Geography of Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences

Different waves, different stories

Different regions of Europe have been affected by the pandemic at different times and to different degrees. During the first three waves of the pandemic, a spatial shift from the European centres to the peripheries took place. While the first wave mainly affected Western Europe and, in particular,  the metropolitan areas, the second and third waves had an increasing impact on the Eastern countries, especially on predominantly rural areas. For the pandemic as a whole, the worst affected regions were the United Kingdom and East-Central Europe (mainly rural areas), while other parts of Western Europe and Southern Europe, after an initial shock, were hit less by the later waves. Finally, the sparsely populated northern periphery of Europe was hit by the pandemic the least.

What were the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic?

COVID-19 and the health measures established to contain its spread are having a variety of disruptive impacts on people's lives and on the functioning of cities, metropolitan areas and regions. Containment measures have led to abrupt changes in the way people work, study, shop, socialise and travel. The results of these measures have been detrimental in many ways, including people losing their jobs or having to make ends meet with reduced income.

From a social perspective, the outcomes of these measures have been detrimental in many ways – resulting, inter alia, in people losing their jobs or having a reduced income, being socially isolated, and/or having to balance work and teaching their children at home. The short-term labour market effects of the crisis can be captured by the sudden and temporary drop in employment in 2020. Territorial disparities are the result of differences in the structure of the economy and occupational structure, as well as differences in support policies between countries.

On average, unemployment across the EU regions has increased by 12.13% compared to the pre-COVID-19 regime (2019). The spatial distribution of this evolution is not equally distributed across EU regions. Some countries, such as the Baltic States (48.21%) and Czechia (32.74%), have been hit hard by the crisis. These countries have experienced numerous bankruptcies and job losses, breaking with the pre-pandemic years of strong economic growth.

On the other hand, both Italy and France experienced a decreased trend in unemployment (6.5% and 4%, respectively). The ban on dismissing employees, a unique measure in Europe introduced by Italy after the outbreak of the pandemic, may explain these results. This measure expired in July 2021 for large companies and at the end of October for small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly in the services, textile, fashion and footwear industries. For France, government's 'whatever it takes' policy has certainly helped to cushion the effects of the crisis.

In this ESPON study, we proposed a typology of European regions. Several variables were introduced to achieve this classification: unemployment, youth unemployment, At Risk of Poverty, territorial characteristics (predominantly urban, intermediate and predominantly rural regions) and epidemiological characteristics (total number of COVID-19 deaths in 2020). There is a strong country effect, meaning that there is more heterogeneity between countries than within countries. This is in line with the idea that the way in which countries handled the pandemic can explain the greater or lesser impact in the regions.


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