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Explainer: Global EU response to the coronavirus pandemic

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Is the EU pledging any new money? Will it use the reserve of the European Development Fund?

To address the immediate health crisis and resulting humanitarian needs in partner countries, as well as longer term and structural impact on societies and economies in partner countries,the EU will secure financial support to partner countries amounting to more than €15.6 billion from existing external action resources. Together with our partners, we are making sure that the substantial EU funding already allocated to them is targeted to help them deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The bulk of the funding comes from the reorientation of existing funds and programmes to make them relevant to tackle the coronavirus specifically and includes €5.2 billion in loans from the European Investment Bank that will be accelerated. These resources should finance both short and medium to long-term actions, which would include the use of budgetary guarantees serving to mobilise additional private resources. They are the contribution from the EU to the Team Europe response, which will combine resources from the EU, its Member States, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

From the overall package of €15.6 billion, €3.25 billion are channelled to Africa, including €2.06 billion for sub-Saharan Africa and €1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries.

The EU is securing in total €3.07 billion for the whole neighbourhood – €2.1 billion for the South and €962 million for the Eastern Partner countries – and €800 million for the Western Balkans and Turkey.

In addition, the overall package includes another €1.42 billion in guarantees for Africa and the neighbourhood from the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD).

The EU will support Asia and the Pacific with €1.22 billion, another €291 million will go for the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific region, €918 million to support our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean and €111 million to support Overseas Countries and Territories.

The funding is divided into three areas: €502 million for the urgent, short-term emergency response; €2.8 billion to support research, health and water systems in partner countries and €12.28 billion to address the economic and social consequences.

The European Commission has already allocated €25 million from the European Development Fund (EDF) reserve to support the World Health Organisation in its immediate and short-term response to the coronavirus in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries as well as €30 million from the ECHO budget reserves and will further examine needs to support. These funds for the WHO will contribute to global preparedness, prevention and containment of the virus and support the countries with the weakest health systems.

Will programmes be put on hold to prioritise the fight against the coronavirus? Which sectors will be affected?

The reorientation process ensures that funds will be drawn from programmes that cannot be implemented as planned due to the pandemic. Vital programmes providing basic services such as health, food security, nutrition, water and sanitation and education can continue to function and will be broadened as much as possible to address the coronavirus specifically.

Will funds previously allocated to one country be redirected to another?

The redirection of funds within and between ongoing programmes will be undertaken within current country allocations. No reallocations from one country to another are foreseen at this stage. However, the European Commission is currently looking at all resources, including regional resources, in view of adequately financing the response to the coronavirus.

Partner countries and regions will be associated in the evaluation.

Will part of the money be loans and will the private sector contribute?

Yes. We will use all forms of financing such as both the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD) guarantee and loans from our partner financial institutions for blending projects. We will use the guarantee to help small businesses with liquidity and working capital and enable more people to get the medical care they need.

The EU External Investment Plan (EIP) includes a €1.55 billion financial guarantee – the EFSD guarantee -, of which €500 million is being made available for the EU’s neighbourhood, to bring in much more public and private investment. We will now reorient the bulk of this money towards the coronavirus pandemic response. We will prioritise financing for small businesses, local currency financing and healthcare.

The EIP also finances blending projects. These combine an EU grant with loans or other forms of financing from public and private sources. We are currently working with our partner countries and financial institutions to see which projects we should reinforce, speed up or support.

For example, we will accelerate investment in laboratories through the €80 million European Health Guarantee Platform for Africa, working with the European Investment Bank, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to tackle one of the major challenges in Africa in the healthcare sector, the lack of testing labs.

If you increase budget support for Governments, how will you control delivery of the assistance?

The European Commission intends to frontload and/or increase EU budget support to partner countries, subject to important conditions and safeguards.

The EU financial rules foresee specific safeguards in the case of budget support in crisis context. For example, specific additional conditions can incentivise actions in response to the coronavirus, to monitor service delivery (e.g. health, social assistance) or to provide safeguards on public finance management. Partners have reporting obligations and budget support is subject to audit control. Implementation always takes place alongside international financial institutions, notably with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

EU budget support has proved instrumental in assisting 23 countries facing crises in the last ten years: for example, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone during the Ebolavirus outbreak; Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015 after earthquakes or Caribbean islands after hurricanes; Ukraine in 2014 or the Gambia in 2016 for political transitions and Jordan in the case of overspill from the Syrian crisis.

Which countries will most benefit? Why are the differences in funding so big between certain regions and countries, what is the distribution logic?

The distribution logic follows the needs of our partner countries but will also take into account the added value, efficiency and complementarity of EU resources, with what other European and non-European stakeholders are doing. The EU’s contribution to the emergency humanitarian response will be allocated on the basis of needs on the ground and will prioritize the most vulnerable groups.

The distribution of EU resources should not be isolated from what EU Member States will contribute to address the short to medium and long-term impact of the crisis in our partner countries and regions.

Will the EU agree to debt relief for developing countries?

Public financing needs are expected to rise considerably over the coming weeks and months in developing countries, and actions undertaken by multilateral creditors will not be sufficient to close the financing gap. In this context, the joint appeal by the IMF and the World Bank (WB) on a debt moratorium for the poorest countries, with concessional loans from the International Development Association (IDA), aims at easing the debt burden from bilateral official creditors. The EU is supportive of this global, coordinated response

However, more time will be needed to better assess the crisis’ impact and financing needs for each IDA country, and to determine what kind of debt relief or restructuring is needed. Any new lending, even highly concessional, should be taking place within the framework of the World Bank and IMF, to ensure sustainability of public debt.

Will the EU contribute to the new appeal by the United Nations for more than USD 2 billion and proposals by other donors?

