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11th Jul 2020

Coronavirus

Coronavirus: EU ministers urge members to share supplies

  • 'European solidarity is in the self-interest of us all,' said EU health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides (Photo: European Union)

EU health ministers voiced concerns about the possible shortage in protective equipment and medicines in some member states due to the coronavirus outbreak, after Germany, France, and the Czech Republic blocked the export of anti-virus gear.

"We don't have enough protective masks," said Czech health minister Adam Vojtech as he joined the extraordinary meeting with EU health ministers held on Friday (6 March).

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"The problem is that the demand is much higher than the supply. A third of the world's production of drugs is located in China and also in India, which as far as I know also has stopped exports of drugs recently," he added.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Friday that they were evaluating stocks.

But the agency urged politicians to open "a wider debate" with the pharmaceutical industry in order to anticipate possible shortages.

Dutch health minister, Bruno Bruins, called on the European Union to be "less dependent" on third countries for the production of medicines while asking member states to show solidarity.

"It is not a solution if other countries impose an export ban on masks," Bruins said, adding that this could lead to "major problems for the Dutch health system" if the numbers of coronavirus cases increased.

Likewise, the commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, said that "European solidarity is in the self-interest of us all".

"I believe our efforts should be focused on finding solutions that benefit the Union citizens as a whole," she added.

"We must all be aware that a lack of solidarity towards European partners on any aspect of the crisis today may bring a lack of solidarity down the road," Kyriakides also said.

According to the Belgian health minister Maggie de Block, limiting exports of medical supplies was "not in the spirit of the EU".

However, the German health minister, Jens Spahn, asked members to try to understand the measures taken by Berlin.

"The reason we are upping the pressure is that the situation is different in our countries than the others. We are in a different phase than those countries, which are still detecting and containing cases," he said.

Additionally, the Irish minister for health, Simon Harris, said that it was important to take into consideration that "one action taken or not taken in one member state has a direct effect on other member states".

In this global crisis, there were two great challenges for the EU: misinformation and those who are trying to economically benefit from the outbreak by increasing prices of products such as hand disinfectant, Harris warned.

However, the Estonian health minister, Riina Sikkut, said that fighting disinformation would require better and real-time exchange of information.

The director of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Europe, Hans Henri Kluge, also said that it was essential to combat misinformation about the virus, which he called an "infodemic".

"Fear is normal, but it can be managed and moderated with the right information," he said.

Meanwhile, the European Commission also announced on Friday that €37.5m had been secured for urgently needed research on coronavirus vaccine development, treatment, and diagnostics.

As of 8 March 2020, over 109,640 laboratory-confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported worldwide, as well as 3,802 deaths - most of them in China - and 60,956 recoveries.

Over 7,000 cases of coronavirus have been registered in Italy, the most-affected country in Europe - followed by France (1,126), Germany (1,018) and Spain (613).

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