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Statement by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel, following the EU Leaders' videoconference on COVID-19

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 29 oktober 2020.

Merci beaucoup,

Je condamne l'attaque odieuse et brutale de Nice, ce matin. Je suis de tout cœur avec la France. Mes pensées vont bien entendu aux victimes. L'Europe toute entière est solidaire avec la France et nous restons unis et déterminés face au fanatisme.

This afternoon, this evening, we have discussed indeed the COVID-19 pandemic and how to proceed. I do not need to repeat in detail my assessment of the health situation, because you heard it yesterday during my press conference. I think it is enough to say that it is very serious. Numbers of cases are rising, numbers of hospitalisation are rising, numbers of deaths are rising - not as fast fortunately, because we understand better today how to treat COVID-19-patients and how to deal with the disease. But the spread of the virus will overwhelm our healthcare systems if we do not act urgently. And it is important to act coherently across the European Union. And therefore, this VTC was very helpful.

So I had five messages for the Leaders today: The first one is on data sharing: We have to share comprehensive and accurate data in real time with the ECDC platform. This is of utmost importance and it is in everyone's interest, because it helps us to know what is going on, to act coherently, to know better about the actual situation. And it helps us to coordinate. For example, if we have more data sharing on ICU capacity and where capacity is lacking, we can increase the cross-border patient care and it can be organised early enough. So the more countries share information, the better we can coordinate the response. The Commission announced tonight that we are making EUR 220 million available to finance a safe cross-border transfer of patients where it is needed. And for that, the good use of the money requires good information and exchange.

The second topic was also a topic on sharing, but at this time, in this case experience and analysis. We will launch a platform to bring together the specialists that are advising each national government, and the experts that are advising the European Union. It were national science advisors who asked us to do this in order to share best practice and to align science advice to governments across the Union. We are learning by the day, by the week, and also science is learning how to deal with this disease. And therefore, this exchange of scientific knowledge on the highest level is of utmost importance, because this way, we will learn from each other what works and we will avoid conflicting or confusing messages.

The third topic is testing. Our goal is keeping the virus in check and that goes through massive testing. So we agreed that we need to have quick validation at EU level of the new tests, and this refers mainly to the rapid antigen tests that are currently being developed. They certainly have an important role to play. We have the PCR testing and we have the new rapid antigen tests. We will work on the validation on EU level, because this will then enable us to describe the optimal setting for the different forms of tests and it will enable us for a mutual recognition of test results across the European Union. And that, of course, is important, mainly when essential travel is taking place.

The fourth topic is tracing, so testing and tracing go hand-in-hand. 22 Member States have developed a tracing app or are developing a tracing app. The Commission created a European gateway for interoperability between the Member States. Three apps are connected since Monday and during the months of November, 19 other ones will join this European gateway. At the moment being, we have approximately 50 million downloads concerning smartphone holders. But this is not enough. So we need across-the-board coverage in the European Union. And therefore, I asked Leaders in each country to encourage a massive uptake by citizens, so a massive download of the app by smartphone holders, and that we must hook up the apps to our Gateway so that all apps are communicating and we have interoperability all over the European Union.

And we will bring forward a passenger locator form in order to facilitate the tracing during travel. I informed Leaders that the Commission will launch a pilot for the passenger locator form in November. So our aim is that the passenger locator form on the European level by the end of the year.

And finally, the fifth point indeed is vaccines and vaccination. We have three priorities here. The first is ensuring validation of vaccines speedily. And we do have to do the validation at a good pace while providing all the safety guarantees that are necessary. So accuracy and speed at the same time is of the essence. I highlighted to the Leaders that the European Medicines Agency is carrying out a so-called rolling review of new vaccines. That is that the evidence is being submitted step-by-step by the pharmaceutical companies. And it is being analysed as it comes in by EMA, instead of waiting for the whole file, which is normally the case - you finish the clinical trial and then hand in the whole file - this time, we will have a rolling review to speed up the procedure without having any shortcuts.

The second priority is to ensure indeed the fair distribution of vaccines to Member States. There, I have good news. The Member States will all get vaccines at the same time and at the same conditions, based on their share of the EU population they have. And this is already fixed with the Member States, we have already agreed on that.

But thirdly, before that, before we really go into the vaccination: Indeed, the whole infrastructure for vaccination must be ready. And this is why we ask the Member States to send in their national vaccination plans, to make sure that they are all fit for purpose.

To conclude, I want to stress that I understand how tired and worried everyone is. We are all wondering when we will come out of this crisis. But now is the time for patience, for determination and for discipline from all of us. From governments right down to each of us individually. All the public policies I have described are important.

But the most important thing is to adopt and maintain the right safety habits for ourselves, for our loved-ones, for our friends, and for our colleagues. Wear a mask, avoid crowds, avoid close contacts, and avoid closed spaces with poor ventilation - that is key. Simply doing this will enormously help in our efforts. And that way, all together, we will overcome the virus.

Thank you.

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