DP15443 Institutions and the uneven geography of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic
This paper examines the uneven geography of COVID-19-related excess mortality during the first wave of the pandemic in Europe, before assessing the factors behind the geographical differences in impact. The analysis of 206 regions across 23 European countries reveals a distinct COVID-19 geography. Excess deaths were concentrated in a limited number of regions —expected deaths exceeded 20% in just 16 regions— with more than 40% of the regions considered experiencing no excess mortality during the first six months of 2020. Highly connected regions, in colder and dryer climates, with high air pollution levels, and relatively poorly endowed health systems witnessed the highest incidence of excess mortality. Institutional factors also played an important role. The first wave hit regions with a combination of weak and declining formal institutional quality and fragile informal institutions hardest. Low and declining national government effectiveness, together with a limited capacity to reach out across societal divides, and a frequent tendency to meet with friends and family were powerful drivers of regional excess mortality.