The EU and its Member Stares will be channelling a significant portion of their response to the coronavirus pandemic through the United Nations. It is expected that a significant proportion of the EU’s humanitarian response as part of this package will go to programmes covered by the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the coronavirus, but the EU will also make funding available directly to the Red Cross / Red Crescent Movement and to Non-Governmental Organizations.

In 2018 alone, the European Commission’s funding to the United Nations (UN) amounted to €2.9 billion. Collectively, the EU and its Member States continue to be the largest financial contributor to the UN representing some 30% of all UN work.

The EU has already committed €114 million to the UN Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan led by the World Health Organisation to boost public health emergency preparedness response work in countries with weak health systems and limited resilience. Recently, the EU has also contributed €30 million to the UN Joint Sustainable Development Goal Fund, which is now refocusing on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

How much will the EU contribute to global initiatives like GAVI to develop vaccines?

The EU contributes to global health initiatives with €1.3 billion until 2020, including €200 million to the Vaccine Alliance and Global Financial Facility (GAVI), for the current strategic period 2016-2020. The European Commission is currently reviewing when and how to announce the pledge for the next GAVI replenishment period 2021-2025.

The EU has also pledged €475 million to the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, Malaria for 2019-2022, €26.5 million to the Global Financing Facility, €114 million to the World Health Organisation– with a recent €25 million top-up- and €45 million to the United Nations Fund for Population (UNFPA).

What more is being done to support research into the coronavirus, which includes benefitting those outside the EU?

With up to €140 million, the European Commission will support research on diagnostics, treatment and prevention, including €90 million through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), a partnership between the EU and the pharmaceutical industry, and through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), a partnership between the EU, 14 European countries and 16 Africa countries. This amount will be broken into:

up to €45 million from Horizon 2020, and a similar commitment from the pharmaceutical industry, for projects to develop treatments and diagnostics to better tackle the coronavirus pandemic and to increase preparedness for potential future outbreaks.

Through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership:

€4.75 million support for research into coronavirus pandemic preparedness in sub-Saharan Africa, to help improve surveillance capabilities, develop diagnostics, validate existing tests and promising treatments, and to support clinical management.

€18 million for strengthening the capacity for conducting multi-country clinical trials in sub-Saharan Africa, and to consolidate South-South and North-South collaborations between researchers and institutions; encouraging networking to maximise the impact of clinical research in Africa.

€5 million to train researchers and establish cohort of epidemiologists on disease outbreak and pandemic response in sub-Saharan Africa, in collaboration with the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

In addition two big research consortia in sub-Saharan Africa, ALERRT and PANDORA-ID-NET, have already redirected their research towards coronavirus working jointly with the Africa Centre of Diseases Control (ACDC), to improve diagnosis and prevent transmission of coronavirus in Africa. They will collaborate, for example, with emergency response teams that are being set up in the different regions of Africa.

How much has the EU invested in strengthening the health sector of partner countries in the last years?

Between 2014-2020, €2.6 billion of EU funding has been allocated to health in partner countries. Part of these funds have directly targeted health safety while also strengthening health systems.

EU health programmes have achieved impressive results in different sectors in the period 2013-2017. For example, they provided support for more than 19 million births attended by skilled health workers, full immunisation to more than 13 million children, access to contraception for more than 57 million women, facilitated access of 11 million people to life-saving treatments including the lives saved from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The EU’s support has contributed to measurable improvements in quality primary health care around the world.

Promoting access to healthcare and improved health outcomes has also been a vital component of the EU’s work for many years. The EU has contributed €102 million to the WHO-led Universal Health Coverage Partnership benefitting 115 countries around the globe including in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and South East Asia. The EU will mobilise another €41.5 million, including €25 million of new funding from the European Development Fund reserve, for sustainable health security preparedness and health systems strengthening in response to the coronavirus pandemic to scale up global health emergency preparedness and country capacities to prevent, detect and respond to health risks and threats.

As a first emergency response, the EU signed a contract with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) to provide tailor-made support to enhance the preparedness and response capacities of partner countries in the current emergency situation. This new EU Initiative for Health Security for €9 million covers all neighbourhood and enlargement countries and focuses on capacity building of epidemiologists and frontline health staff in partner countries. The emergency response part of the programme started and allows a gap analysis based on detailed surveys per country, dedicated ECDC staff will be available to help and advice.

What will the EU do to guarantee no food shortages in developing countries due to the pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic will exacerbate food systems fragility already being addressed through EU humanitarian and development response programmes.

The 2019 Global Report on Food Crisis indicated that 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance in 2018. This report illustrates in stark terms the hunger caused by conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence. The 2020 Report will be unveiled in the coming weeks and discussions are ongoing with the Rome based agencies (Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), World Food Programme (WFP)), amongst others, to gauge the extent to which the coronavirus pandemic will impact in the coming weeks and months agri-food supply chains in developing countries and how best to reach out small farmers to sustain their livelihoods.

Particular emphasis is given to already fragile contexts, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, where major threats are already affecting food and nutrition security, like the Desert Locusts plague in East Africa/Horn of Africa, for which the EU has recently allocated €11 million.

What is the EU doing to support Africa to tackle the coronavirus?

Africa is a priority for the EU. We are proposing to re-allocate, accelerate and prioritise €3.25 billion from existing programmes to respond to the needs in Africa.

Like the rest of the world, African countries face immediate healthcare needs and will also bear the economic and social consequences of the global pandemic. The drop in global demand and commodities prices, coupled with increasing restrictions and reduced incomes will have tremendous social and economic costs. Criminal and terrorist organisations are also taking advantage of the crisis to continue their attacks in several countries, further weakening States’ presence and possible delivery of services, in particular in remote areas. In all countries, protecting fiscal space to safeguard social services, and maintaining security, will be critical.

Through the EU Delegations, we are monitoring the situation in each country on a daily basis, making sure our response is context-specific and adapted to the local needs.

