COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease. Everyone is responsible for reducing the spread and must take simple precautions. You must protect yourself and those around you.
All EU Member States are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. You can find information specific to your country by consulting the national COVID-19 response websites.
The Commission’s top priorities are safeguarding the health and well-being of our citizens and using all of the tools at its disposal. This is why it is taking all necessary steps to coordinate with Member States and to facilitate the supply of protective and medical equipment across Europe.
Ensuring the availability of supplies and equipment
Public procurement of medical and protective equipment
Personal protective equipment – masks, gloves, goggles, face-shields, and overalls – as well as medical ventilators and testing kits are vital for hospitals, healthcare professionals, patients, field workers and civil protection authorities. The voluntary Joint Procurement Agreement with Member States (and the United Kingdom and Norway) enables the joint purchase of such equipment and supplies.
The Commission launched four different calls for tender for medical equipment and supplies on 28 February (gloves and surgical gowns), 17 March (personal protective equipment for eye and respiratory protection, as well as medical ventilators and respiratory equipment), and 19 March (laboratory equipment, including testing kits) - with participation of up to 25 Member States.
These initiatives are proving successful. In response to the first call, the Commission has received offers that can match the requests. Evaluations have finished and contracts are expected to be signed in the coming weeks. The equipment should then be available in the Member States shortly.
When conducting joint procurements, the European Commission has a coordinating role, while the Member States purchase the goods.
Guidance on using the public procurement framework
On 31 March, the European Commission published guidance on how to use all the flexibilities offered by the EU public procurement framework in the emergency situation related to the coronavirus outbreak. The guidance provides an overview of the tendering procedures available to public buyers, applicable deadlines, and examples of how public buyers could find alternative solutions and ways of engaging with the market to supply much needed medical supplies. This guidance makes it easier for public buyers to supply vital protective equipment and medical supplies to those in need, by making it easier to conduct public procurements while still upholding high safety and quality standards.
Increasing European production capacities
To address the Coronavirus outbreak, manufacturers in Europe and the European Commission must collaborate to massively ramp-up overall production of personal protective equipment, the Commission and the European Standardisation Organisations agreed on 20 March that all the relevant European harmonised standards will exceptionally be made freely and fully available for all interested companies. This action will help both EU and third-country companies to manufacture these items without compromising on our health and safety standards and without undue delays.
On 24 March, the Commission adopted decisions on revised harmonised standards that will allow manufacturers to place on the market high performing devices to protect patients, health care professionals and citizens in general. The revised standards play a pivotal role because they relate to critical devices such as medical facemasks, surgical drapes, gowns and suits, washer-disinfectors or sterilization.
The harmonised standards will cover equipment such as medical facemasks, personal eye protection, medical gloves, protective clothing as well as respiratory protective devices.
On 30 March, the Commission announced that it will be making guidance available in three areas to assist manufacturers in increasing the output of essential medical equipment and material: the production personal protective equipment such as masks, leave-on hand cleaners and hand disinfectants and 3D printing. These documents can assist manufacturers and market surveillance authorities in ensuring that these products are effective and comply with necessary safety standards.
Stockpiling and distributing supplies and equipment
On 19 March, as an additional safety net, the Commission proposed creating a strategic rescEU stockpiling – a common European reserve - of medical equipment such as ventilators, personal protective equipment, reusable masks, vaccines and therapeutics and laboratory supplies. The Commission will finance 90% of the costs of the stockpiling and will manage the distribution of the equipment to ensure it goes where it is needed most.
Already on 15 March, the Commission took steps to secure the availability of personal protective equipment, by requiring exports of such equipment destined for outside the European Union to be subject to an export authorisation by Member States. On 19 March, the Commission approved guidance (accompanied by an annex) on how to implement these measures. As a result, almost all Member States have lifted by now national export restrictions and the protective equipment can be delivered seamlessly across the Union to where it is most needed.
The Commission has decided to exempt Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland (countries part of the European Free Trade Association) from the export authorisation requirements. Similar exemptions have been granted to Andorra, the Faroe Islands, San Marino and the Vatican, as well as the associated countries and territories that have special relations with Denmark, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (so-called Annex II countries).
Supporting Member States in need
The European Commission’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre plays a key role in relief efforts and stands ready 24/7 to assist all countries, in Europe and beyond, that request specific support. This can take the form of co-financing of transport of assistance, including personal protective equipment and other support such as the provision of expertise.
EU Solidarity for Health Initiative
On 2 April, the European Commission launched the EU Solidarity for Health Initiative, aimed at directly supporting the healthcare systems of EU Member States in combating the coronavirus pandemic. This initiative will provide for around €6 billion to cater for the needs of European health systems. Half of the amount will come from what is left of the EU budget, with the other half coming from additional contributions requested from Member States. The initiative will enable the Commission to purchase emergency support on behalf of Member States and distribute medical supplies, financially support and coordinate transportation of medical equipment and of patients, support the recruitment of additional healthcare workforce and support the construction of mobile field hospitals.
A European Team of COVID-19 experts
On 17 March, the European Commission set up an advisory panel on COVID-19 composed of seven expert epidemiologists and virologists from several Member States to formulate science-based EU response guidelines and coordinate risk management measures. The panel, which was created following a mandate by EU Member States, is chaired by Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen and Stella Kyriakides, Commissioner for health and food safety. The panel’s agenda and summaries of meetings are available under the ‘meetings tab’ here.
Based on the scientific advice of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the COVID-19 advisory panel, the European Commission published first recommendations for Community measures, for testing strategies on 19 March, and on Health Systems Resilience on 30 March.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is an EU agency that strengthens Europe's defences against infectious diseases.
The ECDC plays a key role in assessing the threat from a scientific viewpoint. It produces rapid risk assessments, provides frequent epidemiological updates and technical support by issuing guidance for how to best respond to the outbreak. This guidance includes, but is not limited to, outbreak surveillance, preparedness and response planning and laboratory support.
The crisis is coordinated at several level, through videoconferences at the level of the European Council, through regular discussions with Health Ministers, to frequent meetings of the Health Security Committee.
These tools support cooperation, the rapid exchange of information, extensive monitoring and coordination of preparedness and response measures to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Notifications regarding serious cross-border health threats are made through Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) – an online platform that is available 24/7. This system allows EU Member States to send alerts about events with the potential impacts on the EU, to share information, and to coordinate their responses.
Processing of personal data to protect public health
Health data are considered sensitive data under the GDPR (Article 9) and their processing can therefore only take place under strict requirements. The GDPR however provides that one of the legal grounds for processing personal data is public interest in the area of public health. Data processing may be necessary for humanitarian purposes, including for the monitoring of epidemics. In this case, Union law or Member State law shall provide suitable and specific measures to safeguard the rights and freedoms of the individual.
Aggregated statistical data which do not enable identification of the concerned natural persons (for instance aggregated location data) are not considered personal data and therefore the GDPR does not apply.
The European Data Protection Board, composed of the EU data protection authorities, issued a statement on 20 March on the processing of personal data in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.