Territorial impacts of Covid-19 and policy answers in European regions and cities

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis of social, political and economic systems throughout Europe and the world. Since March 2020, European countries, regions and cities have taken diverse measures to try and contain the spread of the virus. These measures, while aiming at easing pressure on the health care systems, have had far-reaching impacts on many sectors of economic activity across the continent.

Covid-19 and the sanitary measures taken to contain its spread have various disruptive impacts on people’s lives and on how cities, metropolitan areas and regions function. 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, inter alia, in 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.

But there might also be some gains in the wake of the pandemic. First tentative analyses show that digital transition could be accelerated, as the reinforced provision of digital services may result in long-term innovation[1]. Mobility patterns have changed as well since the lockdown periods. Already before the pandemic, cycling had been given a high priority by local and regional policymakers due to its environmental benefits. The pandemic has additionally boosted this development while passenger numbers in public transport plummeted by 70-90% in some major cities[2], which is also a huge challenge for sustainable transport policies. A growing number of European cities have started to supply their citizens with temporary cycling infrastructure (pop-up cycle paths), providing short-term adaptations to their mobility policies. It remains to be seen, though, if these makeshift measures can be transformed into permanent solutions and how and if they could contribute to the green transition of European regions and cities.

Policymakers at all levels of governance require 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 applied research activity sets out to contribute to the delivery of such territorial evidence by analysing the geographical patterns of the Covid-19 pandemic from its onset until as far as possible into 2021. In doing so, it will focus on the direct and indirect social consequences of containment measures, including their territorial dimensions, an aspect that has so far not been addressed by pan-European research at the regional and local level.

Policy questions

    • What does the geographical pattern of the Covid-19 pandemic look like across European regions and cities and how has it evolved since the beginning of the pandemic? Are there specific territorial and/or socio-economic characteristics that can entail a higher risk of death/more severe course of disease and/or higher probabilities of negative socio-economic impacts?
    • Which factors explain best the level of exposure of cities, regions and functional urban areas to the Covid-19 pandemic? How can different exposure levels in different types of territories be explained?
    • To which degree have poverty, social inequalities and social exclusion been affected by the pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures? Can local wealth conditions, poverty or inequalities explain why territories are more or less affected by the virus diffusion?
    • Which ‘proactive’ policy approaches to coping with the pandemic during and after the first wave have proved to be working well for European regions and cities? Has it been possible to use “windows of opportunities” opened by the pandemic?
    • How important has multi-level and cross-sectoral governance been in responding to the pandemic? Have decisions taken by local authorities had an impact beyond their administrative borders? How has the pandemic affected cooperation at the metropolitan/functional regional level?
    • How can territorial cooperation frameworks, tools and resources for cross–border regions be strengthened in times of crises?



  • EM Normandie Business School, FR (lead contractor)
  • Lisbon University, PT
  • Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), NL
  • Science Po Toulouse, FR
  • Nordregio, SE
  • University of Calabria, IT
  • HEFTA Research Institute, HU
  • Regional Development Institute, EL
  • Alexandru Ioan Cuza University, RO
  • EconomiX – CNRS, FR
  • Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), BE

Project Support Team

  • Luisa Pedrazzini, IT
  • Gergelyné Csintalan Lilian Gabriella, HU
  • Alfredo Corbalan, BE


€ 310,000.00


June 2021 – June 2022


  • Inception delivery, 20 August 2021
  • Interim delivery, 9 February 2022
  • Final delivery, 10 June 2022


Michaela Gensheimer & Andreea China

[1] Financial Times Adviser. 23 July 2020. Covid disruption is breeding innovation. https://www.ftadviser.com/investments/2020/07/23/covid-disruption-is-breeding-innovation/ 
[2] McKinsey & Company. 2020. Five COVID-19 aftershocks reshaping mobility’s future. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/automotive-and-assembly/our-insights/five-covid-19-aftershocks-reshaping-mobilitys-future