The EU’s package includes direct bilateral support to countries, as well as funding to international organisations such as the WHO and other UN agencies. Support will focus on strengthening preparedness and response capacities of countries with the weakest healthcare systems. The EU is also funding research, which is helping to detect and prevent the transmission of the coronavirus in Africa. These networks are collaborating for example with emergency response teams that are being set up in the different African regions.

The EU has been strengthening national health care systems in 13 African countries with around €1.1 billion since 2014. Our response to tackle the coronavirus will focus on specific additional needs faced by the countries for this pandemic.

The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) is in particulardetermined to address basic health needs of vulnerable groups such as internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants. Under the EUTF, the EU is working closely with all its partners on the ground to ensure equal access to the healthcare system and strive for disease prevention and health promotion especially among the most vulnerable such as populations on the move. This global pandemic can be controlled only if there is an inclusive approach which protects every individual’s rights to life and health.

The European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership will launch three calls for interests for over €25 million from Horizon 2020 to support research into the virus and strengthen research capacities in sub-Saharan Africa. The first call, launched on 7 April, will focus on developing surveillance capabilities and diagnostics, validating existing tests and trialling therapeutics for promising agents.

The EU will accelerate investment in coronavirus testing labs in Africa through €80 million for the European Health Guarantee Platform for Africa, working with the European Investment Bank, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Here are a few examples of what we are doing at bilateral level:

In Nigeria, the EU will contribute €50 million to implement the UN Response Plan to the coronavirus and €10 million have been mobilised to help Ethiopia increase the number of diagnostic laboratories, test kits and treatment centres. In Sudan,the EU is working to ensure access to clean water and hygiene and raise awareness about the virus through a humanitarian project worth €10 million.

Furthermore, in Sierra Leone, €34.7 million will be provided to address the economic consequences of the coronavirus through budget support to strengthen the macroeconomic resilience and stability and their national response plan (€25 million); cash transfers will allow to protect the income of the most vulnerable populations via the World Bank (€5.2 million) and support to the agriculture sector will boost food production (€4.5 million).

Will the Ebola crisis help African countries to tackle the coronavirus?

The investments made in Ebola affected countries to strengthen national health care system’s response capacity is paying off now, as these countries have enhanced resilience to cope with the crisis.

Huge efforts were made during the Ebola virus outbreaks to tackle the epidemic, so that the disease could be controlled by appropriate treatment and vaccines. Furthermore, work also addressed other related areas. In 2017, the EU launched the EBO-SURSY project, which improves the Ebola virus disease detection in wildlife in African countries. This project is already well implemented in a number of West and Central African countries by training, capacity building and epidemio-surveillance through wildlife sampling and laboratory analyses. We are exchanging further with the World Organisation for Animal Health, so that they may benefit from the project’s experience in the field, to extend its epidemio-surveillance activities to the presence of coronavirus in wildlife.

Two research collaborative projects were launched in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018, through the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership from the Horizon 2020, to tackle the Ebola epidemic preparedness, in collaboration with the Africa CDC: ALERRT and PANDORA-ID-NET. The two consortia have already redirected their research towards coronavirus.

Were Team Europe packages developed for the Western Balkans?

In the Western Balkans, the EU has already mobilised considerable funds for immediate support to the health sector amounting to €38 million (€ 4 million for Albania for immediate lifesaving medical equipment, including 5 fully equipped ambulances,respirators, digital mobile x-rays and state of the art equipment for intensive care, €7 million for Bosnia and Herzegovina, to equip hospitals with 7,500 testing kits and personal protecting equipment, €5 million for Kosovo for laboratory and protection equipment, including 30 respirators, 5 fully equipped ambulances and 400 hospital beds, €3 million for Montenegro for medical equipment, including 100 respirators, ten mobile X-ray devices and personal protective equipment, €4 million for North Macedonia for medical equipment and supplies, including 20 respirators, 5000 testing sets and substantial quantities of personal protective equipment; and €15 million for Serbia to pay for five cargo flights carrying 280 tonnes of emergency medical supplies procured by Serbia and for supplies for vulnerable groups in society). In addition, Serbia repurposed a laboratory whose modernisation, including the purchase high-tech machines and robots, has been supported by the EU with €7.5 million. The laboratory originally designed to test milk and other food products can now perform up to 1,000 coronavirus tests a day.

In addition, over €374 million has been reallocated and redirected to help the partners mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic (€46.5 million for Albania, €73.5 million for Bosnia and Herzegovina, €63 million for Kosovo, €50 million for Montenegro, €63 million for North Macedonia; and €78.5 million for Serbia). It will help to address the socio-economic impact of the outbreak in particular for the most affected businesses, including companies working in tourism and transportation sectors. Additional €290 million have also been identified to help with the socio-economic recovery of the whole region.

Under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey, procurement of small-scale health infrastructure and equipment is about to be launched for €90 million. In total, the EU will support with €800 million our Western Balkan partners and Turkey to address the coronavirus.

What is being done in the EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood?

As part of Team Europe, the EU is also mobilising an emergency support package worth more than €80 million for immediate needs in the Eastern Partnership countries. The EU is working with WHO, on a €30 million programme to jointly purchase and ensure the supply of medical devices and personal equipment, such as ventilators, laboratory kits, masks, goggles, gowns, and safety suits. Focus will be on effectively distributing material to the health systems of partner country in the coming weeks.

The EU has also made available more than €11.3 million in small grants to civil society organisations. These funds are already responding to immediate needs, (i.e.: supporting local schools with distance learning). By the summer, the “Eastern Partnership Solidarity Programme” will target the most affected parts of the populations through civil society support and notably sub-grants to smaller, local organisations.

