The entire planet has been affected by the Coronavirus.
In some continents, the population has been victim of poverty and of the backwardness of public health systems, or of leaders who have fallen into panic and populism.
In other countries, the population has been victim of apparently perfect organizational systems. But unable to react quickly to new threats.
In still others, authoritarian regimes have imposed strict rules: they have blocked the spread of the virus, but by killing individual freedoms.
And in Europe? What does the European Union do to help governments?
After temporary measures to contain the spread of the virus, somewhat different and in conflict with each other, Europe felt safe. Moreover, 40 days ago it was believed that the nightmare of the Coronavirus in Europe was quite over, as if the virus was respectful of political borders.
But how can EU, without competences in public health, public order and economic policy (if not in some cases), actually help more than any other member state can do?
Now EU is trying spasmodically to overcome its limits imposed by the Treaties. The dramatic moment for citizens and governments also becomes crucial for the survival of the European Union itself.
But what can the EU do, in addition to the measures already in place? (Last May we discussed on our post about the initiatives taken by EU to fight Coronavirus in Europe.)
The first move against Coronavirus in Europe
The first action to fight Coronavirus in Europe is to remedy the shortcomings of the Member States.
Last November 29, the EU Commission launched a new set of initiatives
What and how?
- Diagnosis. The inability of Member States to track infections is now widespread. The trend of the pandemic is such that the doubling of infections per week no longer allows us to trace who has come into contact with each new coronavirus positive and in addition, the diagnostic systems have so far been too slow. See what EU is doing on Diagnostics.
The EU calls on governments to introduce rapid and effective testing by adopting a Recommendation on COVID-19 Testing Strategies. In practice it suggests the use of rapid antigen tests, indicating the test strategy, their scope and priority groups.
But even more, it asks governments to submit national testing strategies by mid-November. And to help them, it is making an additional € 100 million available through the Emergency Support Facility.
This money is for the purchase of rapid antigen tests and deliver them to Member States. And at the same time the EU Commission launches a joint procurement to guarantee a second way of accessing these tests.
- Test for travellers. The EU has 27 internal borders and the COVID-19 entry procedures in each member state are different. So you can leave by plane from Madrid and reach Belgium without a check on arrival and then leave for Austria and be subjected to a test or even a quarantine. And maybe coming from Holland you are not subjected to quarantine. So the EU to fight Coronavirus in Europe is now asking that passengers be offered the possibility of tests on arrival and that there is mutual recognition of tests for people traveling.
- Contact tracking. Contact tracking and alerting apps help break the chains of transmission. But member states have so far developed 19 different contact tracking and alerting apps. Not just one. In addition, the nearly 450 million EU residents have downloaded apps only 52 million times, or nearly 10%. And with great differences from country to country. In Germany, 25% of the population has downloaded the app, in Italy less than 10%. Therefore, the European Commission recently launched a solution to connect national apps across the EU through a ‘European Federation Gateway Service‘. An experimental phase has already begun on 19 October, linking the apps of Germany, Ireland and Italy. And many more apps will be added in the coming weeks. There are already 17 national apps based on decentralized systems and soon can become interoperable through the gateway service and more will be added. This will push all Member States “to set up effective and compatible apps and to strengthen their communication efforts to promote their uptake”
- Communication as a tool to fight Coronavirus in Europe. Yes of course, clear communication is essential for the success of the public health response, as the results depend to a large extent on the public’s compliance with health recommendations. Therefore, the EU Commission asks all Member States to launch communication campaigns to combat the false, misleading and dangerous information that continues to circulate and to face the risk of “pandemic fatigue“. Public authorities must also use effective communication strategies for future vaccinations to combat misinformation and gain public trust, as no compromise on safety or efficacy will be allowed under the robust European vaccine authorization system. It is not vaccines that save lives, but vaccinations. And a population with large pockets of unvaccinated people can make vaccination useless on the rest of the population.
The second move against Coronavirus in Europe
The second move of the European Union to fight Coronavirus in Europe is to exploit the factors of scale, i.e. the impact force made up of 27 countries that can act in unison for specific objectives.
- Vaccinations. The availability of an effective vaccine will be the ultimate solution. The development of safe and effective vaccines and vaccination coverage with such vaccines are therefore a priority effort. From the beginning, the EU has brought together the best scientific capabilities to research a vaccine. Negotiations are also being made with producers to have vaccines available for the entire European and world population.Once available, vaccines will need to be rapidly distributed and administered to ensure maximum coverage. On 15 October, the Commission defined the main steps that Member States must take on vaccination strategies. The Commission develops a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccination strategies and the first review is expected on November 2020. See what EU is doing on Vaccines.
- Medical supplies. We have seen what happened with the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. In addition to the lack of medical staff, there was also a lack of medical equipment. From the beginning, EU supported manufacturers to ensure the availability of essential medical equipment and medicines and has helped governments by organizing public tenders for massive purchases of medical devices. And so, the shortage of medical devices has decreased dramatically. The Commission has now launched a new joint procurement for medical equipment for vaccination. See what EU is doing on Vaccines.
- Leave of VAT. In order to offer Member States better and cheaper access to the tools needed to prevent, detect and treat COVID-19, the Commission has now extended the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on imports of medical equipment from third countries. Finally, the Commission proposes and asks governments to suspend the payment of VAT on vaccines and test kits. See the EU measures on VAT and Economy.
The third move
The third move to fight Coronavirus in Europe concerns the free movement of citizens within the EU itself.
- Free movement. The EU has gone beyond the generic recommendations made last spring, due to lack of responsibility on civil liberties. Now the EU Commission breaks some fences and here’s how it wants to play some cards: asks to fully apply the recommendation adopted by the Council for a coordinated approach to regulating freedom of movement. The purpose is to remove the remaining internal border control measures related to COVID-19.
- Passenger testing protocol. With the European Aviation Safety Agency and ECDC, the Eu Commission is working on a passenger testing protocol. Purpose? Help public health authorities, airlines and airports for the safe arrival of passengers.
- Quarantine. The Commission is also working with Member States and agencies, using ECDC input, for a common approach to quarantine practices. When? In November.
- Tracking. A european pilot project for the tracking of coronavirus-positive passengers is planned for November for the introduction and use of a single EU digital module. In full compliance with personal data protection rules.
- Re-open EU Information Campaign. EU plans the launch of a massive information campaign for Re-open EU, the European one-stop-shop that provides timely and accurate information on health measures and travel restrictions in all states and in some partner countries. The Commission invites governments to provide accurate and up-to-date information. As single reference for information on health measures and travel options across the EU. And a Re-open EU mobile app is also under a new version: launch in November. Consult the Re-open EU site before your travel.
For an in-depth and review of all the measures taken so far by the EU institutions to fight Coronavirus in Europe, go to –> Coronavirus page of our website.