The European Commission announced an additional set of measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which is now severely hitting most of EU countries. This announcement comes right before the EU Leaders’ meeting on Covid-19 action coordination, which will be held today in virtual mode.
The new rules aim to better understand how the virus spreads and the effectiveness of the response, increase testing, improve contact tracing, boost preparations for vaccination campaigns, and maintain access to essential supplies such as vaccination equipment, while keeping all goods moving in the single market and facilitating safe travel.
The Commission’s Communication to tackle the resurgence of COVID-19 infections sets out 8 main areas:
1. Information flow improvement
The Commissions calls on Member States to provide all relevant data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Commission. Ensuring accurate, comprehensive, and timely information on epidemiological data, and on testing, contact tracing and public health surveillance, is essential to track how the coronavirus spreads at regional and national level.
2. Effective and rapid testing
The Commission is adopting a Recommendation on COVID-19 testing strategies, including the use of rapid antigen tests. It calls on Member States to submit national strategies on testing by mid-November.
To directly purchase rapid antigen tests and deliver them to Member States, the Commission is mobilizing €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument. Simultaneously, the Commission is launching a joint procurement to ensure a second stream of access. Where Member States are applying prior testing requirements to incoming travelers and where no testing capacities are available for asymptomatic travelers in the country of origin, travelers should be offered the possibility to undergo a test after arrival. Mutual recognition of tests is essential, in particular in the context of travel.
3. Contact tracing apps across borders
Member States have developed 19 national contact tracing and warning apps, downloaded more than 52 million times. The Commission recently launched a solution for linking national apps across the EU. Three national apps (Germany, Ireland, and Italy) were first linked on 19 October when the system came online. Many more will follow in the coming weeks.
4. Effective vaccination
The Commission is negotiating agreements with vaccine producers to make vaccines available to Europeans and the world as soon as they are proven safe and effective. The Commission will put in place a common reporting framework and a platform to monitor the effectiveness of national vaccine strategies.
5. Effective communication
All Member States should relaunch communication campaigns to counter false information that continues to circulate, and to address the risk of “pandemic fatigue”.
6. Securing essential supplies
The Commission is extending the temporary suspension of customs duties and VAT on the import of medical equipment from non-EU countries. The Commission is also proposing that hospitals and medical practitioners should not have to pay VAT on vaccines and testing kits used in the fight against the coronavirus.
7. Facilitating safe travel
The Commission is working to ensure safe free movement within the EU and the Schengen area, calling on Member States to adopt a common approach to free movement, quarantine practices and travelers’ testing. A pilot next month will allow Member States to prepare for the launch and use of a common EU digital Passenger Locator Form.
8. Green Lanes extension
Since March, the application of Green Lanes has helped to maintain the supply of goods and the economic fabric of the EU. The Commission proposes to extend the Green Lane approach to ensure that multi-modal transport works effectively. Member States should ensure the seamless free movement of goods across the Single Market.