In addition, the European Commission will support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the region with a new €100 million support programme and will also redirect the use of existing funding instruments, such as the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), to help mitigate socio-economic impact of the coronavirus crisis in our Eastern partners

Additionally, ongoing EU bilateral programmes are already delivering support on the ground. For example, in Ukraine, the EU has delivered equipment for the Emergency Medical Care Centre of Donetsk Oblast with 100 sets of personal protective equipment as well as more than 70 litres of highly concentrated antiseptic liquid. A Georgian producer of medical textiles has produced 40,000 medical gowns within a week after he was able to purchase 12 additional sewing machines thanks to a micro-grant provided by the E.

With the funds redirected bilaterally, the support for the Eastern partners tackle to coronavirus crisis totals at €962 million.

How are you helping the countries in North Africa and the Middle East?

In the Southern Neighbourhood, the EU is reallocating the overall funding of €2.1 billion at regional level and in-country to support our partners addressing the health and socio-economic impact of the pandemic.

As a first emergency response, the EU signed a contract with the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) to provide tailor-made support to enhance the preparedness and response capacities of partner countries in the current emergency situation. This new EU Initiative for Health Security for €9 million covers all neighbourhood and enlargement countries and focuses on capacity building of epidemiologists and frontline health staff in partner countries. The emergency response part of the programme started and allows a gap analysis based on detailed surveys per country, dedicated ECDC staff will be available to help and advice.

To address the economic impact of coronavirus, the EU is adapting regional economic programmes dealing with investment and innovation for the region amounting to €26 million, which put particular emphasis on strengthening the employment dimension. Substantial use will also be made of the Neighbourhood Investment Platform. An amount of €100 million will be used for topping up existing facilities and accelerating new programmes with European Financial Institutions, to support mostly SMEs and financial intermediaries, by providing immediate liquidity, more local currency funding and trade finance.

The Middle East is particularly challenged by the significant refugee presence in the region, and large numbers of internally displaced people, with limited access to health and hygiene facilities and close proximity living conditions. The EU on 30 March committed a further €240 million to support hosting countries and refugees in response to the Syrian crisis via the EU Regional Trust Fund (EUTF Syria). More than 3.9 million individuals have accessed healthcare thanks to EU support in response to the Syrian crisis in refugee hosting countries.

In Lebanon, ongoing EU projects for a value of €86 million in grants are being reoriented to ensure continuity of critical health care in the coronavirus crisis. For example, the EU has financed the purchase of protective equipment including masks, gloves, gown, googles, eye shields and hygiene items for 60 primary health care centres. Additional assistance is in the pipeline especially for Palestine refugees. The EU will increase its support to SMEs, and provide €25 million to expand the EBRD trade financing facility for Lebanon, with the specific intention of financing imports of essential goods such as medicines and medical equipment. The EU has also substantially reinforced its support for incomes with a further allocation of €100 million for social assistance from the EUTF Syria.

In Jordan, the on-going portfolio of health-related projects of an amount of €77.6 million is being reoriented when possible to ensure continuity of critical healthcare and to prioritise the procurement of protective equipment and supplies in the coronavirus response. The EU will continue its efforts to address the broader social impact of the crisis by supporting incomes and social protection for the most vulnerable for an amount of €83 million, bringing the total amount of ongoing and planned programs supporting the economy and social protection relevant for the coronavirus response up to €224 million.

For the Palestinians, the EU has prepared a set of assistance measures of around €60 million, covering the following areas. In support to the health sector, the EU plans to reallocate €9.5 million to the six East Jerusalem hospitals to help cover coronavirus costs. To tackle the economic challenges, the EU will advance the payment of €40 million direct financial support to the Palestinian Authority to address immediate needs. The EU also plans to increase its support to SMEs by advancing and increasing by €5.5 million its contribution to the European Palestinian Credit Guarantee Fund. To address the social impact of the crisis, the EU plans to reorient €5 million to support the most vulnerable via the PEGASE Cash Transfer Programme. In addition, to support Palestine refugees in the West Bank and Gaza who have limited access to health and hygiene facilities, the EU has ensured an early payment of the €82 million contribution to UNRWA’s programme budget in 2020.

Inside Syria, the situation is complicated due to the fragmentation of the country. The EU is reorienting ongoing health programmes worth €4.9 million and will accelerate the contracting of a further €1.7 million. Part of the 2020 commitment of €36 million will also be reoriented to ensure our efforts are as targeted and relevant as possible for the coronavirus response. Funds will be used to prioritise non-state health sector actors, since we do not work with or via regime entities.

Regarding North Africa, in Morocco, the EU will provide backing to the Government by reallocating €150 million specifically dedicated to the needs of the Moroccan Special COVID-19 Pandemic Management Fund. Discussions are under way to reallocate €300 million of the funds allocated to respond to the pandemic by accelerating their mobilisation to meet the country’s exceptional budget needs. Under existing EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa programmes, the EU will continue as much as possible to provide access to healthcare to vulnerable migrants and to promote awareness raising activities on positive hygiene behaviours, in particular through partnerships with civil society organisations.

In Tunisia, payments to ongoing EU budget support programmes will be mobilized quickly to provide nearly €250 million in liquidity to the Tunisian Treasury. This will contribute to the Government’s efforts to cope with the socio-economic consequences of the pandemic.The EU is stepping up its support to the health sector: the ongoing programme ‘Saha Aziza’ will be expanded to cover all public hospitals in the country to allow health authorities to purchase medical supplies and provide training and technical assistance.

To support Egypt’spublic health system, the EU is ready to release funds worth €89 million remaining under the health sector support programme. To help mitigate the socio-economic impact of the crisis, the EU will make use of up to €200 million under the 2019 and 2020 bilateral cooperation programmes.

In Libya, the EU remains determined to address basic health needs of Libyans and all vulnerable groups such as refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, internally displaced persons and in particular those in detention centres. Projects under the EUTF Africa provide emergency medical assistance, distribute hygiene kits as well as raise awareness on positive hygiene behaviours among the most vulnerable. The EUTF Africa also continues to support access to basic health services, improved access to clean water as well as the rehabilitation of health infrastructures for the benefit of both migrants and host communities, in particular through the 41 health projects already completed throughout the country. The EU is moreover helping develop a plan to support the economic recovery from the coronavirus, and will train journalists to fight coronavirus-related disinformation and establish an online fact-checking platform. Specific training for midwives and nurses in hospitals will also be provided. The upcoming health programme will contribute to improve the sector and especially its information system in response of epidemics.

