BRUSSELS – The European Union held an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss how to cope with the coronavirus epidemic and prevent an outbreak in Europe.
European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides warned ministers at the event in Brussels that “viruses know no borders.”
“This outbreak highlights the urgent need for close cooperation and coordination across Europe and beyond,” she added.
“I want to thank all the health ministers who have been in close contact with me over the past few weeks.”
She said coordination within the EU is vital in fighting the virus, including sharing information and cooperation between countries.
“We are determined to ensure an effective, coherent EU-level response,” she added.
“However, success depends on active participation from member states and alignment of preparedness and response measures.
“We need to be united in our response – coherent and coordinated with each other.”
She said there needs to be uniform border controls at airports for flights coming from China, where 99 percent of cases have been reported.
“What we are seeing is that measures are being implemented in a variety of ways at points of entry to the EU, and that information on such measures are not always shared quickly enough,” Kyriakides added.
“These measures will always be your competence, your decisions.
“But our approach to detection at points of entry has to be coordinated, proportionate, science-based and in line with WHO international recommendations.”
There have been 50 confirmed coronavirus cases in 11 European countries, with Germany, France and the United Kingdom particularly affected.
Brussels has ruled out imposing borders within the Schengen area, with Kyriakides saying: “Freedom of movement in the EU needs to be safeguarded.”
She also highlighted the need for EU countries to collaborate closely with China “both at technical and political levels.”
EU representatives have been working to “establish an expert information exchange protocol” and held its first video conference with Chinese experts on Wednesday, she added.
Another issue in fighting the outbreak has been a shortage of medical supplies and protective equipment in China.
“In addition to the 12 tons of personal protective equipment already provided, we are connecting Chinese authorities to companies manufacturing protective equipment in the EU,” Kyriakides continued.
Thursday saw a surge of cases in China after authorities changed diagnosis techniques, bringing the number of coronavirus cases in the country to 59,805 and the death toll at 1,367.
The numbers were concentrated in the province of Hubei, the epicenter of COVID-19, where 242 people died and 14,840 were confirmed to be infected with the virus.
Michael Ryan, executive director of emergencies at the World Health Organization, said the places where the risk of the infection spreading are highest is not borders but hospitals.
“Special measures are necessary. Health professionals must be protected,” he added.
He also said the EU needs to help countries with weaker health services, to which his colleagues agreed.
Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said Europe’s current strategy was “containment.”
“In general, quarantine measures, if implemented comprehensively, can be effective in limiting and slowing the introduction of novel pathogens into a population,” she added.
Health ministers from the EU’s 27 member countries shared updates on the situation in their respective nations and the steps being taken to combat the outbreak.