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23rd Jan 2022

Nearly 200 MEPs set to shun Strasbourg over Covid spike

  • MEPs want to avoid being packed together inside the Strasbourg plenary, with infections rising in both France and Belgium (Photo: European Parliament)
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Nearly 200 MEPs want to work remotely next week, rather than attend the Strasbourg plenary session, following a surge in Covid-19 cases throughout parts of Europe.

"We are concerned about having 705 members voting in presence in plenary next week," notes the letter, sent to parliament president David Sassoli on Wednesday (17 November).

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Drafted by German centre-right MEPs Angelika Niebler and Daniel Caspary, the letter demands a return to a so-called "special regime", which blended virtual and physical work.

"Taking into account the actual pandemic situation we want to avoid having so many colleagues and staff sitting together for such a long time without any distances," they said.

The letter includes MEPs from across the political groups and comes amid a sharp rise of infections. Although initially signed by 179 MEPs, others have since been added.

"Unfortunately, so far we have not received any response from president Sassoli," Caspary's office, said in an email early evening Thursday.

Belgium, which hosts the EU institutions, noted a 27-percent infection increase over the past week.

It registered over 19,000 infections on Monday alone, although deaths remain relatively low compared to other EU states. Around 2,800 people are currently being treated in hospitals, of which 568 are in intensive care.

France, where next week's plenary is set to take place, logged almost 20,300 daily cases on Wednesday.

The European Parliament has already recently imposed temporary entry measures, requiring MEPs and others to present a Covid pass or a negative test to enter its premises, along with face masks.

The rules came as Sassoli demanded a physical return of EU lawmakers, amid reports of dozens of infections - mostly contracted outside its premises.

A deputy spokesperson confirmed four infections had been contracted within the European Parliament itself.

Discussions are taking place among group leaders on possible next steps.

But Klause Welle, the European Parliament's top administrator appears to have taken the cue.

On Wednesday, he sent an email instructing staff they can work remotely from home as of 20 November.

Welle noted "recent cases of in-house infections inside the European Parliament" as well as the latest decision by the Belgian authorities, as among the reasons for the decision.

The Belgian restrictions, announced earlier this week, imposes a four-day home working rule until mid-December.

For its part, the European Commission said it too will follow the Belgian rules.

"We will ask our staff to telework four days a week from Monday as was decided yesterday," a commission spokesperson told reporters.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) says the infection spikes are mainly driven by unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated individuals.

The agency in late September warned that the lifting of restrictions in countries with a less than 75-percent vaccination uptake would see a rise in cases.

"In such a scenario, due to very high virus circulation, fully-vaccinated vulnerable populations are also at risk of experiencing infection with a severe outcome," it noted.

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