London (CNN Business)Europe’s deep recession has begun, triggered by the introduction of measures to contain the coronavirus.
Preliminary data published on Thursday showed that EU GDP shrank by 3.5% in the first quarter of 2020 versus the final quarter of last year when the region’s economy was still expanding. Compared with the first quarter of 2019, the fall was 2.7%.
Economic output in the 19 countries that use the euro shrank by 3.8% in the January to March period.
“These were the sharpest declines observed since [the] time series started in 1995,” the EU statistics office said in a statement.
Countries across Europe introduced strict limits on travel and business activity in March in a bid to prevent the coronavirus outbreak overwhelming national health systems. Non-essential shops were closed and many factories shut down.
The slump is only expected to deepen in the second quarter, given much of the region has been in lockdown for the whole of April.
“Brace yourself for worse to happen,” tweeted Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany. “This was only with roughly two weeks of lockdown and supply chain disruptions,” he said in reference to the first quarter data.
Governments have responded by announcing job protection programs to try to prevent a disastrous spike in unemployment. Data published Thursday showed only a slight uptick in the EU unemployment rate in March, to 6.6% from 6.5% in February.
— This is a developing story.
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