Thursday

9th Jul 2020

Coronavirus

EU Commission slammed for Covid-19 'mid-threat' ranking

  • Trade unions regretted the EU executive's decision and called on member states to implement stricter measures to protect workers until a treatment or vaccine is available (Photo: Carsten ten Brink)

The European Commission on Wednesday (3 June) classified the coronavirus as a "mid-level" threat to EU workers - drawing criticism from socialist MEPs and trade unions as the classification allows businesses to apply less stringent safety measures in the workplace.

The commission classified the virus as a level-3 hazard on a four-group risk list - although there is still no treatment available to prevent or cure coronavirus, a disease that has killed over 379,000 people worldwide.

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Level-3 hazard is used when a biological agent "can cause severe human disease and present a serious hazard to workers; it may present a risk of spreading to the community, but there is usually effective prophylaxis or treatment available," according to EU rules.

Level-4 is applied for those that pose a "high risk" of infection with no prophylaxis or treatment available.

However, a commission spokesperson said on Wednesday that "the existence or absence of prophylaxis cannot be considered as a standalone criterion".

The decision follows the scientific advice of experts from the 27 member states, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization, the commission said.

Additionally, the EU executive urged both the European Parliament and European Council to approve the proposal as quickly as possible.

But the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the parliament said on Wednesday that they will seek a majority in the chamber to reject the commission's decision in a vote expected in June.

However, the commission's decision is immediately applicable.

"We strongly oppose the decision by the commission to classify Covid-19 only as a mid-level hazard. Covid-19 is the biggest health challenge of our lifetime," said MEP Agnes Jongerius, who is a member of the parliament's committee on employment.

"Now, that millions of workers will be sent back to their workplaces, we have to make sure that they too are adequately protected and a second wave is prevented," she added.

Jongerius also voiced concerns about the lack of transparency of the procedures set out in the EU's Biological Agents at Work Directive since there is no public information available about the experts consulted by the commission or the reasoning behind their decision.

The parliament's committee on employment is expected to vote the decision on Thursday (11 June), which will be followed by the vote in the full plenary in the next session.

Potential argument for Eurosceptics?

Meanwhile, trade unions also regretted the EU executive's decision and called on member states to implement stricter measures to protect workers until a treatment or vaccine is available.

"Research shows that the characteristics of the virus justify its classification in the highest risk group, not only because of the lack of effective treatment or vaccine but because of the high risk of workers who are in contact with the public spreading the virus to the community," said deputy general secretary at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), Per Hilmersson

But the commissioner for employment and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, said that the new classification "complements the already stringent measures in place, improving the protection of all workers, especially those who work directly with the virus in hospitals, industrial processes and laboratories".

However, ETUC experts warned that the choice of Level 3 would mean that "the commission did not fully consider the high sensitiveness of the problem," since many health care professionals have died due to coronavirus and thousands have got infected across Europe.

ETUC also stressed that this decision could even provide strong arguments to Eurosceptics.

"Member states have adopted an exceptionally high level of precautionary approach which is fully justified. Nobody would understand that a lower level should apply to the workers," they said.

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