How does the EU support Asia?

The EU’s response will be global so that no one is left behind. This means that resources will also be reoriented to assist countries in Asia and the Pacific (€1.22 billion) to address the crisis and its impact, targeting specifically the action on most vulnerable countries and population groups.

In Asia, the EU is supporting vulnerable families in Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh, hygiene promotion activities are being scaled up to reduce the risk of infection. EU funds help provide safe water and soap for around 240,000 Rohingya refugees, over half of whom are children.

In Thailand, EU projects are raising awareness of coronavirus risk among the vulnerable communities they support. They will also help distribute sanitation toolkits and protective materials.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, €216.2 million will help tackle the coronavirus crisis as budget support to the government to secure core government services and support to the agribusiness sector. The EU will direct funds to strengthen Yemen’s healthcare system, specifically to support vulnerable communities, provide essential equipment to healthcare practitioners, as well as assisting in the construction of facilities and nutrition services.

Examples of how the EU also supports Latin America and the Caribbean

To address the coronavirus crisis and its impact, €918 million in resources will be redirected for Latin America and the Caribbean targeting specifically the action on most vulnerable countries and population groups.

In Venezuela and countries in the region, the EU is supporting the Pan-American Health Organization and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to help contain the spread and prepare for response with €9 million. This includes improving access to basic health services and access to adequate sanitation and hygiene for vulnerable populations, including refugees.

The EU is also supporting the regional Caribbean Public Health Agency CARPHA with €8 million to cover urgent needs, including protection material, test reagents, lab material, amongst others.

In Bolivia, the EU has made a payment of €5 million in budget support to assist dealing with emergencies after the pandemic arrived in the country, to support families across the country.

In Jamaica, the EU funded PROMAC programme has financed 29 intensive care unit ventilators.

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EU Politics

Commission opens infringements against Cyprus and Malta for “selling” EU citizenship

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Today, the European Commission is launching infringement procedures against Cyprus and Malta by issuing letters of formal notice regarding their investor citizenship schemes also referred to as “golden passport” schemes.

The Commission considers that the granting by these Member States of their nationality – and thereby EU citizenship – in exchange for a pre-determined payment or investment and without a genuine link with the Member States concerned, is not compatible with the principle of sincere cooperation enshrined in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union. This also undermines the integrity of the status of EU citizenship provided for in Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Due to the nature of EU citizenship, such schemes have implications for the Union as a whole. When a Member State awards nationality, the person concerned automatically becomes an EU citizen and enjoys all rights linked to this status, such as the right to move, reside and work freely within the EU, or the right to vote in municipal elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. As a consequence, the effects of investor citizenship schemes are neither limited to the Member States operating them, nor are they neutral with regard to other Member States and the EU as a whole.

The Commission considers that the granting of EU citizenship for pre-determined payments or investments without any genuine link with the Member States concerned, undermines the essence of EU citizenship.

Next steps

The Cypriot and Maltese governments have two months to reply to the letters of formal notice. If the replies are not satisfactory, the Commission may issue a Reasoned Opinion in this matter.

Background

Investor citizenship schemes allow a person to acquire a new nationality based on payment or investment alone. These schemes are different to investor residence schemes (or “golden visas”), which allow third-country nationals, subject to certain conditions, to obtain a residence permit to live in an EU country.

The conditions for obtaining and forfeiting national citizenship are regulated by the national law of each Member State, subject to due respect for EU law. As nationality of a Member State is the only precondition for EU citizenship and access to rights conferred by the Treaties, the Commission has been closely monitoring investor schemes granting the nationality of Member States.

The Commission has frequently raised its serious concerns about investor citizenship schemes and certain risks that are inherent in such schemes. As mentioned in the Commission’s report of January 2019, those risks relate in particular to security, money laundering, tax evasion and corruption and the Commission has been monitoring wider issues of compliance with EU law raised by investor citizenship and residence schemes. In April 2020, the Commission wrote to the Member States concerned setting out its concerns and asking for further information about the schemes.

In a resolution adopted on 10 July 2020, the European Parliament reiterated its earlier calls on Member States to phase out all existing citizenship by investment (CBI) or residency by investment (RBI) schemes as soon as possible. As stated by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union Address of 16 September 2020, European values are not for sale.

The Commission is also writing again to Bulgaria to highlight its concerns regarding an investor citizenship scheme operated by that Member State and requesting further details. The Bulgarian government has one month to reply to the letter requesting further information, following which the Commission will decide on the next steps.

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EU interoperability gateway for contact tracing and warning apps

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What is a coronavirus tracing and warning app?

Most public health authorities in the EU have developed apps that support contact tracing and warning in the fight against coronavirus. The apps notify you if you have been at risk of exposure to the virus over the last 14 days, whether or not you feel symptoms. You will then get appropriate health advice. This helps to minimise the spread of the virus and speed up a return to normal life within the EU. Furthermore, you can get tested and receive any necessary treatment promptly and lower the risk of serious consequences, if you get alerted at an early stage.

Tracing and warning apps are part of a package of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, along with hygiene measures such as hand washing, social distancing and using everyday facemasks.

Why using a coronavirus tracing and warning app?

A tracing and warning app can help break the chain of coronavirus infections, nationally and across borders, and help save lives by complementing manual tracing. The faster people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and their contacts can be informed, the less quickly and widely the virus can spread. The app therefore help to protect yourself, your family, your friends and everyone around you.

If you use an official app available in your country, developed with the health authorities, you can trust them and use them without concerns. More information also on re-open EU.

