COVID-19 is the public health crisis we all feared. It has turned upside down the way we live our lives, how we interact with each other, how we use public spaces, and the way we work. No part of our lives has remained unaffected.

The disruptive but necessary restrictions imposed by most Member States during the Spring did manage to slow down the spread of the virus and allowed us to slowly and gradually start getting back to what will for some time remain our new normal.

However, the much expected and needed lifting of some of the restrictions during the early summer has led to what we have continuously cautioned against – an increase in cases.

In some Member States the situation is even worse than during the peak in March. This is a real cause for concern

What this means, to be very clear is that the control measures taken have simply not been effective enough, or not been enforced or followed as they should have. This is clearly underlined in the updated risk assessment published today by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

While people testing positive for COVID-19 are now younger in several Member States and mortality rates remain lower than before, we are starting to see an increase in the occupancy rates of intensive care units.

We cannot lower our guard. This crisis is not behind us.

Moreover, autumn and winter are the time of the year for more respiratory illnesses, including seasonal influenza. To prevent what could potentially be a lethal “twindemic” of COVID-19 and flu - which could overburden our health systems and lead to more loss of lives – we need to increase flu vaccination coverage rates.

Today, against what is frankly a worrying background, I see an absolute necessity to send a strong and clear message to Member States that our recommendations on short-term preparedness from July are now more valid than ever.

From stepped up testing to closer contact tracing, from improved public health surveillance to better access to personal protective equipment and medicines and ensuring sufficient health care capacity – all Member States must be ready to roll out measures immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks.

It is encouraging to see that progress has been made, notably the agreement on a common EU approach to testing, which I urge all Member States to follow.

But we still need to hear from several Member States how they are progressing in the implementation of the urgent actions we presented in July.

Hearing that today we are ‘ok’ is not enough. Are we planning for the worst case scenarios?

We have put in place the tools for the EU to support this effort.

Joint procurement for supplies for intensive care units and treatments are there to be used and to plan ahead.

We have delivered the first batches of the only authorised COVID treatment – Remdesivir – purchased under the EU Emergency Support Instrument.

We are negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for COVID-19 vaccines and have concluded two contracts so far, to ensure access to such vaccines once proven safe and efficient.

Finally, we are working with Member States, and we will insist, on a coordinated approach on free movement restrictions to ensure more clarity and predictability for citizens. We have already presented a recommendation and I Member States to swiftly agree on a common approach.

But with a COVID-19 vaccine still being months away, I am deeply concerned about what we I see now and what we may see the coming weeks and months.

We should know that even a vaccine will not be a silver bullet.

As citizens, we are all the first line of defence against COVID and our self-discipline to adhere to the measures will determine the next months.

We must prevent a situation where governments feel they have no choice but to re-impose generalised lockdowns. This will be detrimental to our economies, the education of our children, and our daily lives - not to mention our mental well-being.

We have to take measures to protect those around us, whether our grandparents, our parents, or our children.

To support Member States, we have also today with ECDC issued guidance on non-pharmaceutical interventions, the most effective public health interventions against COVID-19 that we have today. 

We are in some places witnessing a real fatigue with physical distancing measures and an apparent disregard of the norms, with even protests in some Member States. I urge Member States in particular to reach out to young people and to ensure they understand the seriousness of the situation.

Here, I would call on Member States to be consistent and coherent in their communication, and ensure as much predictability as possible to allow citizens and business to remain in control. I am convinced that predictability, clear communication to citizens and coordination with other Member States, will increase compliance with protective measures.

I cannot stress this strongly enough - we are all responsible for each other. We must all, regardless of age or vulnerability, continue to keep physical distancing, wear face masks, take care of hand hygiene, try to meet in person only within a “social bubble” of relatives and friends and stay home when feeling sick.

We are at a decisive moment. Today we are here to call on everyone to act decisively too. It might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.