The European Commission has been calling for preparedness against the pandemic since day one in January, the EU Commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarčič, told EURACTIV in an interview.
He said that some member states had believed they were prepared, but in fact were not.
“Nobody actually expected or could expect the dimensions of this outbreak here in Europe would be so huge,” he said.
Lenarčič said he was astonished by the fact that no EU member states responded to Italy’s request for medical equipment in March: “The fact that Italy’s request was not answered hurt us all. But in a matter of weeks, the situation improved greatly.”
Asked why the virus affected disproportionally EU member states, he replied that the COVID-19 did not hit everywhere simultaneously.
“When they [member states] saw what is happening in Italy, they decided to introduce restrictive measures right away, and I think that was the right decision. And those were actually lucky because they did it at the earlier stage of the infection cycle,” he said.
Referring to the discussion over the use of masks in public places, he said masks do not harm and could obviously be helpful, especially during the fragile initial stages of de-confinement.
“But first, you need to have enough of them,” he said, stressing that medical staff has to be prioritised.
As far as the next day in Europe is concerned, the Slovenian diplomat said the current structure of crisis management has not been designed to tackle such a large-scale crisis.
“If we want to equip the EU so as to face a crisis of such dimensions, we certainly need to put in place more adequate tools in the hands of the Commission,” he emphasised.
Last but not least, he also described US President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organisation as “extremely unfortunate”, considering that the pandemic needs to be tackled globally.
“Nobody has to be, nobody can be left behind. Because if we neglect one part of the world, the virus will bounce back elsewhere,” he warned.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]