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The EU’s Response to COVID-19

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The European Commission is working on all fronts to support efforts to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes ongoing coordination with Member States to share information, assess needs and ensure a coherent EU-wide response. The Commission is also funding research, offering support through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and supporting China with emergency medical supplies to tackle the outbreak at its source.

What has the Commission been doing since the outbreak of COVID-19 was reported in China?

1) At EU level, under the Cross-border Health Threat Decision, the Commission coordinates with Member States through three key mechanisms:

  1.     The Early Warning and Response System
  2.     The Health Security Committee
  3.     The Health Security Committee’s Communicators’ network.

These tools support cooperation, rapid exchange of information, swift monitoring and coordination of preparedness and response measures to COVID-19.

2) The Commission, with support from relevant EU agencies, in particular the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), is providing technical guidance related to: risk assessments; case definition for diagnosis and aligned reporting of suspected and confirmed cases; infection prevention and control in health care settings; advice for travellers; updated information on therapeutics and vaccines; contact tracing on aircrafts; management of points of entry and aviation sector recommendations.

Moreover, Member States’ Joint Action Healthy Gateways, funded by the EU, is providing guidance and training on points of entry measures, as well as another Joint Action, SHARP (strengthened international health regulations and preparedness in the EU) on laboratory preparedness.

3) The Commission has been coordinating the delivery of assistance to China as well as financing the transport costs of EU Member States’ repatriation flights.

4) To boost global preparedness, prevention and containment of the virus, new funding worth €232 million will be allocated to different sectors, namely:

– €114 million will support the World Health Organization (WHO), in particular the global preparedness and response global plan. This intends to boost public health emergency preparedness and response work in countries with weak health systems and limited resilience. Part of this funding is subject to the agreement of the EU budgetary authorities. 

– €15 million are planned to be allocated in Africa, including to the Institute Pasteur Dakar, Senegal to support measures such as rapid diagnosis and epidemiological surveillance.

– €100 million, out of which up to €90 million Public Private Partnership with the pharmaceutical industry and 10 million for research on epidemiology, diagnostics, therapeutics and clinical management in containment and prevention. *

– €3 million allocated to the EU Civil Protection Mechanism for repatriation flights of EU citizens from Wuhan, China.

Is the EU prepared and equipped to contain the spread of COVID-19?

Member States continuously inform the Commission and share information regarding their levels of preparedness.

According to the information provided by the national authorities, there is a strong overall level of preparedness with countries having response measures in place to provide treatment for the cases in the EU and to mitigate any further transmission within and into the EU.  

On 13 February, an extraordinary EPSCO Health Council brought together all Member States at a political level to discuss and coordinate measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and further preparedness measures to be considered for the future.

In response to the Council Conclusions of this meeting, the key actions on which the Commission is in the process of following up include continued risk assessment and guidance on travel advice; increased preparedness should the outbreak escalate to the next phase; and activation of existing funding mechanisms to support Member States on preparedness and response to the COVID-19. Other key actions include examining joint procurement for potential needs of protective equipment and strengthened support to the Health Security Committee in providing aligned information across the EU on the virus, detection, use of equipment, etc.

How is the Commission supporting the repatriation of EU nationals from China?

The European Commission has a 24/7 Emergency Response Coordination Centre that is coordinating repatriation flights with EU Member States.

The Commission provides funding to EU Member States to cover up to 75% of the transport costs of these repatriation flights via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism has facilitated the repatriation of 447 EU citizens from Wuhan, China. In late January, two French aircraft brought back 346 EU citizens, while Germany also conducted one repatriation flight, which brought back 101 EU citizens.

A third repatriation flight was organised by France, repatriating more than 70 EU citizens who were still in Wuhan.

The EU Civil Protection Mechanism also co-financed the last leg from London to the respective Member States of 95 EU citizens brought back on a UK repatriation flight.

Also under the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, Italy sent two planes for the repatriation of EU citizens quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise that had been docked in Yokohama, Japan, since early February.

What is the EU doing to support China?