How does a coronavirus tracing and warning app work?

A coronavirus tracing and waring app informs you if you have been, for a certain period, close, to another app user who was confirmed infected with COVID-19. Such an encounter would be considered a high-risk exposure. Typically, this means a contact for more than 15 minutes and less than 2 meters. The exact parameters are set by national health authorities.

When you have installed the app, your smartphone generates random ‘keys’ multiple times a day. These keys are exchanged through Bluetooth between nearby smartphones running a tracing app, and stored on the device for 14 days.

In case you are tested positive for COVID-19, you can share this information to warn the people you have previously been close to. Your phone will then share the keys generated during the last 14 days with the backend server of your national app.

On the basis of the keys received, each app calculates the risk score of a user, who may receive an exposure alert if the criteria are met.

What data will I share when using these apps?

The apps generate arbitrary identifiers, which are random sets of numbers and letters. These arbitrary identifiers do not allow the identification of an individual person. The keys are exchanged via Bluetooth between phones at short distance. No geolocation or movement data are used.

Do tracing apps use a lot of data or battery?

Once you have downloaded the app, its data usage is minimal. You should also not notice a significant difference in terms of battery life, nor should your smartphone overheat. The contact and warning app runs in the background. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy, a technology designed to be particularly energy efficient.

Can I use the app without internet connection?

For the tracing functionality as such, a permanent Internet connection is not necessary. Bluetooth, which is used to detect proximity with other app users, does not require Internet. It would even work in flight mode if you switch on Bluetooth during the flight. However, the app does need to connect to the internet at least once a day to download the information necessary to check if you have been exposed to other, infected users. Hence, to check infection chains, to receive alerts, and for additional functionalities, the apps will need to connect through mobile Internet or Wi-Fi.

Is the exposure notification automatic?

The apps work in the background of the device without requiring any daily action. Notifications come in automatically. You do not have to activate updates manually, however you need to have the exposure notification function switched on.

May I use several national coronavirus tracing and warning apps at the same time?

No. Using two or more apps at the same time is not possible as the Google/Apple exposure notification interface always supports only one tracing app at a time. Thanks to the EU interoperability gateway service, citizens can use one single app even when they travel cross-borders, while continuing to benefit from contact tracing and being able to report a positive test or to receive an alert.

  1. In case of a notification

What should I do if I receive an alert?

Receiving a contact alert does not necessarily mean you have been infected with COVID-19. An alert is a simple way of making you aware that there is a risk of exposure to coronavirus. The app will guide you on what you should do, according to the instructions of national health authorities, such as advice to get tested or to self-isolate, and who you have to contact.

Which criteria are used to assess exposure risk levels?

Potential exposures happen when you encounter, for a certain amount of time and at a certain distance, a person who has reported being infected with the virus. Bluetooth technology is used to determine whether or not an encounter is close and long enough to result in a potential exposure. There are typically three levels of risk:

Low risk: The app user had no encounter with anyone known to have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or if they have had such an encounter it was not close and/or long enough according to the criteria. The user is informed about generally applicable social distancing regulations and hygiene recommendations.

Increased risk: The user is informed that the check of their exposure logging has shown an increased risk of infection, as they have encountered at least one person in the last 14 days who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. The person is recommended to stay at home if possible, and to seek advice from their general practitioner or local health authorities.

Unknown risk: If the risk identification has not been activated for long enough by the person, then no risk of infection can be calculated yet. Risk identification is possible within 24 hours of installation, at which point the status information displayed changes from “unknown risk” to “low risk” or “increased risk”.

Can the app warn me how to avoid contact with people who tested positive?

No, the app cannot predict such contacts or detect risky contact in real time. To protect user privacy, no app user can be identified or located using the app, and no app can detect whether there is an infected person in, for example a supermarket. The app is no substitute for the usual necessary precautions, like wearing a mask.

  1. EU interoperability gateway: contact tracing across borders

How do coronavirus tracing and warning apps work across borders?

Coronavirus does not stop at borders. This is why Member States, supported by the Commission, were working on an interoperability solution for national contact tracing and warning apps, to allow citizens to use one single app when they travel abroad in Europe, while continuing to benefit from contact tracing and being able to receive an alert.

At the request of Member States, the Commission has set up an interoperability gateway service, an interface to efficiently receive and pass on relevant information from national contact tracing apps. It will ensure the secure and efficient cross-border exchange between participating apps while keeping mobile data usage to a minimum.

How does the exchange of data between the apps work?

The individual coronavirus tracing and warning apps only connect to their own national backend server. The national backend servers do not connect directly with each other. They exchange the information via the EU interoperability gateway service, which reduces data consumption compared with direct exchanges between participating apps.

The exchange consists of two main parts: Uploading of national keys to the gateway server takes places if users upload their keys and have agreed with sharing them with other European app users; downloading of keys to the national backend server is required so that the keys can be distributed to the users of the individual national app.

What is the EU interoperability gateway service?

The interoperability gateway service (gateway) is a digital infrastructure that ensures the secure transmission of generated keys between the backend servers of participating national contact tracing and warning apps. While doing so, the gateway will share the minimum information necessary for a person to be alerted if they have been exposed to an infected person also using one of the participating apps.

The data exchanged will only be stored in the gateway for a maximum period of 14 days. No other information except the keys, generated by the national apps, will be handled by the gateway.

The design of the gateway builds on the guidelines for interoperability, the set of technical specifications agreed between Member States and the Commission, the principles set out in the EU toolbox and the Commission and European Data Protection Board guidelines on data protection for contact tracing and warning apps.

The gateway was developed and set up by companies T-Systems and SAP, and is operated from the Commission’s data centre in Luxembourg.

Are all contact tracing apps interoperable?

