The Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU organised another informal videoconference of EU Health Ministers. The videoconference was chaired by Željko Plazonić, State Secretary for Health, with the participation of Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission for promoting our European Way of Life, Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner responsible for Health and Food Safety, Dr Andrea Ammon, Director of ECDC (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control) and Noel Wathion, Deputy Executive Director of EMA (European Medicines Agency).
Since the first cases of COVID19 were identified in the European Union in late January 2020, the Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU has taken a number of steps to coordinate the EU's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. There have been frequent meetings, both at the Council level and also in its preparatory bodies, where the intensive discussions focused on various consequences of COVID-19 spread in the European Union and information was shared on the level of preparedness of Member States in terms of implementation of relevant protective measures.
The Presidency convened already two extraordinary EPSCO Health Council meetings, on 13 February and on 6 March 2020 and two high-level videoconferences, on 7 February and 12 March.
The aim of today’s videoconference is to discuss the current situation and measures already taken in response to COVID-19 in the EU, exchange views on the de-escalation of measures and to reflect on the challenges ahead in order to find the best coordinated approach for moving forward.
Ministers exchanged views on capacities of our health systems as well as on how confinement measures can be relaxed. They share opinion that return to normality will require significant efforts while de-escalation of measures will depend on epidemiological situation and capacity of the national health system in each Member State.
As regards public health, the Presidency stressed that the focus should remain on minimising as much as possible the negative impact on our health systems and to ensure the protection of our citizens.
"Recalling commitments undertaken in Council conclusions on COVID-19 adopted at the extraordinary EPSCO Health Council meeting held in February 2020, information sharing and cooperation between Member States in the field of health, in particular on surveillance, risk assessment, risk management and countermeasures to COVID-19 remains essential. It is necessary to ensure coordination in order to prevent spill-over and negative effects from one Member State to another, when de-escalation of measures is introduced."
Željko Plazonić, State Secretary for Health
During the discussion, Commissioner Kyriakides presented the Guidelines on the optimal and rational supply of medicines in order to avoid shortages on the EU market during COVID-19 outbreak, and Dr. Andrea Ammon presented the latest ECDC risk assessment of COVID-19.
Vice-President Schinas and Commissioner Kyriakides gave an overview of the European roadmap to lifting coronavirus containment measures, which were published earlier today. They stressed the key principles of the Roadmap, notably the epidemiological criteria, sufficient health system capacity, appropriate monitoring capacity, large scale testing means, tracking and tracing capacities. They also highlighted the importance of solidarity and coordinated approach.
“Solidarity remains essential. We should not underestimate the impact that the pandemic has had on the fabric of our societies. Our solidarity has already been tested. But our solidarity will be tested again as we start exiting. While we entered the crisis separately, we have now the opportunity to exit it in a more coordinated and solidary way. Today’s European Roadmap for lifting the current confinement measures is not a single centralised European Plan, but a European set of criteria and recommendations to restart community life and kick-start recovery.”
Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission for promoting our European Way of Life
“Today’s discussion with EU Health Ministers is an important step for a coordinated EU approach to phasing out the containment measures and gradually return to social life and restart economic activities. This is a matter of common European interest and requires coordination between Member States to avoid any negative effects. The closer we work together, the quicker we will be able to allow our societies to go back to normal. Together and in solidarity - this is the only way forward.”
Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner responsible for Health and Food Safety
Finally, Presidency emphasised once again that it remains determined to work together with Member States and European Institutions to facilitate common approach to exit strategies with the aim to diminish the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.