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12th Apr 2024

EU's response to coronavirus: 'Time for facts, not fear'

  • As of 3 February 2020, 17,383 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 362 deaths (Photo: Alexander Mueller)

"This is the time for facts, not fear," the EU commissioner for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides, warned on Monday (3 February) after meeting with Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) over the outbreak of novel coronavirus.

"The number of cases in the EU so far remains low and member states overall have strong health systems and preparedness plans," Kyriakides said, adding that the EU is ready to support member states and the international community to tackle the disease.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause different types of illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. The Wuhan coronavirus has been proven to be highly-transmissible among humans, but there is currently no specific treatment, nor vaccine, against it.

The outbreak of novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a public health emergency last week, which called for a more coordinated international response to the virus.

'Situation under control'

As a result, many countries have taken different approaches on issues such as travel or trade restrictions - an action that has inevitably hit the Chinese stock and commodity markets, which fell drastically on Monday.

However, the WHO's emergency chief, Michael Ryan, described unilateral trade and travel restrictions as an economic, political, and social "recipe for disaster".

Until now, the EU has only adopted preventive measures, but this might change if the virus keeps spreading at the current tempo.

"The aim currently in the EU is to confine the cases and to prevent the further spread," ECDC director Ammon told MEPs at the parliament's environmental committee on Monday (3 February).

To do so, member states should try to diagnose the cases as soon as possible, put them in isolation, identify further human contact and monitor closely the evolution of the disease, she said.

Likewise, the ECDC has designed an algorithm for the management of patients and cases of coronavirus, although its implementation in member states can be modified depending on the risk assessment for individual cases and national health authorities.

"An outbreak of novel viruses is always an issue of public concern, [but] the situation right now is really under control [in Europe]," Ammon added.

However, Kyriakides warned last week that "the situation is evolving very rapidly and has potentially serious public health implications".

As of 3 February 2020, 17,383 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 362 deaths - 361 in China and one in the Philippines.

EU's response

Only 25 cases have been identified in Europe so far - Finland (one), France (six), Germany (10), Italy (two), Russia (two), Spain (one), Sweden (one), the UK (two).

In nine of the European cases, the virus was acquired in the continent - eight in Germany and one in France - but the rest is imported, said Ammon, who also told MEPs that not every single person can be tested.

However, according to the latest risk assessment of ECDC, "since the original source remains unknown and human-to-human transmission has been documented, further cases and deaths are expected".

Meanwhile, the Commission is supporting member states in the repartition of Europeans. A total of 447 EU citizens in China were repatriated during the weekend.

Additionally, the commission recently announced support to the research into coronavirus vaccine with €10m from its research and innovation programme - Horizon 2020.

Kyriakides said last week (29 January) that she was in touch with the Croatian presidency of the Council to organise an extraordinary meeting of health ministers to discuss the topic - but there is no official date yet.

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