update on the crisis

In this weekly report, Auxipress gathers the key facts and figures of the Coronavirus crisis in the Belgian news.The following report is based on the analysis of the media agendas to evaluate the media visibility of the coronavirus. This methodology is based on the monitoring of almost 90 sources of printed and online press.

Number of articles over time

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Evolution of the main media issues related to the Coronavirus/Covid-19 crisis

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Media agenda

Media agenda: overview of the themes present in the total daily media context. i.e. the themes are not specifically linked to the coronavirus.

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Belgium about to submit its stability programme to the European Commission

Several Belgian newspapers focus on the Belgian stability programme. De Tijd notes that according to the national stability programme draft that Belgium will submit to the European Commission, the country's budget deficit rises to €35 billion. Belgium will spend at least €10.2 billion to rescue the Belgian economy after the eruption of the corona crisis. According to the latest estimates, €6.4 billion have already been paid in socio-economic expenditure, including €3.6 billion for to the temporary unemployment system. "It is a lot of money, but in principle, it is a one-shot measure. Unless we come out of the corona crisis badly, then they threaten to become structural," Finance Minister Alexander De Croo says. The government is currently working on companies' solvability. L'Echo adds that all various measures taken to mitigate the socio-economic effects of the coronavirus crisis in Belgium could represent 2.3% of the Belgian GDP. De Standaard writes that according to Employment Minister Nathalie Muylle (CD&V), 865,987 people benefitted from the temporary unemployment system in March alone. Since the beginning of April, the number of applications for temporary unemployment has risen further to over €1.3 million (sic), according to Ms Muylle, even if she does not expect the actual number of beneficiaries to be much higher than 900,000. "Those are only estimates for now," Ms Muylle adds. "Some companies do not apply the system to all employees, and we expect a decrease in May," she says. De Tijd notes that the IMF expects the Belgian budget deficit to climb to 9% of the GDP this year. Standaard.be writes that Belgium is lucky that it does not have to respect the European budgetary rules nowadays. The Commission activated the general escape clause for the first time.

Coronavirus app as part of an exit strategy

Multiple sources talk about apps. L'Echo reports on the absence of a coronavirus app in the exit strategy of the Belgian administration. This topic appears to have been a flop at Belgian federal level as negotiations between the regions threw a spanner in the works. The question involved some political risk. It became a hot potato no one wanted to hold on to. Each EU member state has a personal approach to such coronavirus apps. The European Commission, therefore, decided to issue a list of recommendations as it felt the pressure by the data protection authorities of some member states. The Belgian decision does not spell the end of research into possible apps. Anything is still possible. La Libre Belgique mentions that protecting the privacy of the citizens is one of the elements dealt with by the Belgian Data Against Corona task force. An app is currently being developed, though it will be up to each region to decide whether to use it or not.

COVID-19 passport must save travel inside EU

Several sources state that the European Commission is working on proposals to support the tourism industry which suffers significantly due to the corona crisis. De Standaard reports that Vice-President Jourová commented: "Tourism represents 10% of Europe's GDP, accounting for 27 million direct and indirect jobs." She added that the Commission estimates that the revenue loss in 2020 would reach at least 50%." Southern Europe is threatened the most by the disaster, partly due to the border controls which still apply in the Schengen Area. Ms Jourová stated that the travel limitations should be lifted as soon as possible, taking into account the evolution of the pandemic. Tourism dependent countries call for the implementation of a Covid-19 passport or health passport. The document would be valid in all EU member states and confirm the tourist was tested at home and found uninfected. L'Echo notes that the European executive is working on measures to support the tourism sector, which will be adopted in mid-May, according to Ms Jourová. The EU is torn between the health imperatives, the demand for holidays and the survival of the concerned sectors, which is a complex equation. The article also mentions that the reimbursement of airline tickets is still on the table. 17 EU member states support the suspension of the reimbursement and replace it with a voucher. The Commission has not decided on the subject yet. Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer notes: "There has to be a fair balance between the rights of consumers and those of airlines." 

Italy requests a European support fund

Several media outlets focus on the European solidarity fund. De Tijd reports that according to the European Commission, Italy is the first member state to request financial support from the European Solidarity Fund, which supports countries severely impacted by the coronavirus. Member states can file such a request until 24 June. For the year 2020, a maximum of €800 million is available. The applications will be looked into after the deadline. The Commission will then present a proposal for financial support to be approved by the European Parliament and the European Council. A spokesperson of the institution ensures: "We are working on it with the utmost urgency." La Libre Belgique notes that the UE solidarity fund was created to offer financial aid to member states impacted by a natural catastrophe. After the coronavirus outbreak, the member states decided to expand the €800 million fund’s action radius to include health crisis. The benefit from the fund, a state must spend at least 0.3% of its public spending on emergency measures.

Cao Zhongming: “China gave ample warning”

De Morgen interviews Chinese Ambassador to Belgium Cao Zhongming about the coronavirus pandemic. He rebukes the claim that China withheld information on the outbreak, and explains how numbers are adjusted now because reporting was not the top priority in the midst of the outbreak. He also denies that China is helping out other countries to gain influence. The country donated 12 tons of protective gear to the EU. Mr Cao points out that between the lockdown in Wuhan and the outbreak in European countries, there was one month during which preparations could have been made.

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