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Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Peter Piot, Special Advisor to the President, on additional measures for the EU's response to coronavirus

Statement given by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with Peter Piot, Special Advisor to the President, on additional measures for the EU's response to coronavirus.

"Check against delivery"

The COVID-19 situation is very serious. But we can do something about it. It is serious in nearly all our Member States: All data indicate a major spread of the virus across Europe. This is the second wave. ECDC has called the epidemiological situation in 23 Member States as being ‘of serious concern'. Last week alone, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Europe was 1.1 million. And as more people are infected, more are being hospitalised as well. And we can expect these numbers to go up further in the next two to three weeks.

At present, the use of intensive care units is on average across Europe one third of the level in spring. But it is expected to continue to rise with growing infections and with the winter flu season setting in. Compared to the spring, almost no Member State is spared this time. And central and eastern European countries are now also heavily affected.

And this time, we face two enemies: the coronavirus and a growing COVID-19 fatigue. I understand that people are tired of this virus, and I appreciate the sacrifices they are making. People are suffering, socially and economically because of the control measures. And they are suffering mentally because of prolonged restrictions to their personal freedom and the social isolation.

However, we cannot let down our guard now. The situation is very, very serious, but we can slow down the spread of the virus if everyone takes responsibility. Responsibility must be taken at all levels: every single one of us, regional and local communities, Member States and the European level. Our goal is clear: We need to contain the virus until we have treatments, vaccination and other means to protect everyone's health.

This means that everyone can and must contribute. What we are expected to do is simple: We need to wear masks and stick to hand hygiene. And we need to avoid the three C's: crowds, close contacts and closed spaces with poor ventilation. Only by protecting ourselves and each other we can reduce the spread of the virus and reduce the impact on our lives and livelihoods.

Now, we should be better prepared than in spring. Health professionals know more about the disease and how to treat patients. Citizens are now better informed. Governments have the experience from spring.

In July, the European Commission called on Member States to prepare for a second wave. And we took action. We urged Member States to increase testing capacity, and we launched a EUR 350 million joint procurement exercise to do so.

We have designed a European gateway to enable interoperability of COVID-19 tracing apps across borders, in full respect of data privacy rules. Apps from Germany, Italy and Ireland are already connected to this gateway. We expect 18 more Member States to join the gateway in the coming months. Overall, 23 Member States have a contact tracing and warning app or are developing one, with 52 million downloads so far. I call on all citizens to download the app, every user counts. The app can save lives the more people join.

We have remedied initial shortages of medical and other countermeasures through RescEU stockpiling and working with manufacturers. We initiated joint procurement for protective personal equipment, ventilators and intensive care medicine. We insisted on lifting national export restrictions for critical supplies and we suspended customs duties and VAT on such items.

We set up 'green lanes' to allow the proper functioning of the Single Market and transport. We introduced a coordinated approach to travel restrictions based on common colour-codes for risk zones. And we concluded so far three Advanced Purchase Agreements for safe and effective vaccines so that they can be available to all Member States at the same time on the same conditions. Three others are in the pipeline.

Now, we must build on these foundations with additional measures. Taken together, the package we present today enables a coordinated approach to data sharing, testing, medical and non-medical equipment, travel, and vaccination strategies.

We are all in this together. No Member State will safely emerge from the crisis, until everyone does. That is why you will hear us stress the need for cooperation, coordination and solidarity.

Tomorrow, the Heads of State or Government will meet virtually. The aim is better coordination. I will call for greater data sharing to the data platform with ECDC. This will help us know, for example, where there is ICU capacity or cross-border patient care can be organised when needed.

We will set up a European platform of national science advisors on COVID-19 to exchange and align the advice given to governments. We recommend effective and coordinated testing strategies and increasing capacity for testing. Rapid antigen tests are now coming to the market. These can play a significant role, but we will propose an EU approach to approval and use. Only then, there will be mutual recognition of tests and of test results.

For our part, we are now mobilising EUR 100 million from the emergency support instrument to purchase rapid tests that we will distribute to the Member States. And we launch a joint procurement to make more available.

We call on all Member States to link up national apps to the European Gateway in November. We call on Member States to participate in a speedy joint procurement of essential supplies, such as medical equipment for vaccination. We are proposing today to extend for another six months the VAT exemptions for the purchase of vaccines and testing kits.

We call on Member States to facilitate travel, when necessary. We ask to work together on an EU passenger locator form. We need to maintain, for now, restrictions on travelling to the EU. But today, we encourage Member States to make it easier for couples and families to reunite. We also propose to extend the green lanes beyond road freight to rail, air and water.

And finally, in line with our EU vaccination strategy of 15 October, we call on Member States to prepare national vaccination plans and review them at EU level. We need to be prepared for the arrival of the first vaccines. There are many issues to be considered for an effective vaccine deployment. For example: What kind of infrastructure will be needed; cold chains? What groups of the population should be vaccinated first? Here we already gave a recommendation. But on one thing I will be very clear: We will not compromise on the safety of vaccines.

And finally, let us not forget about our commitment to universal and fair access to COVID-19 vaccines. We need to continue the Team Europe approach for joint leadership in the COVAX Facility. 184 countries have signed up now. No one will be safe until everyone is safe. 

The coronavirus is testing all of us. But by working together, coordinating our action and taking responsibility at all levels, we can get control over it, protect everyone's health and gradually return our society and economy to normal.

Click here for the full press release


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