EU focuses on face masks challenge as coronavirus outbreak escalates

Tragic irony is that 60% of the global production of these masks is in the wider region of China’s Wuhan, where the virus first appeared. [EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV]

EU health ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting today (6 March) to discuss the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 outbreak and particularly their readiness to confront the rapid spread of the virus across the bloc.

EURACTIV was informed that the European Commission attaches great importance to the stocks of protection masks in EU member states for citizens, but is prioritising healthcare workers and patients with coronavirus.

Tragic irony is that 60% of the global production of these masks is in the wider region of China’s Wuhan, where the virus first appeared. Brussels expects that the production of these masks will be “back to business” within two months.

Sources said the further expansion of the coronavirus outbreak was expected after it hit northern Italy.

Following two weeks of emergency, Italy has reported 3,858 cases and 148 deaths. According to figures provided by Italy’s Civil Protection, healed people represent so far 10.7% of the total.

However, the same sources said it was positive that the numbers are still very low compared to the overall population in many countries.

After Italy, a rapid escalation is reported in France and Germany. French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Thursday of an epidemic as the number of reported coronavirus cases reached 423 and the death toll rose to seven.

“There is a moment when we all know that… an epidemic is inevitable,” Macron said.

The French government has also decided to requisition all face mask stocks and production in the coming months. “We will distribute them to health professionals and to French people infected with the coronavirus,” the French president said.

By Thursday, Spain counted 3 deaths out of the 234 people infected by the COVID-19 virus, which is 41 more cases compared to the day before, according to EFE.

In Lisbon, Lusa reported that the Portuguese government is setting up military hospitals for COVID-19 patients, Defence Minister João Titterington Gomes Cravinho said on Thursday (5 March), the same day Portugal confirmed its ninth coronavirus case. Greece has reported 31 cases so far.

EU Parliament plenary in Brussels

In light of the rapid outbreak in France, the European Parliament plenary session due next week in Strasbourg will instead take place in Brussels.

“At 18.00 today, I received an updated report from the European Parliament’s Medical Service on the evolution of COVID-19 which states that the health risks are considered to be significantly higher if Parliament’s plenary session next week takes place in Strasbourg,” European Parliament chief David Sassoli said yesterday.

“On the basis of this evaluation, due to force majeure, I decided that the necessary security conditions are not in place for the usual transfer of the European Parliament to Strasbourg for the plenary session next week,” he added.

Fifty cases have been reported so far in Belgium, including two in EU institutions.

First confirmed case of COVID-19 in the EU institutions

In an internal mail seen by EURACTIV, the European Defence Agency (EDA) confirmed that one of its staff members has tested positive for novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and it therefore cancelled all meetings to be held at its premises until 13 March as a precautionary measure.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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