The gateway ensures a safe exchange of information between contact tracing apps based on a ‘decentralised’ architecture. This concerns the vast majority of tracing apps that were, or are to be, launched in the EU. Apps that are interoperable can exchange information among themselves, so people in the EU only need install one app – typically the app of their home country – and still be able to report a positive test or to receive an alert, even if they travel in the EU.

What is the difference between ‘centralised’ and ‘decentralised’ apps?

Confronted with the new potential of smartphones to combat the coronavirus pandemic, developers discussed mainly two different ways of how to set up contact tracing and waring apps, typically referred to as ‘decentralised’ and ‘centralised’ architectures. In both approaches, smartphones exchange temporary keys via Bluetooth and communicate with a central server. The main difference is in the calculation of the exposure risk of users and the storage of the data. Regardless of the approach, none of the tracing apps track location or movements

In a centralised system, a central server receives the keys of the contacts collected by users confirmed with COVID-19, and the server does the matchmaking to alert users at risk.

In a decentralised approach, the keys of the contacts remain on the phone. The app downloads the arbitrary keys of COVID-19 infected users and checks whether there is a match, directly on the device. The decentralised approach uses a joint interface provided by Apple and Google (see below). In the end, almost all national health authorities in the EU opted for a decentralised app, and these apps are all potentially interoperable.

Which national apps are, or will be, linked to the gateway?

About two third of EU Member States have developed compatible tracing and warning apps, and the gateway is open to all of them, once they are ready to connect. The connection will gradually take place during October and November, however apps can also connect at a later stage if national authorities wish so. An ‘onboarding protocol’ has been developed, setting out the necessary steps.

While your app is able to detect proximity with other participating apps everywhere in the world, including during flights in a plane, it does of course matter if people around you also have access to and use a participating app.

The overview of participating countries is updated regularly and available here.

What about if I did a test in another EU country?

You can only insert a positive coronavirus test result in the app of the country where the test was taken. However, when you enter the code in that app, thanks to the interoperability, citizens from the country that you have visited will get notified that they have been in close contact of an infected case.

I never travel anywhere. Do I need to take part in interoperability?

Downloading and using an app is voluntary, and participating in the interoperability framework is as well. To do so, you need to agree to your data being processed. However, even if you do not intend to travel, other people may do so, and you may be close to them without knowing. Therefore, interoperability also benefits those who stay in their home country.

Do I need to download a new app to benefit from interoperability?

No. You can continue to use your national app. Most EU Member States have decided to set up a national coronavirus tracing and warning app, and almost all of those have opted for a decentralised system – all these apps are potentially interoperable and can connect to the gateway, once they are ready. Once an app gets connected to the gateway, an update needs to be issued in the app stores so the additional functionality can be used. Users need to install that update so that their app works cross-border.

How do I update the app?

If your phone is set to update automatically, your tracing app will update automatically within a few days of the update being released. If you want to update manually:

  • For iPhone users, open the App Store and tap ‘Today’ at the bottom of the screen. Then tap your profile icon to bring up your Account. Scroll down until you see your national app and then tap ‘Update’.
  • For Android users, open the ‘Play Store’ and tap on the three horizonal lines at the top-left of the screen to open the sidebar. Open ‘My apps & games’ and select the ‘Updates’ tab. Then scroll down to your national app and tap ‘Update’.
  1. Privacy and security

Can tracing apps be used by authorities to monitor quarantine?

No, this is technically impossible. Contact tracing and warning apps do not gather any location or movement data.

 How is my privacy protected?

Throughout the entire process of design and development of contact and warning tracing apps, respect for privacy has been of paramount importance:

  • The app does not collect any data that could lead to unveiling your identity. It does not ask for and cannot obtain your name, date of birth, address, telephone number, or email address.
  • The app does not collect any geolocation data, including GPS data. It also does not track any movements.
  • The Bluetooth Low Energy code is generated completely randomly and does not contain any information about you or your device. This code changes several times each hour, as a further protection.
  • All data stored by the app on your smartphone, and all connections between the app and the server, and between the servers and the gateway, are encrypted.
  • All data, whether stored on your device or on the server, is deleted when no longer relevant, i.e. 14 days after transfer between app and server.
  • The data is stored on secure backend servers, managed by national authorities. The gateway uses a secure server, hosted by the Commission in its own data centre in Luxembourg.
  • EU rules, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the ePrivacy Directive, provide the strongest safeguards of trustworthiness (e.g. voluntary approach, data minimisation).
  • The apps – as well as the gateway – are time-limited, that means they will only be in place as long as the pandemic persists.
  • The European Data Protection Board was consulted on the draft guidance and issued a letter to welcome the Commission’s initiative to develop a pan-European and coordinated approach.

 Will personal data be shared between Member States through the gateway?

The Commission developed with Member States a privacy preserving interoperability protocol. If an app from one Member State is to work in another Member State, some encrypted data will be shared with the server of that other Member State. All backend servers are under the control of the competent national authority. Each app must be fully compliant with the EU data protection and privacy rules, following the Commission’s guidance.

  1. App usage information

 How will we know that tracing apps are working?

Member States are monitoring and evaluating the apps and their contribution to the fight against the pandemic. The Commission, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is assisting Member States to identify a series of assessment criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the apps. Some of those criteria could include, for example, the uptake of the app as a percentage of population and number of users notified of potential exposure.

Currently, download rates range from below 10% to above 40%, depending on the Member State. But even at low uptake, apps can make a difference, according to researchers – and each notification is a life potentially saved.

What are the minimum device requirements?

All coronavirus tracing and warning apps should be accessible to everybody. They can be used on the vast majority of devices with commonly used operating systems. The required update to the relevant operating system (iOS, Android) is usually carried out automatically on smartphones. The apps run on iOS smartphones from the iPhone 6s upwards using iOS 13.5, and on Android-based smartphones from Android 6 upwards. If the result of your COVID-19 test is verified via QR code, the camera on your phone must be functional.

What role do Apple and Google play?

