Press Conference by Commissioner Kyriakides, in charge of Health and Food Safety, and Commissioner Lenarčič, in charge of Crisis Management, in the Berlaymont Pressroom, in Brussels.
Remarks by Commissioner Kyriakides
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,
I am here with you today, for the first time on this podium, to inform you about the EU's preparedness and response to the developing situation of the coronavirus - which was first reported in China, exactly a month ago. My priority as Commissioner in charge of Health has been - and remains - to make sure that we, as Commission, provide all support to our Member States: in the coronavirus context, this means ensuring preparedness and the coordination of response measures to prevent the spread of the virus within the EU.
At this moment, we have 8 laboratory confirmed cases in Europe, 4 in France and 4 in Germany. I am in continuous contact with the Ministers of Health of both France and Germany, and I am assured that necessary steps to contain the virus have been taken by both countries. I have also been in contact with the Croatian Presidency and have voiced our support should they decide to convene an extraordinary meeting of the Health Council. All 8 persons are under treatment in specialized infectious disease departments in France and Germany.
Extensive contact tracing is under way and measures are being taken for the persons they have been in contact with.
The situation as you are all aware is complex and constantly evolving. There are still significant uncertainties about the source of infection, how virulent and how pathogenic it is.
On the science front, as you probably know, there is currently no specific treatment, nor vaccine, for this disease. Knowing more about the disease would help to even better target our prevention measures and communication to the public.
China has been sharing outbreak information and epidemiological data. Rapid information sharing from China is critical as this helps to prevent a wider spread globally and in the EU and we are sure that this will continue.
Whilst public health measures are first and foremost a Member State competence, we, as the Commission, have an important central role to support them, coordinate our EU wide response and help ensuring that potential needs and gaps are met quickly. This is precisely what we have been doing in the past weeks.
From the very start of this outbreak, we mobilised the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to establish risk assessments.
We used our legal framework and efficient procedures on health security to enable coordination of preparedness and response measures with Member States. The Health Security Committee has met three times on the virus to exchange information on the situation as well as the preparedness and needs ofMember States, on the basis of the regularly updated risk assessments of ECDC.
They are accompanied by technical guidance documents concerning clinical diagnosis and management, travel advice, general health advice to the public and healthcare workers, advice on treatments and medical countermeasures, and contact tracing guidelines. Information is also exchanged in real time through the Early Warning and Response System.
During the latest Health Security Committee, which was held on Tuesday, the Member States reported to us a strong level of preparedness. Member States reported their access to laboratory diagnosis networks, guidance documents they have already prepared for travellers, health care professionals, as well as the general public.
We have been working across the full spectrum of Commission services and agencies, as well as the Council and European External Action Service. This is to ensure the utmost coordinated response and full activation of all support services in order to be prepared to mitigate the consequences of a larger spread of the virus in the EU.
On the transport side, for example, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency issued recommendations to national aviation authorities, airlines and airports on how to handle potentially infectious cases in airlines and airports. Guidance has also been issued to our Member States on how to handle detection at points of entry into the Union.
On the research side, our supercomputer centres stand ready to sequence and simulate the evolution on the novel coronavirus. This can help researchers in their work to develop vaccines against the virus. Should the situation deteriorate, we have additional measures, which can be taken in addition to those already ongoing, including mobilising emergency funding to support outbreak responses.
If needed, the Union Civil Protection Mechanism - now mobilised for the repatriation of our citizens - can also be used within the Union to help with the sharing of medical resources and protective equipment. Janez will tell you more about that.
We are now much more prepared on all sides, from public health to science, and we would like to say that full EU expertise and support can also be provided to any third country if requested.
I am in regular contact with Dr. Tedros, Director-General of WHO and the Regional Director for Europe and follow very closely the assessment carried out by the Organisation. I welcome the announcement that international experts will be sent to China to provide guidance to boost the understanding of this new virus. Cooperation at global level to tackle this outbreak is of paramount importance.
Thank you for your attention.
Remarks by Commissioner Lenarčič
As you know, the European Commission has a coordinating role when it comes to serious cross-border health threats to the EU. Various Commission services and the European External Action Service have therefore been in constant contact with the Chinese authorities and Member States since the outbreak of this virus.
However, as the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus has intensified, yesterday the Commission decided to step up its response activities. Upon the decision of President von der Leyen and in my capacity of the European Emergency Response Coordinator, I have initiated a strengthened coordination between our relevant services.
In addition, this morning President von der Leyen spoke to the Chinese Prime Minister to convey Europe's willingness to assist if required and to cooperate closely in managing the developments.
Currently, we are actively coordinating and accompanying Member States' intention to repatriate EU citizens from China. There are a number of EU citizens in China [last estimate: more than 500] who would like to leave the country but cannot do so at the moment.
As announced yesterday, France has activated the Union Civil Protection Mechanism via our Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) in order to coordinate the repatriation of EU citizens from Wuhan with two French airplanes.
In this respect, the ERCC organised a coordination meeting with Member States in order to ensure that all of them have the same information and can make their needs known.
For the time being, not all Member States have provided us with the number of citizens to be repatriated; some do not have their citizens there at all so no request to expect there. Nevertheless, this number of almost 600 people.
At the time, the French authorities are in close contact with the Chinese to work out the operational details in order to perform the announced flights.
It is important to understand that regarding the circumstances this is a complex operation requiring time and patience.
In addition, it is important to know that the Union Civil Protection Mechanism can also be deployed outside Europe.
This is why we are in contact with Chinese authorities and should assistance be requested by China (or any other third country) via the Union Civil Protection Mechanism, the ERCC can facilitate either the deployment of our Emergency Medical Teams or the Mechanism can also be activated to provide personal protective equipment stock.
Regardless of the potential activation, we are monitoring the global situation comprehensively in order to be able to cooperate with China in the most optimal way. In fact, the ERCC is in contact with the Chinese authorities who are interested in purchasing medical equipment, such as protective clothing, masks and goggles.
So besides the numerous efforts of Commissioner Kyriakides and her services related to our medical response, the search for vaccines and medication as well as medical capacities in Member States, the Commission is active on a number of fronts.
We are also following Member States' efforts to control incoming passengers from China at European airports.
To sum up, the Commission services are fully engaged in monitoring and responding to all possible facets of the Coronavirus outbreak. As of yesterday, our management structures have all been mobilised. Based on our knowledge today, we expect that this coordinative effort will need to be pursued in the forthcoming weeks and probably months.