COVID-19 Shutters European Factories, Most Since WWII
Europe has been a factory stalwart from the very beginning, at the birth of industrialization. Its factories are some of the oldest in the world, and they’ve been in constant production for more than 200 years — save for the early 1940s, when they shut down amidst WWII. Now, they’re seeing the biggest disruption since the war and shuttering at an unprecedented rate. This time, the culprit is COVID-19.
Some of Europe’s factory closings are due to the rampant spread of Coronavirus across the continent. Others are proactive; an effort to stem the spread and protect the population. In either case, the effects have been tremendous and will continue to mount.
Europe vs. COVID-19
Though China was the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, the pandemic is ravaging far beyond its borders. China’s control over the outbreak is finally congealing, while Europe’s rages on. The numbers paint a grim picture (as of writing):
- Italy has 60,000 confirmed cases—978 of every million citizens
- Spain has 28,000 confirmed cases—615 of every million citizens
- Germany has 25,000 confirmed cases—297 of every million citizens
- France has 16,000 confirmed cases—245 of every million citizens
The total confirmed cases in these industrialized countries is worrying, but what’s more worrying is the percentage of total population. Europe is densely populated, making the spread of COVID-19 rapid and particularly dangerous. Unlike China or the U.S., which have larger populations over a broader area, it’s more difficult for European countries to flatten the curve.
Factories continue to close
Factories are closing their doors by the day in Europe as borders close and quarantines go into effect. Automakers like Ford, Volkswagen, and Fiat Chrysler temporarily halted production in countries like Italy, Serbia, and Poland. Following them just a few days later, all major manufacturers vowed to cease production in Europe to comply with growing calls for more stringent quarantine measures. Lufthansa airlines has ceased production as well.
Europe is acting quickly
For European factories, there’s no solution other than shutting their doors — at least until COVID-19 transmission rates lower and infection cases dramatically drop. To combat the heavy hit to the economy, European governments are essentially writing blank checks, allowing smaller manufacturing outfits to pay their workers and maintain skeleton operations until the threat passes. It’s a move the U.S. is likely to follow in the coming weeks.
There is a ray of positivity in all of this — China’s factories are already back up and running. While not at 100%, China’s path to contagion control and the restart of factory operations serves as a blueprint for the rest of the world — Europe and the U.S. included.
European economic advisors like Timothy Guinnane, an economic historian at Yale University, see the comparison to the factory landscape during WWII, with a note of optimism. “If you waved a hand and got rid of the virus tomorrow, we’d be back to normal in a week,” Guinnane said. “So it’s not like a war.” It’s a positive sentiment to have, even if it feels like a war.