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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join you today to introduce this webinar on the impact of COVID-19 on society.

In just a few months, we have seen how the coronavirus has changed our lives and how much suffering it has caused across Europe and the world.

Our health systems, health care workers as well as social service providers have been stretched to their limit and our economies will feel the shock of this unprecedented crisis for many years to come.

As society begins to slowly emerge from the shadow of this disease and weeks of lockdown, it is clear what was “normal” before, may not be “normal” in future, and that COVID-19 has reshaped the way we will live our lives for the foreseeable future. We are still at the very crucial phase of lifting measures in a gradual way with many uncertainties.

For some groups of our societies this difficult experience will be harder to overcome and the consequences will be felt for a longer period of time. We need to take this into consideration and pay particular attention to these groups.

I am therefore delighted that so many people and organisations have joined us today for this important discussion on the effects of COVID-19 on mental health, on vulnerable people and on health workers. Your views and insights on this is crucial for us to understand the needs of these groups.

COVID-19 has revealed many systemic weaknesses.

But the crisis has also revealed many strengths.

Solidarity is a core European value – and we have seen this time and again in recent weeks.

In our communities, people have reached out to support the most vulnerable.

Shopping for those who are elderly, immunosuppressed, or living with chronic conditions.

Or connecting with those who are lonely in isolation.

Or opening their doors to shelter the homeless.

Healthcare workers too have shown not only their capability, but also their dedication. We have seen doctors travelling to other countries and regions to help hospitals and colleagues under pressure.

They have put themselves at disproportionate risk, placing our health and our families over theirs, and working long, difficult and antisocial hours.

We owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Ironically, through lockdown, Covid-19 has mobilised some of the greatest gestures of goodwill since the EU was founded.

It has been a wake-up call that we need to act upon now.

At European level, the Commission has focused on helping EU Member States coordinate their national response to the crisis.

I am having regular meetings with EU Health Ministers to discuss our response and our current focus is on how we can coordinate and from our side support the gradually lifting of the lockdown measures whilst at the same time ensure that our citizens are protected.

The most efficient way however to truly exit this pandemic and allow normal life to resume is to develop an effective vaccine that is accessible to everyone. On Monday, through our Coronavirus Global Response pledging event, the world came together and raised €7,4 billion to support this. Everyone should benefit from and eventual vaccine and treatments because no one is safe until everyone is safe from this virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents an extraordinary challenge that touches us all in our professional and personal lives.

But, as in any crisis situation, it is the most vulnerable who are the most exposed.

We have all been hugely saddened by the profound impact of COVID-19 on older people, many of whom are living alone and are isolated. I have shared with some of you the great concerns concerning those in residential care homes and the many lives lost.

We have been working very closely with Member States and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to provide clear guidance on control of COVID-19. The guidelines include specific recommendations for  vulnerable groups and long term residential settings

Mental health in this crisis is one of the greatest concerns.

In the children’s book, “My Hero is you,” developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee[1] and written for children around the world affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sara, the main character, asks the coronavirus to “stop scaring her world”.

I of course wish we could tell our children that the virus would stop scaring them, but for the moment what we have to teach them to adapt to a new and unprecedented way of life, to a new normal that goes against much of what they are used to and have grown up with.

This is especially difficult for those living with underlying mental and physical health conditions, and when care plans become disrupted or altered, where anxiety is an additional risk factor.

It is also very difficult for frontline health workers who are under extreme pressure in unusually traumatic conditions.

Health and social professionals, volunteers and organisations have made remarkable efforts to respond to these challenges.

It is not easy and I would invite you to share your stories today so that we can learn from them

As you may be aware, a dedicated network space has recently been created in the Health Policy Platform to encourage the exchange of mental health practice and knowledge – including a new group on COVID-19 mental health support.

I hope you will  join this networking space. 

With your help and expertise, I hope it will become a central place to develop guidance to address the mental health aspects of this pandemic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 ‘Together we can’ is the motto of this week’s first ever European Mental Health Week – and together we must remain.

We have proved this is the only way to manage the current crisis and support the best possible health and wellbeing for all citizens.

We are living through challenging times.

I am immensely grateful for the incredibly important work done by all the organisations here today.

We are united by our commitment to improve citizens’ health and support our communities in the continued spirit of solidarity that has become Europe’s trademark in this crisis.

I look forward to hearing your views – and developing our discussion in the months to come.