The European Commission coordinates the delivery of emergency medical supplies to China through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

As of 21 February, over 30.5 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China has been provided by France, Germany, Italy, Latvia and Estonia. The transport costs were co-financed by the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

  • The first 12 tonnes came as an immediate first offer of assistance, via the first repatriation flights from France and Germany in late January.
  • On 14 February, Italy sent 1.5 tonnes of protective overalls and masks to the Chinese Red Cross in Beijing.
  • On 19 February, France sent a plane to Wuhan with a 20-tonne cargo of surgical masks, gloves, thermometers and disinfectant, which also included material from Latvia and Estonia.
  • On 23 February, an Austrian aircraft departed from Vienna with protective equipment which included masks, gloves, protective clothing and disinfectant.

The Commission stands ready to provide any further assistance to China.

The European Emergency Response Coordination Centre continues to reach out to Member States to map potential contributions of personal protective equipment that will be delivered to China in the near future.

How is the public health risk in Europe evaluated as regards COVID-19?

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is monitoring the outbreak through epidemic intelligence activities, and provides risk assessments to guide EU Member States and the European Commission in their response activities. The ECDC is in continuous contact with the European Commission, the public health authorities in the EU Member States, China and other countries and the World Health Organization for the assessment of this outbreak. ECDC also publishes daily summaries and risk assessments for EU citizens.

What EU-funded research is ongoing on COVID-19?

On 31 January, the Commission launched a request for expressions of interest for research proposals on the novel coronavirus. A budget of €10 million is made available for research that will improve clinical care of patients infected with the virus, as well as the overall public health response. The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) announced its plan for a fast-track call for proposals on the novel coronavirus to be launched in early March. 

In addition, the EU already funds several ongoing research projects that have reoriented their focus to address the COVID-19 outbreak. For example, the PREPARE project ensures research preparedness of clinical treatment sites and the use of harmonised research protocols across Europe through their network of 3,000 hospitals and 900 laboratories in 42 countries. Another EU-funded project, the European Virus Archive GLOBAL (EVAg) has already made available more than 1,000 kits that support the diagnosis of the novel coronavirus, to 79 countries worldwide.

The Commission coordinates with the World Health Organization and other research funders to ensure that research gaps are covered. This happens mainly through the “Global research collaboration for infectious disease preparedness” (GloPID-R) network, the secretariat of which is EU funded. A global research and innovation forum was organised by the World Health Organization and GloPID-R on 11-12 February, to identify research priorities across 10 different thematic areas.

Are food products imported from China safe?

There has been no report of transmission of COVID-19 via food. Therefore, there is no evidence that food items imported into the European Union in accordance with the applicable animal and public health regulations governing imports from China pose a risk for the health of EU citizens in relation to COVID-19.

Moreover, due to the animal health situation in China, only a few products of animal origin are authorised for import into the EU from China, on the condition that they meet strict health requirements and have been subjected to controls.

Is there a vaccine available?

The Commission, with relevant EU agencies, is actively engaged in the arena of therapeutics and vaccine developments. At this stage, the Commission is focusing its funding efforts on research with a timely impact on the current public health emergency due to COVID-19, including on the development of diagnostics and therapeutics. This is in line with the Commission’s emergency research funding of €10 million that was made available at the early stages of the outbreak. Vaccine development is addressed through CEPI (the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation), an initiative the Commission contributes to.

Background

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19, previously named 2019-nCoV, was identified in China at the end of 2019 and is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously known in humans.

Where do Coronaviruses come from?

Coronaviruses are viruses that circulate among animals but some of them are also known to affect humans. After they have infected humans, transmission can continue between humans.

A wide range of animals is known to be the source of coronaviruses. For instance, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) originated from camels and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) originated from civet cats.

What is the mode of transmission? How (easily) does it spread?

While animals are the source of the virus, COVID-19 is now spreading from one person to another (human-to-human transmission). There is currently not enough epidemiological information to determine how easily and sustainably this virus is spreading between people. It seems to be transmitted mainly via respiratory droplets that people sneeze, cough or exhale. The incubation period for COVID-19 (i.e. the time between exposure to the virus and the onset of symptoms) is currently estimated at five to six days, ranging up to 14 days.

