The European Commission unveiled on Wednesday (15 July) a set of guidelines to strengthen the EU’s response to a potential future surge of coronavirus infections – calling on member states to reduce the risk of a simultaneous seasonal-flu and Covid-19 outbreaks in the autumn.
“The virus is still with us, but Europe is now much more prepared,” said commission’s vice president, Margaritis Schinas, referring to the new, localised, outbreaks appearing across Europe.
“Drawing on the lessons of the past months we are planning to avoid improvisation, reinforcing our preparedness on all fronts and facilitating the path towards economic and social recovery across the EU,” Schinas added.
One of the main priorities in the plan is to address risks linked to the seasonal flu since “simultaneous outbreaks of seasonal influenza and Covid-19 would place a considerable strain on health systems”.
In the most recent 2018-2019 period, seasonal influenza was responsible for 40,000 deaths in the EU.
Thus the commission urged member states to launch earlier and bigger vaccination campaigns against the flu – starting vaccinating people this month, instead of waiting until October, when most EU countries start immunisation.
To do so, health commissioner Stella Kyriakides called on member states to fight people’s growing scepticism about vaccinations – what she described as “vaccine hesitancy”.
Additionally, the commission called on member states to communicate their needs for medical supplies, national production capacities, and stockpiles of personal protective equipment, medicines and medical devices – in order to avoid shortages.
Despite the recommendations issued by the commission, some member states took unilateral measures at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak – including export bans on medical supplies or the closure of borders.
Now there are still echoes of that confusion, since some members states are not following the recommendations agreed by ambassadors earlier this year on opening borders for non-EU visitors.
However, commissioner Kyriakides insisted that “communication and coordination are indispensable to prevent generalised outbreaks”.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that we are fully prepared. Now is not the time to let our guard down,” she also said.
Moreover, the EU executive also called on member states to increase their testing and contact-tracing capacity to map clusters and avoid nationwide lockdowns.
“Early detection of cases and rapid response to prevent further spread are currently our best shot to avoid having to reinstate large-scale restrictions such as lockdowns,” reads the guidelines.
On Wednesday, the EU also made recommendations to make mobile tracing and warning apps interoperable across national borders in the EU.
But so far, only 10 member states have such applications in place.