Short-term exit from pandemic restrictions: did European countries' speed converge?

AuthorBrosio, Giorgio
  1. Introduction

    The Covid 19 pandemic challenged both health systems and governments to provide adequate policy responses addressing the supranational nature of the pandemic (Beaussier and Cabane, 2020; Schomaker et al. 2021). The leadership of public organizations, performance management, evidence-based policy-making, and institutions were some of the most important factors influencing governments' responses to the pandemic (Boin et al., 2020; George et al., 2020; Kettl, 2020; Van Dooren & Noordegraaf, 2020; Weible et al., 2020; Yang, 2020). Yet, although the response strategies adopted by countries around the world showed some interesting similarities (Griffin et al., 2021; Misra et al., 2022), they sensibly diverged in the speed of response. Chen et al. (2021) investigate institutional and cultural determinants of government responsiveness to the pandemic. They find that stronger collectivistic culture and trust in government are dominating factors influencing the timing of government actions.

    There is also a growing literature on the moral limits and implications of Covid policies. More specifically, several papers explore the trade-offs between the limitation of individual freedom implied by fighting the pandemic and the effectiveness of policies. A special issue of the European Journal of Law and Economics prefaced by Marciano and Ramello in 2022 presents a few interesting papers where these trade-offs are analysed from different points of view. A normative profile, giving large weight to freedom is offered by Bjornskov and Voigt (2022). They conclude that many governments have (mis-)used the pandemic as a pretext to curtail media freedom. Geloso et al. (2022) present a very interesting and comprehensive analysis, based also on historical cases of epidemics, of the multiple trade-offs that exist in the choice of health policies. The paper is framed in a utilitarian analytical context that necessitates a long-term exploration of the evolution of epidemics to have a full cost-benefit account of the alternatives. This is not the case with the present Covid-19 epidemic.

    Another strand of the literature suggests that authoritarian regimes perform faster and more efficiently than democracies by neglecting time-demanding coordination (Alon et al. 2020; Stavasage, 2020; Tafuro Ambrosetti and De Maio, 2021). Using a simulation approach, Biondo et al. (2021) show that despite in the long-term all regimes collapsed to the same stringency measures, full democracies take longer. Policy responses in democracies are also analysed by Cepaluni et al. (2021). They demonstrate the cost of democratic decisions during a pandemic in terms of deaths, specifically, countries with more democratic political institutions experienced deaths on a larger per capita scale than less democratic countries.

    The timing of responses was important in guaranteeing adequate control of the pandemic. Countries that lagged in introducing restriction measures registered a more dramatic increase in the contagions than those that were quicker to impose restrictions (Makki et al., 2020). Kahn (2020) suggests that the delay in the adoption of stringent measures was due to the economic trade-off between an immediate negative impact on GDP and a substantially larger one in the mid-term. This justification is discredited by those who argue that delaying measures to preserve the economy would result in a more persistent recession when infection jumps (Eichenbaum et al., 2020).

    However, while most of the existing literature has focused on the speed of countries to adopt stringency measures, the urgency with which countries exit from restrictions rules has been partially neglected. By contrast, researchers have focused on the consequences of delaying the adoption of exit strategies (Griffin et al., 2020; EU, 2020), ignoring whether common patterns emerged across countries. This paper intends at contributing to this intriguing issue, by investigating whether any convergence emerges in the relaxation of restrictions to the Covid-19 pandemic across European countries. More specifically, the idea is to test whether any convergence pattern emerges and to detect potential clustering clubs across European countries. Spatial and cultural proximity between these countries supports the idea of some commonality of policy decision-making in the area of Covid-19 management that could be captured by the emergence of clubs.

    To this end, we use a convergence log-t test on a panel of 25 European countries between the pandemic peak of the first wave (which necessarily differs across countries) and 90 days afterward to test whether the exit speed is not equal for all countries in the sample. Several papers have applied this technique. For instance, Xu et al. (2021) investigate club convergence of Covid-19 vaccination rates across the OECD countries, indicating a significant convergence in a sub-group of the 30 OECD countries that composed the sample. Analogously, Skare and Soriano (2021) use the convergence club analysis to investigate convergence across countries and different service industry sectors, i.e. accommodation and food services, information and communication, transportation, and storage services. The same club convergence methodology is used by Lau et al. (2022) to support evidence of overall economic globalization convergence in both high and low-developing countries.

    Results do not support the existence of a common path, but rather the existence of five separate groups of countries converging to their steady-state path. Additionally, to shed some light on the potential drivers of these club memberships, we also test for the role that health, economic, and political factors, exert in determining the probability of belonging to a specific club.

    The rest of the paper is organized as follows. Section 2 describes the club convergence method, while Section 3 displays the main results. In Section 4 the probability of...

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