Newsletter 255 - Communication on Health Preparedness

Health-EU newsletter 255 - Focus

EU strengthens measures for short-term health preparedness for future outbreaks of COVID-19

John F. Ryan, Director of Public Health, Country Knowledge and Crisis Management for the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety, says that the European Commission is taking measures to ensure the short-term health preparedness for future outbreaks of COVID-19 in the EU. This week, the Commission issued a Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions outlining these measures. The conclusions of this Communication can be found here below.

The EU must ensure that it is ready for possible resurgences of COVID-19 cases. This requires short-term and strongly coordinated action to strengthen key areas of preparedness and response. Early detection of cases and a rapid response to prevent further spread, combined with specific measures to protect the most vulnerable in our societies, are currently our best shot to avoid having to reinstate large-scale restrictions such as lockdowns. Building on the ongoing work in the Member States, the Commission and EU Agencies, this Communication has set out the necessary actions to be taken.

These efforts should be underpinned by robust evidence and extensive public communication efforts. Preventing a resurgence of cases largely depends on individual behaviours and adherence to public health recommendations. Sustained vigilance by all is key to ensure that a core set of basic individual precautions remains in place at all times. This, in turn, relies on the public’s acceptance and understanding of the well-founded nature and importance of these measures. Monitoring the degree of social acceptance and addressing early societal concerns will be a key determinant of future developments. These communication efforts also entail a systematic and immediate response to disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, whilst further efforts should also be made to enhance the cyber resilience of key health infrastructure. In case a Member State would reintroduce emergency measures, these should be designed in a measured and limited way so that they do not obstruct the rule of law and parliamentary democracy.

The virus does not stop at EU borders and this is why the EU and its Member States provide over EUR 36 billion with emergency aid, humanitarian aid bridges and longer-term support to third countries in need. It has also set up an EU Humanitarian Air Bridge to maintain vital transport links for humanitarian and emergency health workers and supplies.

Efforts should thus continue in coordination with other global actors, including the UN and WHO, to ensure the required international response to this global health threat, including equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine. This should go hand in hand with efforts to address the socio-economic impacts of this crisis, which threaten to unravel progress made in achieving the SDGs as well as investment in the resilience of partner countries, notably through health-system strengthening, hence underpinning the global recovery. This is the only way to bring an end to the current pandemic crisis in the EU and globally.

More than any other year, attention must be given to reducing the impact of seasonal influenza for 2020/2021 and activities must be put into place now to mitigate this scenario. The combined effects of simultaneous outbreaks of COVID-19 colliding with a heavy influenza season could stretch even further the limits of our healthcare systems.

The European Commission will continue working side by side with Member States in the fight against COVID-19. Together, we will continue funding research for predicting the spread and resurgence and to support the development of necessary medical countermeasures. We will also promote the identification and dissemination of local good practices. Through an ambitious recovery plan supported by a revamped long-term budget 2021-27 and the Next Generation EU instrument, Europe will also invest to secure its recovery and resilience against possible future Covid-19 outbreaks, support structural changes across healthcare systems and reinforce the Union’s crisis management systems and capacities. Europe will thoroughly draw the lessons from the COVID-19 crisis to ensure it comes out stronger, more united and better equipped to face future crises.