The Wuhan coronavirus in France and Austria

Looking at the latest Wuhan coronavirus numbers, some of the best news I see is from France. That country has been hard hit by the coronavirus. It ranks fifth in the world in deaths attributed to virus, just behind Spain. (I’m not counting China which almost certainly has more deaths than France, but reports fewer.) Per capita, France also ranks fifth, with more deaths than the U.S.

However, things are looking up for the French. A month ago, new reported cases were rolling in at around 7,000 per day. Now, France sees fewer than 1,000 most days.

The same pattern appears with deaths. A month ago, the daily death rate was around 1,000 per day, with some days considerable higher. Now, France is averaging about 200 reported deaths from the virus per day.

Active cases in France haven’t decreased, which seems odd. However, the number has been stable for two weeks now. More importantly, the number of people in intensive care units is down to less than 3,000, compared to a peak of more than 7,000 a month ago.

With the most relevant numbers so much improved, France will begin relaxing restrictions on activity this coming Monday. The easing will be phased in over a few weeks.

For purposes of the easing, the French government has divided the nation into two sectors. The easing will be less pronounced in the Paris region and a few others where the spread of virus hasn’t slowed as much as in France as a whole. The main difference in easing, as I understand it, is that in Paris and other areas lumped with it, parks and public gardens will remain closed. Cafes and restaurants are slated for reopening in June in the safer half of France, but apparently not in the other half.

I like the idea of different rules for different parts of a country, depending on local conditions. Whether the numbers and the science support the bifurcation and associated rules France has come up with, I do not know.

Speaking of economic reopening, Austria began reopening its economy on April 14 by permitting “non-essential” shops of less than 400 square meters to reopen. Since then, the industrial and service sectors — but not restaurants, hotels, and recreational areas — have gradually been opening.

Austria’s coronavirus numbers have continued to improve during this period. At the time of the partial reopening, Austria had around 13,500 reported cases of the virus and typically was reporting 250-300 new ones per day. Around 300 deaths had been attributed to the virus, with an average of 15-20 new deaths per day.

Now, Austria has a little under 16,000 reported cases and is averaging around 70 new ones per day. Around 600 deaths have been attributed to the virus and daily deaths are in the 1-6 range.

The number of active cases has dropped from more than 7,000 to less than 1,500.

The virus may bounce back in Austria as the reopening accelerates. There might be a second wave later in the year. But as things stand now, Austria is a coronavirus success story, and its decision to begin reopening the economy in mid-April looks like a wise one.