This report outlines some of the measures EU Member States have put in place to protect public health as Europe faces the ‘second wave’ of the Coronavirus pandemic. It highlights how these may affect fundamental rights, especially social rights. Where the report mentions specific articles, these refer to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which also serves as a proxy for the many other human rights standards that apply at national level.
The report covers the period 1 September – 31 October 2020 and focuses on three main areas:
The most widespread restrictions on daily life experienced in peacetime in modern Europe affect everyone living in the EU, albeit in different ways. This has implications for the enjoyment across our societies of nearly all the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter. The following paragraphs outline key findings from FRA’s data collection across the 27 EU Member States.
Many Member States reintroduced or extended states of emergency or other emergency situations as the health situation deteriorated. States of emergency typically allow certain rights to be limited, such as freedom of movement (Article 45 of the Charter), freedom of assembly and of association (Article 12), and private and family life (Article 7). During the reporting period:
In an effort to reduce social contacts, restrictions on freedom of assembly, which includes all private or public gatherings with a shared purpose of their participants, increased in all Member States in September and October:
Both the Council of the European Union and the European Commission continued to recommend the suspension of non-essential travel to the EU from many third countries, with some exceptions. The Council set out a coordinated approach to restrictions of free movement within the EU. At the same time, many Member States restricted movement within their national borders.
Rising infection rates in September and October prompted governments to implement a raft of new measures affecting different areas of daily life. These significantly affected social rights, including: the right to education (Article 14), the right to engage in work (Article 15), the freedom to conduct a business (Article 16), workers’ rights to information and consultation (Article 27), the right to protection in the event of unjustified dismissal (Article 30), the right to fair and just working conditions (Article 31), the right to social security and social assistance (Article 34), and the right of access to preventive health care and to benefit from medical treatment (Article 35).
Rising numbers of COVID-19 infections put healthcare systems under considerable pressure and resulted in limitations in access to healthcare for both COVID-19 and other conditions.
Almost all Member States reopened schools after the summer break, allowing in-person teaching to resume. However, rising infections rates meant that many had reinstated distance learning by the end of October, posing challenges to the right to education and non-discrimination.
The pandemic continued to have a huge impact on the economies and labour markets of the Member States, resulting in rising levels of unemployment. The tourism, hospitality, arts and entertainment sectors were particularly affected as several countries entered a second period of ‘lockdown’ in October. The European Commission disbursed € 17 billion in the first instalment of financial support to Member States in an effort to underpin economies and preserve employment.
Challenges in accessing decent and affordable housing remained a key area of concern, reflecting the role of adequate housing in protecting against COVID-19. Studies in several Member States indicated a rise in the number of homeless people during the pandemic.
COVID-19 and the measures adopted to contain it continued to severely affect the social rights of particular groups, such as people in institutional settings, older persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and Roma and Travellers.
Challenges in accessing COVID-19 testing and other health services, and the impact of visiting bans on residents’ wellbeing, remained grave concerns for people living in institutions – disproportionality older persons and persons with disabilities.
Issues around access to medical treatment, employment prospects and the impact of isolation affect older people’s right to lead a life in dignity and independence, as enshrined in Article 25 of the Charter (alongside many other fundamental rights), and are exacerbated as a result of COVID-19.
Persons with disabilities continued to face challenges in everyday life because of the pandemic.
Bulletin #5 showed how overcrowding and poor housing put Roma and Travellers at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and that they are disproportionately affected by measures to contain the virus. Disrupted access to education remained a pressing concern for many Roma and Travellers in September and October.
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, often living in overcrowded accommodation with poor hygiene conditions, continued to face increased risk of infection and barriers to accessing health services. The pandemic threatens to increase poverty and social exclusion among these groups.