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31st Oct 2020

Coronavirus

EU states struggle to better sync Covid-19 measures

  • German state minister for EU affairs, Michael Roth (l) and Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, Greek alternate minister of European affairs at the beginning of the council meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU countries have agreed to better coordinate their Covid-19 measures, but the details remain sketchy.

EU affairs ministers, on Tuesday (22 September), discussed how countries could share data, communicate better, and have common assessment and measures as they fight to stem the spread of Covid-19.

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But the issue remains highly sensitive, as health competencies and related measures belong to member states, which are reluctant to move to a more joint approach.

"In order to be better forearmed, so that we can both protect people and guarantee their rights under Schengen [the EU's passport-free zone] and in the internal market, the German presidency - working closely with our French partners - have proposed ... better-coordinated measures on a European level," German European affairs state minister Michal Roth, whose country holds the EU presidency, said after the meeting.

Roth acknowledged that, at the beginning of the pandemic, member states had no blueprint on how to tackle the outbreak of such a virus.

"If we have learnt something, it is how strongly people feel about being able to move around borders, and the limited introduction of border checks have been a huge inconvenience for people," he said.

The German EU presidency hopes to finalise "recommendations" in the next weeks.

These will be political, but not legally-binding, agreements between EU countries to coordinate actions.

Some issues, such as a joint risk assessment and common measures seemed "particularly sensitive", the German presidency's report on the talks said.

Nevertheless, a "catalogue" of common measures is expected to be drawn up.

Member states were also asked to publish any measures 24 hours before such move come into effect in future.

If measures affect another country - for instance, if one EU state is to declare that another one is a 'red zone' - that country should be informed first, prior to publication of the new travel advisory.

Member states are to rely on joint data and maps for the assessment of epidemiological risks across the EU, which are to be drawn up by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), an EU agency in Sweden.

Countries are to retain their own national assessments as well, however.

The ECDC will provide data weekly based on a 14-day notification rate of new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the testing rate per 100,000 inhabitants, and the test positivity rate.

It will also be asked to provide data on population size, hospitalisation rate, the rate of intensive care admission, and the mortality rate on a weekly basis.

Member states are asked to send the data to Sweden and the ECDC is to draw up maps based on those figures.

Six-moths after the European outbreak of the virus, EU countries still have different rules for quarantines, red zones, and for travel restrictions.

And EU officials agree the lack of coordination has created a "big mess" in Europe.

One EU source said the discord was not "a matter of will" by governments, but was linked to the fact that health responses remained a national prerogative.

"There needs to be a balance between flexibility and coordination," the source said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has also come up proposals for member states to agree common thresholds and common colour codes for risk zones, which fed into the ministers' discussions.

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