A strong EU action based on testing, contact tracing and vaccines to contain the current second wave of Covid-19 infections. Following the recommendation establishing common criteria for travel measures, this is the call from the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, to discuss the need to step up the collective effort to combat the pandemic.
Considering that only last week the total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Europe exceeded one million, the need to supplement RT-PCR tests (the nasopharyngeal swab) with faster (though less efficient) antigenic tests is crucial. Charles Michel‘s first call is to coordinate this latter testing at European level and ensure the production capacity to make them simultaneously available and accessible everywhere. A response came directly from the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, who announced the proposal for an EU approach to the approval and use of rapid tests and the allocation of 100 million euros for their purchase and distribution to the 27 Member States. At the same time, however, the Commission has once again asked Member States to share more data on the relevant platform with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
As far as contact tracing is concerned, the President of the European Council – a few days after the conclusion of the test phase linking the national apps of Italy, Germany and Ireland – stressed the need to ensure the interoperability of national applications and to implement effective contact tracing systems. On this issue, Von der Leyen then replied that connections to the gateway network are expected to be expanded with a further 18 participants in November and, for this reason, she again invited citizens to download national applications because “every user counts, and the success of applications depends on the number of users“. Even if it is important not to underestimate the need to strengthen institutional channels (i.e. also apps) for tracking contagions at a national level, the guarantee of interoperability and the number of users cannot on its own overcome the critical issues related to accessing these channels that push citizens to communicate positivity to their contacts through inappropriate and informal channels.
THE VACCINES ISSUE
On the subject of vaccines, Charles Michel has called for the definition of criteria for their distribution among the various European countries and the shared identification of priority groups to be administered to. Furthermore, given that the different vaccines expected to be introduced will present problems in organisation and distribution, their evaluation and management must be done in advance. Finally, the vaccination campaign will require not only a supervisory system to monitor efficacy and possible side effects, but also a great deal of attention on public communication to prevent misinformation from compromising the administration. In response, the President of the EU Commission mentioned, first of all, the conclusion of three preventive agreements and further negotiations for the purchase of vaccines that must be safe and effective, followed by the proposal to extend for a further six months the VAT exemptions for the purchase of vaccines and test kits. Finally, she referred to the Communication to the Council and the Parliament, in which the Commission presented the key elements that Member States should consider for their vaccination strategies. The EU countries are therefore asked to work on this point, also taking into consideration that the approach to immunisation will be, in any case, gradual.
The President of the European Council pointed out that the request for proposals to the Commission to ensure coordination (even though health is an issue that mainly concerns Member States) has been made and resulted in several agreements being reached in July. Therefore, the determination of national leaders to support a coordinated approach at European level to ensure the strength of the internal market and supply chains is clear.
Charles Michel and Ursula Von der Leyen undoubtedly agree on one point – solidarity, cooperation and coordination are essential as no country can tackle the situation alone.