Speech by Commissioner Kyriakides, in charge of Health and Food Safety, at a Press Conference on COVID-19, in Rome, Italy.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by highlighting the Commission's absolute solidarity with Italy during this trying time.
I would also like to thank Minister Speranza and the Ministry of Health and the Civil Protection, and all the health personnel on the ground, for taking swift and resolute measures to reduce the impact of the outbreak.
From day one, protecting our citizens from this virus and supporting Member States and the global efforts to contain its spread have been the EU's main priorities.
Like all viruses, COVID-19 has shown its ability to cross borders and continents. I would say that this outbreak is a test case for existing global emergency response mechanisms as well as for our cooperation within the EU.
Firstly, and I cannot stress this enough: ensuring real time exchange of information and coordination of measures between us and ensuring that everyone is prepared to contain the spread of the virus are crucial elements for an effective and coherent response.
This is precisely why we have our well-established channels of information exchange in place at EU level and why we provide scientific and evidence based guidance to help Member States prepare their health systems and health care workers. Our scientific experts who are here with us today will elaborate further on this.
But given how quickly the situation can change, as we have seen over the past days, even if we are currently in the containment phase, our public health care response across the EU must be ready to deal with increased numbers of COVID-19 infections and we are working to coordinate and align this.
To this effect, we have requested Member States to review their pandemic plans as well as health care capacities, including capacity for diagnosing, laboratory testing and procedures for contact tracing. All Member States need to inform us about their preparedness plans and how they propose to implement them.
This is the kind of crucial information that we all need to have if the virus spreads further and I urge Member States to share this with us and each other, as this is important for our mutual security.
Secondly, on coordination. The importance of coordinating and sharing information was also one of the key messages from the meeting yesterday between health Ministers of the countries neighboring Italy.
I welcome the support expressed by the Ministers present for keeping the borders open and not resorting to what could at this point in time be considered disproportionate and inefficient measures. Diverging approaches across the EU should be avoided, this is why the Commission stands ready to coordinate amongst Member States in this regard, should it be necessary.
I also welcome the intention of the Croatian Presidency to convene regular meetings with EU health Ministers - to me it is important that our contacts at technical level are also followed up by discussions at political level.
As a follow-up to this meeting, the Commission will produce a model for information for travelers coming back from risk areas or travelling to them - information we see an increased need for within the EU.
Thirdly, on support on the ground. We are facing a situation where there are still many unknowns as regards this virus, and in particular its origin and how it spreads.
It is with this mind that a joint mission of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organisation is currently on the ground in Italy to better understand the situation, provide concrete support on clinical management and infection control - and not least to identify areas where further EU level support would be needed.
I am confident that our presence here, working closely with WHO and the Italian health authorities in a joint effort will significantly contribute to our understanding of how the virus spreads and finally control its further spread. It will also allow us to provide better support to the European Union as a whole.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control will update their risk assessment to reflect the findings of the mission. Further technical guidance relating to resources and preparedness for public health measures and preparedness for hospitals will also be sent to Italy this week.
Another concrete example of support is our initiative to launch a joint procurement procedure to support the access to personal protective equipment that Member States may need.
We are also providing financial support to Member States for laboratory capacity and diagnostics, as well as on exit screenings.
This is a situation of concern, but we must not give in to panic. We must also be vigilant when it comes to misinformation and disinformation, as well as xenophobic statements, which are misleading citizens and putting into question the works of public authorities.
From our side, we are here to ensure that all support required will be given to Member States.
In conclusion, I would also like to express my sympathy and support to all affected EU citizens, notably those in Italy due to the recent developments.