The EU cannot impose anything on Member States on how they intend to conduct their national public health policy. In the management of the coronavirus, each capital has adopted its own measures, in terms of quarantine, passenger checks, advice to travelers … Italy has thus suspended flights to and from China.
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But, aware of sharing the same circulation space, the 27 urgently organized a meeting of health ministers, Thursday, February 13 in Brussels, to find a concerted response.
→ INFOGRAPHY. Coronavirus, the epidemic figures
Seven pages of very general conclusions emerged, to prevent a possible pandemic. Member States have promised each other a rapid exchange of information. EU border controls may be tightened, according to WHO recommendations. This is a delicate point, when at an economic level the slowdown in trade is already being felt, while forecasts promise a weakening of European growth.
On a suggestion from France, they agreed to a joint analysis and management of their stocks in order to secure the right level of supply of medicines, medical equipment and personal protection. Health Commissioner Stella Kyriaki says there is no “No reported drug shortages so far.”
But during their discussions, the ministers recognized the fragile situation of the EU, while 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients supplied in Europe are manufactured in Asia, warned the French Academy of Pharmacy. The same goes for personal protection (masks, gloves, overalls), half of which are made in China, which is itself out of stock. The European executive is considering, why not, group purchasing to stimulate alternative offers.
Break the chains of contagion
Crisis management commissioner Janez Lenarcic, who also attended the meeting, stressed that the number of coronavirus cases in Europe was “Still weak”. As of February 13, 45 cases were listed in seven EU countries (11 in France, 16 in Germany, 3 in Italy, 2 in Spain, 1 in Belgium, 1 in Finland and 1 in Sweden). 9 cases in the United Kingdom, 2 in Russia. But the virus has not yet killed anyone.
The 27 insist on the protection of health personnel, by far the most exposed to the virus. When a case arises, they set themselves up for a common requirement to reassemble and isolate the chains of contagion. So far, out of all the cases identified, 23 have been infected from Asia, and 21 have been infected locally in Europe.
The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) wanted to be reassuring. Supported study, it ensures that all the Member States have a capacity to detect the virus, for a total capacity which amounts to 8000 tests per week.
Intra and extra-European aid
Solidarity will also be expressed in terms of the repatriation of European citizens exposed to the virus. Planes from France and Germany, co-funded by the EU civil protection mechanism, have already enabled the return of 447 people from Wuhan in early February. But German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned that alternatives should be considered if the situation worsens: “We do not have enough capacity to evacuate the hundreds of thousands of Europeans from China.” The Union has also made available € 10 million to support European research on vaccines.
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The 27 have agreed to continue their aid to China. Already, 12 tonnes of personal protection are already being shipped. The needs are colossal, while Beijing has just announced an additional 15,000 coronavirus infections, bringing the total to 60,000, due to a new, broader definition of infection.
Europeans promise special assistance to third countries with less robust health systems, particularly in Africa, which is close to Europe. According to the WHO, in fact, of the 160 laboratories existing in the world, capable of carrying out the necessary diagnoses, only two are located on the African continent. So far, screening kits have been distributed to thirty countries without equipment, in 55 states present in the cradle of humanity.