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

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op donderdag 21 januari 2021.

Thank you,

Indeed across Europe, the health situation remains very serious. And yes, there is reason for hope because of the vaccines. But there is also strong reason for concern with the new variants we are observing. We must therefore remain focused and we must remain determined in our response. We must ensure delivery of vaccines from the companies. And we must ensure the quick and efficient use of the available vaccines.

I am glad that we agreed with Member States to administer as many doses as possible over the next weeks and months. Of course, to support this, we are working hand in hand with EMA and the companies. We are determined to provide more predictability and stability to the delivery process. And we look forward to more vaccines and more doses coming on stream soon.

At the same time, we are increasingly concerned about different variants of the virus. Thus, we need much better knowledge of the real presence and the real spread of these variants of the virus, and in all the different places in the European Union.

And that is why we need more testing and more sequencing after positive testing throughout the entire European Union. Today the situation is as such that almost all Member States are sequencing less than 1% of the positive tests. We have only two Member States that are testing around 10% - that is necessary. So this is far too little. And therefore, we need to increase the sequencing to at least 5% of all positive tests. The Commission will support this effort, thanks to ECDC capacities in this field and targeted funding.

A word to the border situation. Indeed, in order to keep our external and internal borders open, we need targeted measures that keep us all safe. We have an increase in infections across Europe and, at the same time, the just mentioned new variants are spreading in Europe. And to identify such high-risk areas, we need, we think, to refine our mapping.

So we propose that a newly introduced category of ‘dark red' - a dark red zone - would show that in this zone the virus is circulating at a very high level. Persons travelling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival - this is within the European Union. And in view of the very serious health situation, all non-essential travel should be strongly discouraged both within the country and of course across borders.

At the same time, it is absolutely important to keep the Single Market functioning. So concerning essential workers and goods, they must continue to cross borders smoothly. This is of utmost importance. With regard to the external borders, we will also propose to have additional safety measures. For those travelling from third countries on essential travel to Europe, we would, for example, require testing before departure.

Finally, we had some discussions around the certificates to be issued to people who have received the vaccines. I believe we have to differentiate two different issues. The first one is plain and simply the documentation itself. A documentation of vaccination is a medical necessity. And there is a global standard for this, you all know it, it is the WHO's yellow international certification.

The second question is: What can you use this certificate for? The use to be made of this certificate must be very carefully considered. There are few yet unknown variables to take into account. For example, the medical question: Does vaccination inhibit transmission of the virus by the vaccinated person? We have no answer on that. And how long is the vaccination effective? We do not know that for certain neither.

And then the political question: How do you ensure that you respect the rights of those who have not had access to a vaccine and what other alternatives do you offer to those who have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine? And at the same time, how do we protect the personal data of citizens? So open questions here. Therefore later on, when the time is right, we will need a thorough debate and a consensus among Member States on possible other uses of the certificate.

Last but not least, we have discussed Europe, but we do not forget the rest of the world. The pandemic is global. In a couple of months in Europe, we will have more doses than we can use. With BioNTech and Moderna authorised, we can vaccinate up to 85% of the EU population - these are 380 million people. At the same time, other parts of the world, the poorer ones, see themselves as left behind in the access to COVID-19 vaccines.

From the start, we have invested in COVAX, the global vaccine procurement facility. COVAX remains the best route for universal vaccine solidarity. But as there is a global rush to vaccines, there is thus a shortage. I have suggested an EU mechanism to share access to some of our vaccines until COVAX is able to deliver poor countries with large quantities of vaccines. Vaccines, that we agreed to share as part of Team Europe, could be channelled through COVAX. We can and we should do this without disrupting ongoing national vaccination plans and in coordination with the companies.

This is also a question of self-interest. The longer and the more the virus circulates in the world, the more risk of mutations and the more risks to our own health we have. Therefore, it is also in our self-interest to share early enough vaccines with other regions of the world.

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