While it is known that the virus can be transmitted when an infected individual has symptoms, there are still uncertainties regarding whether mild or asymptomatic cases can transmit the virus. If people with COVID-19 are tested and diagnosed in a timely manner and rigorous infection control measures are applied, the likelihood of sustained human-to-human transmission in community settings in the EU/EEA is low. Systematic implementation of infection prevention and control measures were effective in controlling SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

From what we know so far, the virus can cause mild, flu-like symptoms such as

  • fever
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • pain in the muscles and
  • tiredness.

More serious cases develop severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome, sepsis and septic shock that can lead to the death of the patient. People with existing chronic conditions seem to be more vulnerable to severe illness.

Is there a treatment for the disease caused by COVID-19?

There is no specific treatment for this disease so the approach used to treat patients with coronavirus-related infections is to treat the clinical symptoms (e.g. fever). Supportive care (e.g. supportive therapy and monitoring, oxygen therapy, fluid management and antivirals) can be highly effective for those infected.

Is there a vaccine against COVID-19?

There are currently no vaccines against coronaviruses, including COVID-19. That is why it is very important to prevent infection or contain the further spread after an infection.

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70% of the EU adult population fully vaccinated

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Today, the EU has reached a crucial milestone with 70% of the adult population now fully vaccinated. In total, over 256 million adults in the EU have now received a full vaccine course. Seven weeks ago already, the Commission’s delivery target was met, ahead of time: to provide Member States, by the end of July, with enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate 70% of the adult EU population.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said:  “The full vaccination of 70% of adults in the EU already in August is a great achievement. The EU’s strategy of moving forward together is paying off and putting Europe at the vanguard of the global fight against COVID-19.  But the pandemic is not over. We need more. I call on everyone who can to get vaccinated. And we need to help the rest of the world vaccinate, too. Europe will continue to support its partners in this effort, in particular the low and middle income countries.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said:  “I am very pleased that as of today we have reached our goal to vaccinate 70% of EU adults before the end of the summer. This is a collective achievement of the EU and its Member States that shows what is possible when we work together with solidarity and in coordination. Our efforts to further increase vaccinations across the EU will continue unabated. We will continue to support in particular those Member States that are continuing to face challenges. We need to close the immunity gap and the door for new variants and to do so, vaccinations must win the race over variants.”

Global cooperation and solidarity

The rapid, full vaccination of all targeted populations – in Europe and globally – is key to controlling the impact of the pandemic. The EU has been leading the multilateral response. The EU has exported about half of the vaccines produced in Europe to other countries in the world, as much as it has delivered for its citizens.  Team Europe has contributed close to €3 billion for the COVAX Facility to help secure at least 1.8 billion doses for 92 low and lower middle-income countries. Currently, over 200 million doses have been delivered by COVAX to 138 countries.

In addition, Team Europe aims to share at least 200 million more doses of vaccines secured under the EU’s advance purchase agreements to low and middle-income countries until the end of 2021, in particular through COVAX, as part of the EU sharing efforts

Preparing for new variants

Given the threat of new variants, it is important to continue ensuring the availability of sufficient vaccines, including adapted vaccines, also in the coming years. That is why the Commission signed a new contract with BioNTech-Pfizer on 20 May, which foresees the delivery of 1.8 billion doses of vaccines between the end of the year and 2023. For the same purpose, the Commission has also exercised the option of 150 million doses of the second Moderna contract. Member States have the possibility to resell or donate doses to countries in need outside the EU or through the COVAX Facility, contributing to a global and fair access to vaccines across the world. Other contracts may follow. This is the EU’s common insurance policy against any future waves of COVID-19.

Background

A safe and effective vaccine is our best chance to beat coronavirus and return to our normal lives. The European Commission has been working tirelessly to secure doses of potential vaccines that can be shared with all.