Almost all, that is 99% of smartphones in the EU, run on iOS or Android mobile operating systems. In the context of the development of contact tracing and warning apps, Apple and Google provided a uniform standard for Bluetooth distance measurement. This was important so apps running on the two main operating systems would be able to register each other’s Bluetooth signal. Furthermore, the companies needed to ensure that the Bluetooth signal continues to operate passively in the background in battery-saving mode, even if the apps is not actively used. National apps based on a ‘decentralised’ architecture rely on this basic functionality – these are interoperable and can be linked to the gateway.

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EU Politics

Commission lists key steps for effective vaccination strategies and vaccines deployment

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As Europe learns to live with the pandemic, the development and swift global deployment of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 remains an essential element in the eventual solution to the public health crisis. In this context, the Commission is working to ensure that there will be access to safe vaccines across Europe, and encourages a coordinated approach of vaccination strategies for deployment of the vaccines. Today, ahead of the discussion of EU Leaders, the Commission is presenting the key elements to be taken into consideration by Member States for their COVID-19 vaccination strategies in order to prepare the European Union and its citizens for when a safe and effective vaccine is available, as well as priority groups to consider for vaccination first.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “A safe and effective vaccine is our best shot at beating coronavirus and returning to our normal lives. We have been working hard to make agreements with pharmaceutical companies and secure future doses. Now, we must ensure that once a vaccine is found, we are fully prepared to deploy it. With our Vaccination Strategy, we are helping EU countries prepare their vaccination campaigns: who should be vaccinated first, how to have a fair distribution and how to protect the most vulnerable. If we want our vaccination to be successful, we need to prepare now.”  

Vice-President for Promoting the European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said: “While the evolution of the pandemic is getting back to March levels, our state of preparedness is not. Today we are adopting a milestone in the ongoing EU response to the COVID-19 pandemic; the aim is to ensure safe, affordable and accessible COVID-19 vaccines for all in the EU, once they will become available. It is only by acting together that we will avoid the cacophony and be more efficient than in the past.”

Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said: “It is with great concern that I am witnessing the increasingly rapid rise of infection rates all across the EU. Time is running out – everyone’s first priority should be to do what it takes to avoid the devastating consequences of generalised lockdowns. And we must all prepare for the next steps. The vaccine will not be a silver bullet, but it will play a central role to save lives and contain the pandemic. And when and if a safe and efficient vaccine is found, we need to be prepared to roll it out as quickly as possible, including building citizens’ trust in its safety and efficacy. Vaccines will not save lives – vaccinations will.”

In line with the 17 June EU Vaccines Strategy, the European Commission and Member States are securing the production of vaccines against COVID-19 through Advance Purchase Agreements with vaccine producers in Europe. Any vaccine will need to be authorised by the European Medicine Agency according to regular safety and efficacy standards. Member States should now start preparing a common vaccination strategy for vaccine deployment.

Member States should, among others, ensure:

  • capacity of vaccination services to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, including skilled workforce and medical and protective equipment;
  • easy and affordable access to vaccines for target populations;
  • deployment of vaccines with different characteristics and storage and transport needs, in particular in terms of cold chain, cooled transport and storage capacity;
  • clear communication on the benefits, risks and importance of COVID-19 vaccines to build public trust.

All Member States will have access to COVID-19 vaccines at the same time on the basis of population size. The overall number of vaccine doses will be limited during the initial stages of deployment and before production can be ramped up. The Communication therefore provides examples of unranked priority groups to be considered by countries once COVID-19 vaccines become available, including:  

  • healthcare and long-term care facility workers;
  • persons over 60 years of age;
  • persons whose state of health makes them particularly at risk;
  • essential workers;
  • persons who cannot socially distance;
  • more disadvantaged socio-economic groups.

Whilst awaiting the arrival of approved vaccines against COVID-19, and in parallel to safeguarding the continuation of other essential healthcare and public health services and programmes, the EU must continue mitigating the transmission of the virus. This can be done through the protection of vulnerable groups and ensuring that citizens adhere to public health measures. Until then and most likely also throughout the initial vaccination rollout phases, non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as physical distancing, closure of public places and adapting the work environment, [1] will continue to serve as the main public health tools to control and manage COVID-19 outbreaks.

Background

As Europe moves to the next stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more imperative that countries follow common vaccination strategies and approaches. At the Special European Council meeting of 2 October, Member States called on the Council and Commission to further step up the overall coordination effort and the work on the development and distribution of vaccines at EU level[2]

On 24 September, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published its updated risk assessment regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a set of guidelines for non-pharmaceutical interventions (such as hand hygiene, physical distancing, cleaning and ventilation).

As stressed by President von der Leyen in the State of the Union 2020 Address, Europe needs to continue to handle the COVID-19 pandemic with extreme care, responsibility and unity, and use the lessons learnt to strengthen the EU’s crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats.

On 15 July, the Commission adopted a Communication on short-term EU health preparedness, calling on Member States to have prevention, preparedness and response measures ready in case of future COVID-19 outbreaks. The Communication made a set of recommendations to achieve this, in the areas of e.g. testing, contact tracing and health system capacities. The effective implementation of these measures requires coordination and effective information exchange between Member States. The recommendations provided in the Strategy are still relevant and Member States are encouraged to follow them.

One of the main action points necessary for Europe to overcome the coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the development, manufacturing, and deployment of vaccines against COVID-19. The EU’s vaccines strategy published in June charts the way forward.

Vaccine safety, quality and efficacy are the cornerstones of any vaccine development and authorisation process, and vaccine developers are required to submit extensive documentation and data to the European Medicines Agency through the EU Marketing Authorisation procedure. After authorisation, EU law requires that the safety of the vaccine as well as its effectiveness be monitored. Further evidence will need to be centrally collected to assess the impact and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines once rolled out in the population from a public health perspective. This will be key to overcoming the pandemic and instilling confidence in Europeans.

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