President, Ministers,

 

Let me begin by thanking the Presidency for organising today’s extraordinary Health Council.

I will start from the fact that viruses know no borders. This outbreak highlights the urgent need for close cooperation and coordination across Europe and beyond. I want to thank all the Health Ministers who have been in close contact with me over the past few weeks.

Whilst the situation of the COVID-19 virus outbreak is still evolving, the epicentre remains in China, where 99% of cases have been detected.

When it comes to public health, immediate and effective cooperation and information sharing between us – and between us and China - is key.

This is why we convened the Health Security Committee six times and are maximising the use of our Early Warning and Response System since the beginning of the outbreak.

Through these exchanges we see that overall we are well prepared to deal with potential cases. But we need to be prepared in case the situation deteriorates.  And this is where I will say that we need to do more. We are still in the containment phase, and if the situation worsens, that is where we will need more solidarity and cooperation. We, you need to be prepared for this. We need to prepare for this collectively and in a coordinated manner.

What we are seeing is that measures are being implemented in a variety of ways at points of entry to the EU, and that information on such measures are not always shared quickly enough. These measures will always be your competence, your decisions.

But our approach to detection at points of entry has to be coordinated, proportionate, science-based and in line with WHO international recommendations. Freedom of movement in the EU needs to be safeguarded.

We also know that there varying levels of capacity across Member States, for instance on personal protective equipment. For this, we are looking at your needs we are ready to start joint procurement to get the equipment.

We also need to focus on where our support could have the greatest impact, which is by tackling the outbreak at its source.

From our side, we are working closely with China, both at technical and political levels. We working to establish an expert information exchange protocol, and yesterday we had the first video conference with Chinese experts. In addition to the 12 tons of personal protective equipment already provided, we are connecting Chinese authorities to companies manufacturing protective equipment in the EU.

On the issue of medicines, the European Medicines Agency and networks of your authorities are working to assess the situation regarding active pharmaceutical ingredients and finished medicinal products for the European market.

So far, the outbreak is not affecting the availability of medicines in Europe – but we will remain vigilant and if the situation changes we will step up our work.

Ministers,

We are determined to ensure an effective, coherent EU-level response. However, success depends on active participation from Member States and alignment of preparedness and response measures. We need to be united in our response – coherent and coordinated with each other.

Fragmentation of effort will make us all collectively more vulnerable. Unity on our part would also support China’s efforts to contain the virus, and mitigate any further transmission within and into the EU. Supporting China and the international response, whilst protecting European citizens, is possible.

This should be our ultimate goal.