The European Commission has secured up to 4.6 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far and negotiations are underway for additional doses. The Commission is also working with industry to step up vaccine manufacturing capacity.

At the same time, the Commission has started work to tackle new variants, aiming to rapidly develop and produce effective vaccines against these variants on a large scale. The HERA Incubator helps in responding to this threat.

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EU’s defence measures against unfair trade practices remained effective in 2020

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The system for protecting EU businesses from dumped and subsidised imports continued to function well in 2020 thanks to the EU’s robust and innovative ways of using trade defence instruments (TDI), despite the practical challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of the European Commission’s new trade strategy, whereby the EU takes a more assertive stance in defending its interests against unfair trade practices.

Executive Vice-President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said: “The EU needs effective tools to defend ourselves when we face unfair trade practices. This is a key pillar of our new strategy for an open, sustainable and assertive trade policy. We have continued to use our trade defence instruments effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic, improved their monitoring and enforcement, and tackled new ways of giving subsidies by third countries.  We will not tolerate the misuse of trade defence instruments by our trading partners and we will continue to support our exporters caught up in such cases. It is crucial that our companies and their workers can continue to rely on robust trade defence instruments that protect them against unfair trade practices.”

At the end of 2020, the EU had 150 trade defence measures in force, in line with previous years’ activity levels with an increase in the number of cases lodged towards the end of 2020. In addition, for the first time, the Commission addressed a new type of subsidy given by third countries in the form of cross-border financial support that was a serious challenge for EU companies.

The following are the main trade-defence highlights of 2020:

Continued high level of EU trade defence activity

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission had to swiftly introduce temporary changes to its work practices, especially concerning on-the-spot verification visits. This allowed the Commission to continue applying the instruments at the highest standards without a drop in the levels of activity. At the end of 2020, the 150 trade defence measures that the EU had in place – 10 more than at the end of 2019 – included 128 anti-dumping, 19 anti-subsidy and 3 safeguard measures.

In 2020, the Commission launched:

  • 15 investigations, compared to 16 in 2019, and imposed 17 provisional and definitive measures, compared to 15 in 2019;
  • 28 reviews, compared to 23 the previous year.

The highest number of EU trade defence measures concerns imports from:

  • China (99 measures);
  • Russia (9 measures);
  • India (7 measures);
  • The United States (6 measures).

Tackling new types of subsidies

In 2020, the Commission strengthened its action against subsidies granted by third countries. In particular, the Commission imposed countervailing duties on cross-border financial support given by China to Chinese-owned companies manufacturing glass fibre fabrics and continuous filament glass fibre products based in Egypt for export to the EU.

This means that, for the first time, the Commission addressed cross-border subsidies given by a country to enterprises located in another country for exports to the EU.

Support to, and defence of, EU exporters facing trade defence investigations in export markets

The importance of monitoring trade defence action taken by third countries was again evident in 2020. The number of trade defence measures in force by third countries affecting EU exporters reached its highest level since the Commission started this monitoring activity, with 178 measures in place. In addition, the number of cases initiated also increased in 2020, with 43 compared to 37 the previous year.

The report outlines the Commission’s activities to ensure that WTO rules are correctly applied and procedural errors and legal inconsistencies are addressed in order to avoid any misuse of trade defence instruments by third countries. The Commission’s interventions yielded success in some cases where measures were not ultimately imposed, affecting important EU export products such as ceramic tiles and fertilisers.  

Strong focus on monitoring and enforcement

There was a renewed focus on the monitoring of measures in place in 2020, including changes to surveillance practices to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the trade defence instruments. This also involved customs authorities, EU industry, and in certain instances, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Continuing its efforts to address instances where exporters tried to avoid measures, the Commission initiated three anti-circumvention investigations in 2020 and completed five such investigations during the year, where measures were extended in four cases to also address imports from third countries where transhipment was found to have taken place.

The report also recalls the findings of the European Court of Auditors from July 2020, which confirmed the successful enforcement of the EU’s trade defence instruments by the Commission. The report made a number of recommendations to further strengthen the Commission’s response to the challenges posed by unfairly traded imports that the Commission has started to implement in 2020, such as improving monitoring to ensure the effectiveness of measures. 

