How can we avoid tragedy

EU Council President Michel: Work better together to prevent “tragedy”

EU Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday called on the member states to use faster coronavirus test methods and to adopt further common rules for dealing with the virus. In addition, a “vaccine chaos” must be avoided.

In his weekly newsletter, Michel writes: "In just a few weeks the situation has escalated from worrying to alarming" and adds: "Now we have to prevent a tragedy."

On Thursday, EU leaders will hold an online summit to discuss how to better work together in the face of rising infections. Michel's contribution seems to be a preview of the issues that EU leaders will discuss tomorrow.

In order to detect COVID-19, European doctors have largely relied on the PCR nasal swab test, which provides a result within a few days. Alternatively, there is also the faster but less reliable antigen method.

Michel argues that in light of the second wave of coronavirus, it is time to increasingly switch to the faster option. The Belgian warns: "We must not make the same mistakes as before: we have to coordinate the approval of these tests to ensure that they are recognized across Europe."

Some countries require people entering airports to perform PCR tests. These could, for example, be replaced by rapid antigen tests on site.

Tracking apps

The second measure that Michel is promoting is the introduction of effective contact identification systems. Some EU countries have used their national apps; however, their effect has so far been mostly marginal.

Michel stressed the need to ensure the compatibility of the individual apps with one another and recalled the positive example of the EU agreement on a GSM mobile radio standard.

Finally, Michel writes that the EU member states need to reach a consensus on common rules for self-isolation and quarantine: in fact, Belgium only recently changed its mandatory quarantine period from 14 to 7 days, while other countries continue to maintain the 14 days or a 10-day period. Have introduced quarantine rule.

“In itself” there is “nothing complicated about the quarantine regulations; it's only made more difficult by the many different levels of government, ”said Michel. Therefore, an agreement on uniform rules is "a question of political will".

Prevent “vaccination chaos”

Michel also addressed the issue of potential vaccines, stressing that the EU must "avoid chaos at all costs" by setting criteria for the distribution of vaccines to different countries. It is also "important to identify priority groups to which the vaccines should be given priority. Those who are most at risk (the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, etc.) as well as health workers seem to me to be such clear priority groups. "

Furthermore, there is an increased need for an infrastructure for cooling the vaccines, which is currently not available. The variety of vaccines to be introduced in the coming months will also create other logistical problems for which the EU should be prepared, added the EU Council leader.

Lack of coordination

The big problem is that the EU does not have an overall picture of the needs of the member states in dealing with the second wave of pandemics.

In an interview with the Greek magazine To Vima Josep Jansa from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) explained that all member states now have emergency plans that they had to implement between June and September when the situation was calmer. "Now that there will be a serious increase in the number of cases, it is not always clear how," he criticized. Some member states did not inform Brussels of their contingency plans at all.

European Commission sources told EURACTIV.com that a more centralized approach is needed to get quick and effective results. “We understand that it is also a matter of national jurisdiction, but in fact [the coronavirus] is a cross-border public health issue. And EU citizens expect a quick and effective response, "the sources say.

It was also said that the current system of joint procurement for the supply of important medical supplies such as masks and ventilators had been too slow so far. The reason: The Commission cannot initiate such a procurement on its own. The country concerned must first sign a contract with the Commission; only then is the material procured and stored.

However, some Member States are reluctant to accelerate this process. This means that important time is lost again.

"We want the rules to be adjusted so that the Commission can procure and stockpile itself," the sources said. Brussels could then react and step in if the situation in a Member State deteriorates and the need for additional materials or medicines grows.

In any case, it would make sense for the Member States to exchange their current health information with the Commission: “In this way, Brussels would be able to get an overall picture, whereby weaknesses can be identified and guessed at. In this way, points can be identified where a broad European response to the crisis is required. "

[Edited by Sam Morgan and Tim Steins]