Check against delivery

Ministers, Jens,

Every day in Europe, thousands of families are losing loved ones to COVID-19. Every day in Europe, people are fighting for their lives in the hands of those who are again at the frontline of this battle, our doctors and nurses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us some harsh lessons. 

It has taught us that numbers speak volumes. It has taught us that relaxing measures too early, can lead to more cases, more deaths and ultimately to new lockdowns – and this very quickly.

We saw this during the summer, and if we are not all careful over the coming weeks, we might see this again in January.

But Ministers, this time, we have the chance to do things differently. We have the chance to learn from the mistakes we have paid such a high price for.

Taking a step back and looking at the experience and knowledge gained is key when managing a pandemic.

I welcome the proposed Council Conclusions on lessons learned from COVID-19. This sends a timely political signal.

It sends a clear signal that by highlighting the vulnerabilities in our health systems and our response to health crises, the pandemic has also shown us what we need to strengthen and how.

EU citizens consider health to be a priority and expect Europe to do more to protect them. We must deliver on those expectations and overcome old taboos. Now is the time to deliver results.

Improving our collective crisis preparedness is a vital step in this process and we have put forward proposals to create a genuine European Health Union.

A European Health Union where medicines are available and affordable to all through our Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe and where a European Health Data Space is a reality.

I welcome the support in the Conclusions on both these points.

 

President, Ministers,

Today we also have the chance to show that we have learned the important lessons from the loosening of measures over the summer.

Today, we adopted a strategy to stay safe from COVID-19 over winter.

With this, we anticipate the evolution of the pandemic in the coming months, and in particular the upcoming holiday period.

Winter means more transmission of the virus and less options to keep it at bay. With lower temperatures we stay indoor and this leads to higher spreads.

I would like to underline very strongly that, until vaccines can be sufficiently deployed, measures to control and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus must continue over the next few months, and especially during the end-of-year holiday period.

We must ensure that those activities that become clusters of transmission and super-spreading are avoided.  By now we know what these are – the 3Cs: closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings.

This is essential to controlling future outbreaks.

Believe me when I say that I know what sacrifices we must all make to keep each other safe and I understand the desire to ease restrictions.

However, we are not in the same situation as before the summer. More than 5000 people still lose their lives every single day!

Today we have proposed tailored advice for the upcoming end of the year festive season. For a safer end of the year, I urge you to heed it. This is a festive period and an end of the year that is about protecting and saving lives.

But there is also hope. The Europe Medicines Agency has received applications for conditional marketing authorisations for two vaccines this week.

In this context, efforts now need to be focused on the roll-out of vaccination campaigns once safe and effective vaccines are available. I would like to take this opportunity to thank those Member States that have shared their proposed COVID-19 vaccination strategies with us.

Safety is the key word here. Vaccine safety is our priority. I have to be clear to everyone that all vaccines will be assessed for their safety, quality and efficacy. This is the way that we can convince citizens to move forward with vaccinations. It is vaccinations that will save lives, not vaccines.

At the same time, we will do our utmost to streamline procedures to grant the conditional authorisation, as swiftly as possible once EMA has given a positive scientific opinion.

 

President, Ministers,

We are still learning the lessons of the pandemic.

But we know one thing for certain – we need genuine collaboration, coordination and solidarity to control the pandemic and bring Europe on the path to recovery.

We all have a responsibility towards our citizens.

I would like to thank all of you for the very close collaboration and coordination over the past ten months. We can do this together, so let us move forward, taking all the necessary measures until we have a safe and effective vaccine that will keep our citizens safe.

Thank you.