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Fishing opportunities in the Baltic Sea for 2022: improving long-term sustainability of stocks

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The Commission today adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities for 2022 for the Baltic Sea. Based on this proposal, EU countries will determine how much fish can be caught in the sea basin, for what concerns the most important commercial species.

The Commission proposes to increase fishing opportunities for herring in the Gulf of Riga, whilst maintaining the current levels for sprat, plaice and by-catches of eastern cod. The Commission proposes to decrease fishing opportunities for the remaining stocks covered by the proposal, in order to improve the sustainability of those stocks and to help other stocks such as cod and herring recovering.

Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “The poor environmental status of the Baltic Sea is heavily affecting our local fishermen and women, who rely on healthy fish stocks for their livelihoods. This is why the Commission is doing its utmost to restore those stocks, and today’s proposal is a reflection of that ambition. However, the state of the Baltic Sea is not only related to fishing, so everyone must do their part to build the long-term sustainability of this precious sea basin.”

Over the past decade, EU’s fishermen and women, industry and public authorities have made major efforts to rebuild fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. Where complete scientific advice was available, fishing opportunities had already been set in line with the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for seven out of eight stocks, covering 95% of fish landings in volume. However, in 2019 scientists discovered that the situation was worse than previously estimated. Decisive action is still necessary to restore all stocks and ensure that they grow to or remain at sustainable levels.

The proposed total allowable catches (TACs) are based on the best available peer-reviewed scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and follow the Baltic multiannual management plan adopted in 2016 by the European Parliament and the Council. As regards western Baltic cod, western Baltic herring and salmon, the Commission will update its proposal once the relevant scientific advice will be available (expected by mid-September).

Cod

For eastern Baltic cod, the Commission proposes to maintain the TAC level and all the accompanying measures from the 2021 fishing opportunities. Despite the measures taken since 2019, when scientists first alarmed about the very poor status of the stock, the situation has not yet improved.

For western Baltic cod the scientific advice from the International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) is postponed to mid-September, and the Commission will update its proposal accordingly. However, since it seems unlikely that the stock has developed favourably, the Commission proposes already now to maintain the spawning closure. It also proposes to maintain all accompanying measures in the eastern part of the catch area, given the predominance of eastern Baltic cod in that area.

Herring

The stock size of western Baltic herring remains below safe biological limits and scientists advise for the fourth year in a row to stop catching western herring. The Commission, therefore, proposes to close the directed fishery and set a TAC limited to unavoidable by-catches, whose level the Commission will propose at a later stage, as ICES is currently not in a position to provide sufficient scientific data.

For central Baltic herring, the Commission proposes a reduction of 54% in line with the ICES advice, because the stock size has dropped very close to the limit below which the stock is not sustainable. In line with the ICES advice, the Commission proposes to decrease the TAC level for herring in the Gulf of Bothnia by 5%, while the situation for Riga herring allows for an increase of the TAC by 21%.

Plaice

While the ICES advice would allow for an increase, the Commission remains cautious, mainly to protect cod – which is an unavoidable by-catch in plaice fisheries as currently conducted. It therefore proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged.

Sprat

Similarly to plaice, the ICES advice for sprat would allow for an increase. The Commission however advises prudence and proposes to maintain the TAC level unchanged. This is because sprat and herring are caught in mixed fisheries and the TAC for central Baltic herring has to be reduced again significantly. Moreover, sprat is a prey species for cod, which is not in a good condition.

Salmon

ICES has postponed its scientific advice for salmon to mid-September. The Commission will update its proposal accordingly. A special advice from ICES of April 2020 already provides information about the issues affecting these stocks, pointing to the fact  that the MSY objective cannot be achieved for all salmon river stocks if the commercial and recreational mixed-stock sea fisheries are continued at current levels.

Next steps

The Council will examine the Commission’s proposal in view of adopting it during a Ministerial meeting on 11-12 October.

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