Politicians ‘underestimated’ virus threat, von der Leyen admits

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in a recent press conference. MEPs urged the Commission to update its MFF proposal. [Copyright: European Union]

Political leaders “underestimated” the magnitude of the danger posed by the coronavirus, the president of the European Commission admitted Wednesday (17 March), as the EU shut its borders.

“I think that all of us who are not experts initially underestimated the coronavirus,” Ursula von der Leyen told Germany’s Bild newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.

“But now it is clear that this is a virus that will keep us busy for a long time yet.”

“We understand that measures that seemed drastic two or three weeks ago, need to be taken now,” she added.

The coronavirus outbreak, which first emerged in China late last year, has quickly marched across the globe, infecting nearly 200,000 people and killing 7,900 as governments scramble to contain it.

But von der Leyen rejected the language of French president Emmanuel Macron, who likened the outbreak to war this week, and ordered almost the entire population to stay at home for at least two weeks.

“I will not personally use that term but I understand the motivation of the French president as the coronavirus is a worrying enemy.”

‘We are at war’: France postpones second round of elections, pension reform

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday (16 March) ordered stringent restrictions on people’s movement to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and said the army would be drafted in to help move the sick to hospitals.

Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier said the United States under Donald Trump had taken the threat of the virus even more lightly.

“The outbreak of the crisis was probably underestimated even more so in the US than in some countries in Europe,” Altmaier told Germany’s regional press group Funke.

“That is the reason we very much hope that the US will manage to control the situation, also in our own interest,” he added.

“No-one hopes that the US economy would fall into an uncontrolled recession.”

US, UK ‘going big’ in economic fightback against virus

The United States and Britain led a multi-billion-dollar global fightback against economic havoc wreaked by the coronavirus as the European Union shut its borders to travellers from outside for 30 days to stem the pandemic’s ferocious spread.

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